Free More News

The project below was interviewed during the first phase of our research, in early 2010. We have since determined that it fits more within the categories of general citizen engagement and/or activism in areas outside of transparency and accountability, rather than within the specific criteria we have defined for the purposes of our research.

Quick Look

Formoren is a twitter-based media source that tries to bring news to its readers the moment it happens.

Beginning Date: 
September 1, 2007
Annual Budget 2007: 
Annual Budget 2008: 
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 
Specific Tools: 


Free More News (FMN) was established in September 2007 and has since become one of the most trusted online media for Chinese Internet users (as opposed to the government controlled media). Especially since March 2009, FMN's use of Twitter and other Web 2.0 platforms has enabled it to break through some of the barricades placed by Chinese government censors in order to report on big news that has happened in China, such as the Xinjiang riots, the Shishou mass protest, the Hong Kong 7.1 march, the Guangzhou protest against the waste incinerator construction, and so on.

FMN, founded by a few Chinese graduates from US universities, represents an emerging civil power of the "sea turtles" (the term shares the same pronunciation with "returning from the overseas" in Chinese) in modern China. There were a total of 500,000 sea turtles that returned to China from 1978 to 2008. The three biggest internet companies in China: Sina, Sohu and Baidu, are all established and run by sea turtles. Most of the Nasdaq-listed Chinese companies have sea turtle CEOs. Moreover, the sea turtles have created the venture capital industry in China.

With the power of the Internet and new media, FMN is inspired to mitigate censorship and achieve more freedom of press in the current authoritarian control of information in China. By the time of this interview, FMN has 18,360 followers on twitter, with 94.12% of them active users (visiting Twitter every 1-10 days). Given that Twitter is blocked by China's Great Firewall, this number reveals that an increasing number of mainland Chinese know how to "climb the wall" (circumvent censorship) to access Twitter.

The influence brought by the large number of followers enabled FMN to actively participated in Feng Zhengfu's return to China by live-tweeting the whole process. Their logo resembles "free news" in Chinese, only that there's one more stroke on the last character of "freedom",symbolizing their wish to have “a little bit more" freedom

Reference: China Review News.


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What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

Obtaining news. Channels are limited at the moment.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

It is a technical issue. I hope the computer can automatically spot news of value according to the standard we put in, and auto-search for details for us. In this way, we will take lead of the traditional media. Then the man power can just do quality control after everything is automated.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

There are two problems:

a. The life cycle of news in traditional media is short. The news is not discussed in-depth before the next story occupies all public attention.
b. The taste of the public influences the focus of news on traditional media: The semi-entertainment, semi-scientific news is most popular.

We face the more or less same problem with traditional media. However, we have been on Twitter longer, we know what's the prime time for the twitterers to consume tweets and what kinds of tweets are more "tweetable", how to contain the largest possible amount of information within the shortest text. The news we send out are all highly "retweetable", with complete meaning within a single tweet.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

The states, the press and the readers share responsibilities. First of all, in China, politically sensitive issues will be suspended from follow-up release or banned from release from the very beginning. As a result, continuance of news is poor in China. Second, the press was commercialized to follow successful business models to maintain competition in the industry. To retain readers and advertisers, they will have to put up news that fits into the readers' taste. Last, but not least, the readers in China tend to be interested in what others are interested in.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

When I graduated from university in the US, I wanted to experiment with something new in media. There were four of us. Some of us are now back in China and some are not. We were doing an online-magazine website at the beginning. However, we were shut down because our report on the Tibet issue in April, 2008. We did not restart until April 2009, when we realized that Twitter can be a feasible tool in China to carry on what we want to do.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

We provide many such channels. We archive news from websites both home and abroad; we translate news from foreign websites; we have media friends who ask us to publish news that's not allowed in traditional media; we publish news provided by volunteers after verification with friends in the media industry; we take initiatives to contact people who have first-hand information about an incident and put up updates for them (such as the Shishou incident). We set up Google News alerts. We also look up the US Geological Survey for information on natural disasters.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

The government prefers that no one knows anything so that the government will have more freedom to do whatever they want. Public attention frequently cause them trouble.

