Bytedance teams up with a state-run Chinese publisher

TIKTOK, A CHINESE-OWNED short-video app no Western teenager can do without these days, stresses its independence from the authorities in Beijing. Its parent company, less so. Bytedance, whose $75bn valuation makes it the world’s biggest unlisted startup, has just teamed up with Shanghai Dongfang Newspaper Company, a state-run publisher. The joint venture, in which Bytedance holds a 49% stake, will, among other things, develop technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).

It is not Bytedance’s first jive with the state. Since its founding in 2012 it has worked with most news organisations in China, many of them state-run, which it needs to feed Jinri Toutiao, its news app—all the more so since the launch two years ago of “New Era”, a channel that reports chiefly about government goings-on. In 2018 it hired a former anchor at CCTV, China’s state television, as vice-president. In April it signed a strategic partnership with Beijing Time, a news platform linked to the Beijing Municipal Party Committee.

Toutiao is periodically chastised—by the government and users alike—for a dearth of serious content. The joint venture is looking to fill that gap. Shanghai Dongfang owns the Paper, a serious outlet which does proper investigative work (even if state censorship can dull its edge).

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