In China as elsewhere, netizens have made new demands upon government and challenged conventional media to respond to popular concerns. Established approaches to controlling the media may be otiose; Party leaders are stressing the value of cooperation rather than confrontation and calling for a new relationship between media and authority. This article examines how the department of a city government traditionally tasked with controlling the media and shaping opinion is seeking to come to terms with the calls from the centre and, in the process, think up a different kind of relationship with the media. From dealings with press officers over four years, the authors identify a reflective and dynamic response to the present challenges. The respondents speculate that arrangements being put in place to deal with the new media environment may change fundamentally the relationships between authority and citizen, and the authors evaluate this.