With the rapid decline of traditional media in China, the party-state faces the growing challenge of shaping public opinion online. This article engages with one response to this challenge – a state-sanctioned digital media experiment aimed at creating a new form of journalism that appeals to the public and helps to disseminate Party propaganda. The authors analyze the emergence of a national success story, Shanghai-based model media outlet Pengpai, and its diffusion across different regions. They argue that the synergy between local officials and media entrepreneurs has propelled Pengpai’s national fame. They further demonstrate that while there has been a cross-national attempt to diffuse this model, it has produced mixed results owing to a number of factors, including the superficial commitment of local officials and media professionals. These findings demonstrate that state-sanctioned decentralized experimentation can deliver unpredictable results in the sphere of media policy, and they further question the capacity of the party-state to effectively reinvent public persuasion in the digital age.