College Daily (北美留学生日报 běiměi liúxuéshēng rìbào) is a Chinese-language website aimed at Chinese students in the U.S. The New Yorker’s Han Zhang has written an illuminating profile of the company: The “post-truth” publication where Chinese students in America get their news. It’s well worth reading the whole piece. Here are some of the revelations:
- Founded in 2014 by Lín Guǒyǔ 林果宇 in his Beijing apartment, College Daily now “has more than thirty staffers in Beijing and fifteen in New York.” Tencent, operator of WeChat, was the major investor in College Daily’s most recent funding round that injected three million dollars into the company. College Daily has “about 1.6 million followers on the social-media platform WeChat and more than a million active readers a day.”
- “Today, it would be hard to find a Chinese student in America who doesn’t regularly encounter College Daily content, intentionally or not.” Even those who don’t subscribe are likely seeing College Daily content in WeChat groups, timelines, and chats.
- Most of these students probably do not follow U.S. news sources and social media. Instead, they get news “on their phones, often from College Daily, in a stream of memes and Internet-speak.”
- The site began as “a bare-bones survival guide for American campus life, with vaporous posts about boosting your G.P.A. and planning for finals week.” But it is now much more like a sensationalist newspaper which offers “Chinese news delivered with nationalistic overtones; tabloid tales of Chinese students living overseas (sex, drugs, murders, and missing women appear frequently); and news from the U.S. and the celebrity world.”
- Some articles are simply made up: one of College Daily’s more popular writers describes how one article written in the first person about a Syrian classmate who cried after seeing video of Chinese New Year fireworks was written at the direction of Lin Guoyu. College Daily also “aggregates content sourced from Infowars and RT, the Russian government-backed news outlet.”
- In 2017, Chinese social media users attacked a University of Maryland student named Yáng Shūpíng 杨舒平 who gave a commencement speech praising the fresh air and freedom of expression in the U.S. A College Daily story was the vector that made Yang’s speech go viral. Yang was hounded off the internet. The New Yorker points out that “‘Shaming China’ is something of a buzz phrase at College Daily: as of February, it had appeared on the site more than a hundred and forty-five times.”
- “Lin said that College Daily’s stories accurately reflect its readership’s disillusionment with America, particularly when they compare the U.S. with China. ‘Especially after the 2016 election, our readers see how divided a society America is.’”
Fascinating stuff: go read the whole thing.
UPDATE: College Daily has replied in an article published today. It accused the New Yorker of bias, among other things. “We allowed [the author] 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.”