Friday, May 29, 2009

In-depth reporting

I've often felt that the problem with foreign journalists in China is not that they have an agenda (as Chinese right-wing / nationalist, ahem, "left wing" netizens claim), but that they just don't have a lot depth and go for cookie cutter stories. Custer at ChinaGeeks makes this point well in regards to newspapers' constant comparisons of any protest in China to Tiananmen. Part of the issue, I think, is that reporters don't stay in the P.R.C. (or anywhere) long.

I remember meeting a photographer who was taking a language program with me in Beijing in 2006 who had just been transferred there from reporting on Iraq. She was sure she'd be headed elsewhere in a bit over a year. How could she find much to photograph beyond the obvious? I expect she delivered a number of shots of police in front of the Forbidden City trying to cover her lens with their gloves. Or chic young people walking past police. Or old buildings contrasted with a racy ad.

Each reporter / photographer goes for the big arc---"China's no longer like it was under Mao! Believe it or not, it's gone capitalist, but it's still authoritarian! Who would have guessed?"---for a year, then, if they are there longer, they start to get into the details. But before they're too far into the details, they're gone.

Blogger Michael Anti is trying to change this, but for Chinese reporting on the world, not the other way around. His website Zhongheng Zhoukan or "Far and Wide Journal" has reporting from Chinese stationed around the world (countries are organized by their flags on the main page).

Anti told Danwei, "My intention was to organize an independent professional analysis group consisting of journalists, scholars, columnists and students, who will continue to research on a single country, area or topic for years. Every week, we publish online a collection of their political analyses. It's a kind of civil think-tank on international politics. We offer Chinese media readers an alternative option from lazy translation or nationalist propaganda."

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