Almond Li had only joined Citizen News for three weeks when the media outlet announced it was closing. The 27-year-old was so new to the company that she didn’t even have business cards or a press pass printed yet.

“I’ll miss the people the most. They were the most fun, genuine, sincere people I’ve ever worked with,” Li, a reporter on the China desk, told HKFP.

Citizen News’ China news team. Photo: Citizen News screenshot, via YouTube

Staff at the Hong Kong outlet arrived at the newsroom in Cheung Sha Wan for the last time on Monday morning, less than 12 hours after it announced on social media that it would be shutting down to protect the safety of staff.

Outside the office, chief writer Chris Yeung told a group of journalists reporting on the closure that the decision was prompted by the authorities’ crackdown on fellow independent newsroom Stand News. The other independent outlet abruptly shut down last Wednesday after national security police arrested seven people and raided its offices.

“If we continue, we can’t report on the news we want to report. There is no other choice but to stop,” Yeung, formerly the chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), said.

‘I cried multiple times’

In many ways, much of Citizen News’s last day was just like any other. Reporters rushed to push out stories, videographers filmed last-minute shots and anchors laughed at outtakes as they prepared their nightly broadcasts.

Only later in the day did reality set in. “It was more like work, work, work, then the emotions hit,” Li said.

Citizen News business cards. Photo: Citizen News

“It’s sad for sure. I cried multiple times,” she added. “Not only because of the company closing, but rather, the bigger picture of what the industry looks after our closure.”

Citizen News, a small and mostly young team of around 40 people, is the third major media outlet to close down in Hong Kong in less than half a year. Last June, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily shut after police raided its headquarters and arrested top editors and directors. The founder of the tabloid, media mogul Jimmy Lai, is behind bars awaiting a national security trial that could see him jailed for life.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the shutdowns of news organisations “cannot be directly connected” to press freedom in Hong Kong. She also rebuffed claims of a “chilling effect” in the media industry.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

On Monday, Citizen News published articles about court cases relating to the 2019 protests and two press groups – the Hong Kong Journalists Association and Society of Publishers in Asia’s statements – expressing regret at Citizen News’ closure. Alongside the reports, the outlet also shared heartfelt reflections written by its journalists.

See also: Timeline: Hong Kong’s non-profit outlet Stand News through the years

In one, reporter Jason Tsang said he joined Citizen News as an intern in 2018. “On my second day, the chief editor assigned my inexperienced self to cover Demosisto’s second anniversary,” Tsang wrote, referring to the now-disbanded group founded by activists including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow.

Citizen News reporters outside the now-defunct Apple Daily’s headquarters. Photo: Citizen News

At the time, the outlet only had around 10 staff, Tsang added. “[We were] small in size, but there were hidden possibilities which were infinite… looking back at the past few years, the road we walked was longer and harder than most people’s. But we got to see more.”

Reporter Cheung Hoi-kit said in his reflection that he started at Citizen News during the 2019 anti-extradition protests. “I want to thank [former editor-in-chief] Daisy Li for giving me the space to tell the stories I wanted to tell… sometimes I would be writing late into night, around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., or even 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. But she never rushed me,” he wrote.

Final broadcasts

Citizen News’s regular nightly broadcasts – a 9 p.m. China news segment and a 10:30 p.m. Hong Kong daily round-up – went on as scheduled on the outlet’s final day.

“This is our first and last appearance in 2022,” anchor Chan Wai-yan said at the start of the local news round-up before launching into coverage of the new lawmakers’ oath-taking ceremonies at the Legislative Council.

Anchors Chan Wai-yan and Ingrid Tse discuss NGO Reporters Without Borders’ December report, which devoted a significant section to declining press freedoms in Hong Kong, in the segment’s final episode. Photo: Citizen News screenshot, via YouTube

Taking viewers on a trip down memory lane, the episode flashed back to the founding of Citizen News in 2014, when media veterans including Daisy Li and Chris Yeung created the independent outlet amid concerns about the news industry’s future.

The segment also recounted its 2017 investigation into chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s alleged corruption scandal, which won the prestigious Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award organised by the Hong Kong Journalists Association the following year.

“The purpose of our small platform was to reflect different views in society… going forward, in this new era, the space for that is getting more and more narrow,” Yeung said.

A gift from a Citizen News reader. Photo: Almond Li

Citizen News’s website and social media platforms remained accessible at the time of writing on Wednesday night. The outlet has yet to announce when it will remove them, but in the meantime, netizens have scrambled to back up old articles and YouTube videos.

For newscaster Ingrid Tse, bidding farewell to viewers was nothing new. The 25-year-old anchored Apple Daily’s nightly broadcasts until the pro-democracy outlet folded in June following arrests and an office raid. She had been with the newspaper for less than six months, having joined after quitting i-Cable amid mass resignations in response to the company’s restructuring plans.

“It’s not my first time saying goodbye to viewers, but doing it again is certainly not easy,” Tse said. “[I] believe a lot of Hongkongers are going through [these difficult times] together, and that we will emerge stronger from these tribulations.”

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.