On Monday, the New Yorker published an unflattering profile of College Daily, a digital Chinese-language publication that boasts a large readership consisting predominantly of Chinese students living in North America. Full of details and quotes from its current staff members, including the publication’s founder Lin Guoyu, the article, written by Han Zhang, sheds a critical light on how the website transformed from “a bare-bones survival guide for American campus life” into a sensationalist website mainly offering “Chinese news delivered with nationalistic overtones.”
Naturally, the 4,590-word article, titled “The ‘post-truth’ publication where Chinese students in America get their news,” irked College Daily, which hit back today with a long-winded post that accuses the New Yorker of orchestrating a defamatory campaign. It criticized the magazine of journalistic miscues, such as pulling quotes out of context. But it also took some wild swings, saying the publication timed the article’s release to take advantage of anti-China sentiment caused by the Hong Kong protests.
College Daily, in its article, begins by noting that it was first approached by the author in February, who said she wanted to learn more about its “successful story” and how it managed to create so many “popular articles.” According to College Daily, despite its deep-seated distrust of Western news outlets, it accepted Zhang’s interview request because it found articles on the New Yorker “quite interesting” and thought it was more unbiased than other “drama-loving publications” like CNN.
“We greeted her in our New York office with an unprecedented level of transparency,” the article states. “We allowed her to interview everyone on our editorial team. We gave her full access to our editorial archive. Unfortunately, our sincerity turned out to be unreciprocated. It’s a matter of fact that her reporting was intentionally biased. To put it in a more straightforward way, it was a trap.”
The article then goes on to include a short essay written by Deng He, one of its editors who talked to Zhang. The editor claimed that during their talks, he explained to Zhang how much effort the publication put into fact-checking and confirming references. But none of these went into the final piece.
“To be honest, I’m profoundly disappointed. This time, the New Yorker, which is supposed to be a well-established major magazine, looks to me more like another Western news publication that tries to slander China by taking quotes out of context,” the editor wrote. “In the profile, there is no mention of all the insight, knowledge, experience, and stories that I shared with her about the new-media industry. Instead, it made up some lies and criticized Chinese publications like ours for producing fake news. Speaking of fake news, we are just a little brother compared to America.”
College Daily also pointed out that by introducing Lin Guoyu’s hometown in Liaoning Province as a place that “borders North Korea,” the New Yorker was trying to make an ill-intended implication that Lin was influenced by North Korea’s authoritarian propaganda. It also defended its choices to cite right-wing news websites like Infowars in its articles, arguing that hearing their voices is necessary in some cases.
Here’s what Zhang wrote in the New Yorker concerning that:
College Daily sometimes aggregates content sourced from Infowars and RT, the Russian government-backed news outlet. One article reproduced on College Daily, sourced from the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik News, concluded that the White Helmets, a group of volunteer rescue workers in Syria, were “more evil than isis.” Shortly after the U.S. election, College Daily published a piece headlined “American Media: During the Election We Were No Longer Journalists. We Became Hillary’s Cheerleaders.” One of the sources cited in the post was a letter from Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., then the publisher of the Times, to his newsroom, written immediately following the 2016 election; but there was nothing in his letter that resembled College Daily’s characterization of it.
College Daily also attacked Western media in general. It cited the fictional TV show The Newsroom to argue that even those within U.S. newsrooms are frustrated with the current state of American media.
Taking its argument to another level, College Daily noted that its “unfair treatment” at the hands of the New Yorker was emblematic of how China, as a rising superpower, is often “extorted and bullied” by other countries on the global stage. Toward the end, College Daily takes this last potshot: “Zhang set a goal to find evidence of us making fake news before she started reporting. Then she continued her witch hunt by trying hard to find material to validate her assumptions. Finally, she fabricated some baseless dirt on us even though we did nothing wrong.”
College Daily counts more than a million active daily readers. Most of the comments on its post were supportive of it. One person called Han Zhang an American spy. “The New Yorker itself is biased and full of ideology propaganda,” another wrote. And finally: “After the Hong Kong protests, I stopped reading BBC and CNN. Even YouTube is biased.”