Is there a freedom of information law in the country where this project is based?: 
Is there a right to information law in the country where this project is based?: 
How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

It does not happen a lot. We mainly arouse public interest or attention by putting up news that's prompt, real, and concerns everybody.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

For example, in the Feng Zhenghu Case, we've been following the story for a while. When we noted that Feng Zhenghu's coming back, we contacted twitterers who went to Shanghai to welcome Feng's returning to China. They used the account @fmnlive to live document the whole process. Then we use the @freemoren account to retweet the important updates.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

It depends. When news breaks out abruptly, we will wait to see if there would be any follow up for the news. Sometimes the news is on a pause, sometimes it disappears.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

There's no exact number available. When the readers sleep, we will sleep too. Even if it's a piece of big news, we tend to wait to release it until the next morning after the readers have woken up.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

To confirm what's the real situation at the frontline.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

We have a double filter system. First, we will look through the news and select part of it. Second, we will analyse it from a reader's perspective, to see if the news influences their life and if they will be interested to know (e.g. topics such as food security, environment pollution) . After that, we will release the most important news at prime time. We also prioritize news that suddenly breaks out in the day. They will be released right after the verification.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

We no longer actively update the website after it was shut down. There are about 5,000-6,000 who subscribe to our RSS feed, which is our twitter news of the day. For websites, I don't think there's a lot of Wu Mao on Twitter. (Wu Mao refers to "the fifty cent party,” the nick name of commenters who are hired by the Chinese government that receive 50 cent per comment to release positive information about the government.) Most of our followers just receive news from our Twitter stream. So it's not a big concern of ours.

How do you attract new participants?: 

We recruit volunteer students who are interested in our work by offering to write recommendation letters as well as to offer study abroad advice.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

The word-of-mouth effect. We provide news of value then the old twitterers will build trust with us, and refer us to their new followers.

What are your biggest referrers? Where does most of your traffic come from?: 

Before our website was shut down, it was Google search. Some influential citizen journalists in China, such as Lian Yue, will also bring in huge traffic by referering to us in their tweets/blog posts.

Where is your content re-posted? What effect has that had on your project?: 

On the website and at Those who cannot climb over the Great Firewall will join We are a couple months later than others on I hope we can catch up and be a new media source with great credibility on, too.

Has legal action been taken against your website?: 

Our website was shut down without any notice or warning.

What metrics do you use to judge your own success?: 

To put everything transparently "under the sun" so that everybody knows what really happens. For example, the government downplayed a lot of food security issues in recent months. That's the kind of news that we insist in following up. If we arouse attention among people about the issue, then I would consider our project successful.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

We don't exactly have an incentive mechanism to encourage participation. We will tell the volunteers what kinds of news should be paid attention to and where the line is. Generally, we embrace the same belief: let more people know what really happens.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

Knowledge about information technologies and fundraising.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

We have some advertising income. But we support ourselves with other jobs.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

Memedia, etc. The cooperation is primitive. We witness lots of new media websites going downhill recently.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

Yes. But we think developing communication skills and information channels are more important. Besides, we don't have the money to develop the tools.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

We received an insightful comment on a post, and from the knowledge of the commenter I think he/she is a government official. But I cannot confirm.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

We expect to encounter copyright problems later as we grow. We are not registered as an organization.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

Some other people will directly copy our tweets and forward them as if they were their own. We are not comfortable with that. But we don't see anyone on Twitter that keep updating everyday Monday to Friday.

If someone gave you $30,000 how would you use the money?: 

Start recruiting tech people to start the development of an auto-search news system. Make sure it can search and publish English news as well. The basics are the same, but there are still some subtle differences between English news and Chinese news. For example, forums are important news sources in China, while blogs may be more popular as news sources in the west. I hope it can become a sustainable model that finally integrates new media and traditional media.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

In 2010, we aim to build awareness about us on, the most popular micro blogging platform in China. At the same time, I am looking for investors and partners to start the news-auto-search system.

In 2011, we will do some more experiments with news updates within the Great Firewall. We hope that in the end we can send out accurate information without touching the government's censorship line.


Free talk ,free news

In China ,if you ask people from age of 15 to 80 about China's free news ,most of them will say "it's a total unopen thing".From your interview,i totally understand how hard your project,but i also can see what efforts you have done.
More free news means more publicity of the country.If people can get the news easily ,then it mean more transarency,more publicity.People in any country have the right to learn the true news.
I am also interested in your project of year of 2010,2011.Wish you make great progress.Any heip i can do ,i will be happy.

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