The staff of a tabloid in Qingdao, Shandong province, released a "front-page-style" notice online seeking the whereabouts of their editor-in-chief, who disappeared after some of the newspaper's employees were not paid for more than half a year.
The "front-page-style" notice was headlined with eye-catching bold characters that read "looking for Bi Huade".
Bi Huade, editor-in-chief of the Municipal Convenience Daily, has been missing since March 16, a reporter surnamed Wang from the company, told China Daily on Tuesday. The tabloid's reporters and editors have not been paid in more than seven months, Wang said.
Reporter Yang Qing said she and her colleagues have not been paid since July, and editors since August. "Only one month's salary was paid late last year after a strike in October," Yang said.
Bi's disappearance forced the 7-year-old newspaper to close on March 21. "Reporters and editors kept working until March 24, when Xu Minghang, the executive editor-in-chief, told us that the company had gone bankrupt," Wang said.
Another reporter, Zhao Shuai, said: "Only guards are still on duty, and the rest of the staff have all stopped going to the office. Some of us have begun looking for new jobs."
The tabloid's reporters and editors published a notice online on March 29 looking for Bi, who is said to have escaped because of unaffordable debt.
The notice, which was designed like the front page of a newspaper, was headlined with eye-catching bold characters that read "looking for Bi Huade". It said that readers, reporters and editors are seeking the missing editor-in-chief.
"We reporters are helping others to claim their rights every day. However, we don't know how to protect our own interests," the notice said. "So we made this notice and hope to receive attention from the public."
An editor from the newspaper said on condition of anonymity that many employees did not sign contracts with the company, and the sudden disappearance of Bi has left them helpless.
"It is said that Bi has transferred his assets to some other industry. As a result, even if staff members win a lawsuit against him, they are unlikely to get paid," the editor said.
The specially designed notice quickly gained popularity on Sina Weibo after it was reported by the Guangdong-based Yangcheng Evening News on Monday.
The newspaper was ruined by poor management, the report said, quoting insiders as saying that the editor-in-chief nominated his son as deputy editor-in-chief. He was also said to have hired a security guard to work as a copy editor for the newspaper.
Local media said that the paper had a reputation for poor management and had published fake reports critical of local companies for money.
According to a former employee who requested anonymity, the paper hired unlicensed reporters to malign companies that refused to advertise with it by threatening to publish groundless "scandal" stories.
Local hospitals, including Qingdao Women and Infants' Hospital, Dr Health Plastic Surgery Hospital, and even Carrefour, were targeted by the unlicensed reporters.
Many of the newspaper's subscribers complained online that they lost money because of the tabloid's sudden closure.
A netizen from Laixi, Shandong province, said in a micro blog his family paid 144 yuan ($23) this year for a subscription, and now they have nowhere to reclaim the money.
"It's unbelievable that the newspaper, which labeled itself for justice, disappeared overnight without any explanation to subscribers," he said.
Some of the newspaper's staff reported Bi's disappearance to local authorities, but the police have not started an investigation due to its complexity.