China Takes Knock-offs to New Level With Fake American News Bureau

0 Comment

Hiding in a nondescript commercial building in the go-go Chaoyang District of Beijing is a 5,000 square meter office that could make Western journalists queasy. The small brass plaque above the door reads simply “Popular News,” which does not prepare the casual visitor for the shocking tableau on the other side of the smoked glass entrance.

In the tradition of knock-off Apple StoresStarbucksIkea furniture stores and other famous retailersPopular News copies the look and feel of a smoke-filled Western newsroom, down to the cheap x86 PCs, broken office chairs, glaring fluorescent lighting, stained industrial carpeting and impersonal generic desks.

Sophisticated China pirates are no longer content with slapping together a burger joint with yellow signs and a large ‘M’ out front.

“Fake Starbucks and KFCs are so old school,” said Myron Jablonski, analyst of popular trends at Booze, Inc. in Hong Kong. “It used to be all about faking successful retailers, but these days, PR is the main concern. Why piggyback a famous brand when you can get into the news-making business yourself? It makes perfect sense.”

China Hearsay received a tip about Popular News last month from an anonymous blogger in Kunming, who saw the fake news bureau on a recent trip to China’s capital city. We sent our intern Kiki for a firsthand look, and what she found was shocking. None of the ‘journalists’ occupying the newsroom were actually doing anything productive, but were playing computer games, trolling social media, or smoking.

“Most of them are actors,” admitted Xiao Li, a former employee ofPopular News. “The company discovered years ago that 98% of all news could be produced by an off-the-shelf computer program, which analyzes trending stories and just cobbles together a generic news article. You can’t tell the difference.”

Reproducing the exact atmosphere of a successful Western newsroom is for the benefit of advertisers, who are encouraged to visit and walk through the bustling office. The presentation is impressive – profits ofPopular News have increased 65% in the past eleven months, since they switched over to the new “no journalists” business model.

“I made a huge ad buy after visiting their office,” said Michael Zhao, head of the Number Three Coat Hanger Factory in Tianjin. “The cheap office equipment, editors shouting at reporters and calling them illiterate, security escorting laid off staff out the building, all that clutter – the environment was perfect! I thought I was in Cleveland or Denver, not Beijing.”

For Popular News, it’s all about brand experience. Their advertisers are seeking the credibility that comes with a shabby newsroom and uninspired, derivative journalism, and nothing is left to chance. The sound of typewriters is filtered in through loudspeakers, and extra cigarette smoke is pumped in via dedicated air vents in the walls.

“The goal is the look and feel of the Washington Post newsroom in All the President’s Men but with the content of USA Today,” said Xiao Li. “They even found a foreign actor with a Thomas Friedman mustache.”

Duplicating a foreign newspaper may seem amusing, noted Salvatore Rabinowitz of the Foreign Correspondents Association, but the unmasking of Popular News is a worrying development for Western news outlets, many of which are teetering on bankruptcy. “If this exposé shines a light on puerile, clichéd news stories, we could all be in trouble.”

20 responses on “China Takes Knock-offs to New Level With Fake American News Bureau

  1. Peter Ollier

    A brilliant and very necessary post. I am so bored of reading about that fake Apple store.

    All we need is for China’s government to respond with yet another high-profile but ultimately pointless campaign against fake and shoddy goods and stores, and the cycle will be complete.

    Perhaps they should crack down on fake and shoddy journalism instead?

  2. Fredrik

    I have to say this sounds like one of the most client-focused businesses in China, although they might be missing the point a bit. But the attention to detail in creating a “good” customer experience is actually kind of inspiring, I really hope this customer centric approach spreads to other companies, although with less fakery and cigarette smoke.

  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis

    “None of the journalists there were doing anything productive, just sitting there smoking…”
    Ha ha how true. Great spoof Stan, best of the year!

  4. S.K. Cheung

    That anonymous blogger in Kunming sure keeps herself busy. This is great stuff. Even better that some other bloggers didn’t quite get it. And better still what apparently happened after that. This is a post that keeps on giving.