A bright red notice on Apple Daily’s mobile app tells subscribers that content will no longer be accessible after 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. “Good luck, and goodbye,” it ended.
Although most photos in the app can no longer be displayed, the text of several articles published just before the news outlet’s midnight shutdown remained viewable. The headline for one of the app’s top stories read: “Apple Daily’s epilogue is born, a record-breaking one million copies with a 12-page ‘farewell letter to Hongkongers.'”
One after another, photos, videos, and articles disappeared across the pro-democracy newspaper’s Twitter, YouTube and Facebook accounts. The @appledaily_hk Twitter read: “This account doesn’t exist” whilst articles originally published at “hk.appledaily.com” redirected to “goodbye.appledaily.com” and a farewell message.
Founded by former apparel businessman Jimmy Lai in 1995, Apple Daily’s closure originally set for the weekend was brought forwards to Wednesday night, marking an abrupt end to its quarter-century as a thorn in the side of the authorities.
After Lai was remanded in custody last August over violating the national security law, five of its top executives – including its editor-in-chief Ryan Law – suffered the same fate last week as 500 officers detained them and raided the newsroom. They face charges over alleged collusion with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed law in connection with 30 articles the paper had published.
Bank accounts linked to three Apple Daily companies were frozen, forcing the firm’s board to announce that it would stop operating by the end of the week if the government refused to unfreeze its funds.
Staff were told they are welcome to resign without giving notice, and many did.
But on Wednesday morning, a seventh person — the newspaper’s lead opinion writer — was arrested, also under the same charge. Hours later, the company said Thursday’s edition would be its last.
In a race to midnight – as a decade-old digital archive vanished – dozens of Apple Daily reporters, writers, editors, and designers gathered one last time to put together the final edition of the newspaper.
Large format papers — Thursday’s drafts — slithered out of printers around the newsroom. A person grabbed them and started taping them together to make a full page, while another stooped over other broadsheets to check the content.
One colourful double-page showcased the newspaper’s most ground-breaking frontpages, its award-winning reporting and hard-hitting investigations.
Around the corner, five proofreaders each holding a red marker scanned rows and rows of text to carefully sift out errors. Two designers sat together quietly discussing the place-holder text under the headline: “Readers’ tearful farewell: the fear that Hong Kong no longer has truth.”
Photos of people holding up copies of the newspaper ran along the page in a column on the right. In a city where protests have been banned under the Covid-19 pandemic, clutching the opposition newspaper has become a statement of defiance in itself.
On a different floor, a young woman tried shoving papers into a large shredder that stood next to several mounds of shredded paper and notes that could not fit into trash bags.
She started tearing up the paper with her bare hands. “The machine doesn’t work,” she said, though it spluttered back to life again when the next person took their turn.
On the building’s balcony, several staff members looked down at the 200-odd supporters who came to bid farewell despite the drizzle. Many waved their mobile phone lights towards the building and shouted encouragement.
The staff perched along the balcony waved back at the crowd and took photos of them. Two green dots whizzed by in the air as people chanted: “support Apple Daily, support till the end!” at the drones.
Back in the newsroom’s atrium is a lounge where dozens of reporters and staff members took turns to take group photos. A girl snapped away using a disposable film camera; another wandered along cubicles with a pink Polaroid. “Court desk, group photo!” someone shouted.
Minutes after the paper’s edits were locked in and Apple Daily’s five printing presses went into a final deafening spin, Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man — who was granted bail after being arrested last week — was greeted with a roaring round of applause in the newsroom’s atrium. “Thank you colleagues, thank you Hongkongers,” she said as her eyes welled up. Lam Man-chung, the executive editor-in-chief stood next to her, also became emotional.
She officially resigned from the newspaper and its five companies moments after, local media reported.
Earlier on Wednesday evening, the newspaper’s landlord – the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation – announced it will take back the Tseung Kwan O industrial property from its tenant in accordance with the lease, saying that Apple Daily violated its rules.
Outside Apple Daily’s headquarters in the early hours of Thursday, supporters spilled onto the road as press trucks and other traffic tried to squeeze through.
Occasionally they chanted “support Apple Daily” and even the protest slogan that the authorities have said was illegal: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
The newspaper’s principal writer Chan Kwok-ming came out of the gates to tell cheering supporters that they will be given free copies of the final edition as a souvenir shortly after midnight. The cover read: “Hong Kong people bid farewell in the rain: ‘we support ‘Apple Daily’.”
Mr. Cheng, a loyal reader of the tabloid since the day of its founding, came to see the building before it shut down for good: “I feels like a dear friend has died, and I have come to pay tributes,” he told HKFP.
After this, he said, “Hong Kong will be the same as the other side of the river,” referring to mainland China. “I doubt there will still be press freedom, or independent news.”
Hot off the press
Over in Mong Kok after midnight, hundreds of Hongkongers queued up at a newsstand at the junction of Argyle Street and Nathan Road in a line that stretched two blocks — a total of 100 metres — to get their hands on Apple Daily’s final edition.
The line kept growing at 2:30 a.m. as those who scored copies earlier caught up with the news on the roadside.
While newsstands typically sell barely a dozen papers a day, one owner said she sold around 800 copies within the first few hours the papers arrived.
Mr Chan was the one of the first in line. The 26-year-old said he grew up reading Apple Daily.
“I thought after Jimmy Lai’s arrest, the company could still support itself. But I didn’t expect to see other senior executives being arrested, and even a writer apprehended,” said Chan, who held a small apple-shaped keyring.
It was disheartening to see a newspaper that “had conscience” halting its operations, he said.
Additional reporting: Kelly Ho