The Chinese journalism renaissance seems to have been a hot topic a few years back. A recent talk by Michael Anti at the University of Hong Kong, however, raises some salient new points about Chinese journalism and the internet.
He notes that traditional Chinese journalism usually follows the more subjective European mode. Chinese journalism’s best hope is to adopt American-style objective journalism, he argues, as rigorous fact-checking and a detached viewpoint will create stories that are easier to defend against censors and officials. A good example of this has been Hu Shuli’s Caijing magazine, which has an English-language website (found here).
This is where blogs play a part. Chinese journalists are increasingly splitting their stories between the online and offline worlds. Objective, factual reporting goes in print, while opinions are blogged online.
According to Anti, blogs have also widened the media space, allowing journalists greater freedom even in a more restrictive media environment under Hu Jintao.
But, a new Chinese journalism will not create a new China. “Journalists won’t be the founders of a New China,” he said.
Like much else in China, journalism has been resurgent because of a newly competitive marketplace. When the state started commercializing the media markets in 2003, dozens, if not hundreds, of publications had to become self-reliant. In addition, new titles entered the market, backed by entrepreneurs who wanted a slice of China’s growing ad spend.
The competition meant editors and publishers had to work harder to differentiate their products. Bolder stories, ranging from thorough investigative pieces to tabloid fodder, constantly pushed the envelope. The mainland media environment became far more fragmented and complex than the outside world gave it credit for.
A number of other Asian states have controlled media of some sort. Singapore, for example, is a nominal democracy whose media is strongly linked to the ruling party. Market controls mean that the press is virtually monopolized by Singapore Press Holdings publications. Indeed, SPH is one of the most profitable newspaper companies in the world.
In Singapore’s case, market forces are carefully diverted to create fat profit margins instead of competitive journalists. The country’s small size and population also make real newspaper competition less likely. Clearly, China is a different kettle of fish.
China’s size, coupled with the internet, may be its journalists’ best guarantee against censorious editorial control. A large country means there will always be demand for local news, just like the US newspaper market. The internet gives journalists recourse in the event of a crackdown. It emboldens and teaches journalists who want to professionalize their quickly commercializing trade.
Now that the market is open, the profit motive will compel publishers to seek out non-standard content. The crowded marketplace means players will have no choice but to rub up against one another, vying for market share. The friction may generate just enough light and heat for a new generation of journalists.