City Sun, the “undercover” paper


As commercial papers look for ways to hook readers’ interest, the City Sun (城市信报) appears to have found a reliable strategy: sending its reporters undercover.

UNDERCOVER” shouts the headline to the March 29 edition of the paper (shown above), which features a first-hand look at a six-day package vacation in Hainan that attracted tourists with low prices up-front but piled on the fees during the trip.

The City Sun, a commercial daily based in Qingdao, Shandong Province, has been conducting regular undercover investigations of poorly-behaving enterprises ranging from the food service industry and hospitality to manufacturing and home repair. The paper’s enthusiasm for sting operations attracted the attention of Douban user “lomoo”, who set up a gallery of images earlier this week.

August 22: Undercover at Haidilao

This week alone the paper has run three undercover cover features:

  • Monday August 22Haidilao, the hotpot chain at the center of a fraud scandal. The paper confirmed that the chain uses stock from concentrate and short-weights certain meats, but sanitary conditions seem to be worlds better than the hotpot restaurants it covered last October.
  • Tuesday August 23Food delivery services. Flagrant misuse of leftovers and reuse of fry oil.
  • Thursday August 25Small inns. Working as a cleaner, the paper’s reporter found that tea cups were rinsed with bleach, and bedclothes were reused without being washed. The feature story, while not exactly an undercover investigation, involves a reporter’s account of working as an extra at Hengdian World Studios.

Headlines generally follow the pattern “Reporter goes undercover at…..,” and Douban commenters have suggested that the paper ought to change its name to City Undercover News (城市卧底报).

Some previous cover feature headlines:

  • City Sun reporter goes undercover to the source in Dezhou to expose fake shampoo and body wash
  • Reporter goes undercover to deal in person with sellers of personal information
  • City Sun goes undercover at Dairy Queen, attracts national attention
  • Reporter works undercover at McDonald’s for a month
  • Reporter goes undercover at RT Mart to sell meat
  • Reporter goes undercover to Qingdao aid stations — finds the conditions acceptable, except for a smelly blanket
  • Reporter goes undercover at a working-class district dry-cleaning shop
  • Reporter goes undercover to expose the dark secrets of home renovation
  • Reporter goes undercover at Nike factory
  • Reporter goes undercover to expose the dark secrets of air conditioner repair
  • Reporter goes undercover as a real estate sales girl
  • Female reporter works undercover in a beauty salon for one month — this April 2010 series built up tension over three days and finally named names on the fourth
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