At least 100 Beijing News reporters have walked out, after Chinese authorities removed three editors of the unusually outspoken newspaper on Thursday.
The two-year-old Beijing News tabloid newspaper has enjoyed rising circulation, and become known for stories that are more critical of authorities than those typical of China's tightly-controlled, state-owned media.
Stories the paper published included reports of official corruption, such as cases of Chinese authorities failing to pay for land acquired from peasants. It has also reported on the recent spate of coal mine accidents and poor working conditions.
Julien Pain of the free press advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders in Paris, says the dismissal of editor Yang Bin and two deputy editors is an attempt by the government to clamp down on liberal elements in the media.
"I think that the government is scared of what might happen in the country, if real information is given to the people," said Julien Pain.
Since the dismissals, Chinese Web sites have been carrying scores of comments denouncing their removal.
The decision to fire the editors came as the central government this week outlined new measures to promote openness to the media, reflecting what some analysts say is a continuing debate within the Chinese leadership over how far liberalization should go.
Political scientist Wenran Jiang heads the China Institute at the University of Alberta, Canada. He says the case illustrates how those in the government who want a more open press are coming up against hard-liners in the Communist Party's propaganda wing.
"Their rationale is, once you let go, all this reporting will go in one direction, [which] they say is politically irresponsible," said Wenran Jiang. "So, therefore, they want to stop this. They say there's no end to this: if you start reporting like this, social stability might be at stake."
The Beijing News was published Friday. However, many stories were not from its own reporters, but from the official Chinese news agency.