Yueran Zhang senior contributor

Chinese Journalist Chatter: All Hope Is Not Yet Lost

Liu Jianfeng. Via Weibo

Earlier this week, Tea Leaf Nation published an article focusing on why respected Chinese journalists keep leaving the field. The piece has evoked another round of discussion on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, in which some of the journalists mentioned in the piece have participated.

For some readers, the reality of Chinese journalism revealed by the article deepens their hopelessness. @时评人黄国胜 is one of them, writing, “It’s so difficult to be an authentic journalist in China!” More directly, @新闻已死 (whose handle name literally means, “the news is dead”) declares the “death of Chinese journalism.” “There is no ‘news’ in China, only ‘propaganda.’”

Even more saddened are those who used to work in journalism. They said the piece reminded them of their unpleasant past. @高压锅老窝 writes, “If you worked in the media industry for a few days, you would not trust anything.” @雪峰NO1 attributes the mistrust to the tradition of telling lies in Chinese journalism. “Journalism is a high-risk occupation. Maybe just by accident, a disaster can befall you. Unless you follow your superior and tell lies, you are punished. It’s the destiny of journalists.”{{1}}[[1]]}中国的新闻业是高危行业,一不小心就挨整,要么你就跟着领导说假话,唱主旋律,否则必然挨搞,这是新闻人的命。 [[1]]

Besides news censorship, high workloads and physical danger, @Istreet also points out that Chinese journalism is besmirched by an obsession with money. “The only thing [many journalists] care about is the amount of the bribe.” @雪峰NO1 provides factual back-up for this: “I have attended several press conferences occasionally. All the journalists present there got bribe money. ”

As a response to being featured in the article, Liu Jianfeng (@去V的刘建锋), a reputed investigative journalist who quit in July, explains his reason for quitting, noting both the impasse facing traditional media and the potential of a rising new media. He argued that quitting did not mean he was giving up his dream, but rather fulfilling his dream to a larger extent than previously possible:

“The reasons why I quit are: first, freedom of expression of newspapers is very limited by political pressure, and inner conflicts make it worse; second, [real-world] social networks [which a journalist must navigate to succeed and stay out of trouble] are multi-dimensional and too complicated; third, considering political reforms in the next few years, independent and social media will rise, while new technologies and new forms of markets will open channels for depoliticized, de-commercialized investigation agencies; and the last, I already have a strong team of three or four people. I know what to do and how to do it, and all we need is financial support.”{{2}}[[2]]我辞职是因:一,政压下纸媒空间逼仄、内耗加大。二,既简单又极复杂的多重人际因素。三,未来数年政事变局,独立小团队、公共媒体顺势崛起,技术与新的市场形式为去政治化、非商业化小调查机构提供了新的生存方式。四,三四人的精干团队组建中,已明确要做什么、怎么做,现只欠东风,广泛征求启动资金.[[2]]

With the persistence and idealism he still holds, Liu rejects the pessimistic notion that Chinese journalists could pursue nothing but “dead journalism.” “Don’t be so pessimistic. There are always still courageous and uncompromised reporters who tell the truth. Those who claim that ‘there is no news in China’ are the ones who cannot endure the pressure and give up. If your pieces are killed, you can still publish them online. Is there worse outcome than being fired? As far as I know, many dare to do that.”{{3}}[[3]]别这么说,总还是有骨头硬、软硬招都接得住的只说真话的记者,宣称中国只有宣传没有新闻的,那是自己顶不住压力吗?就算被毙了也可以发到网上,顶多不就是被处罚丢职吗?我所知有许多人就敢这么做。[[3]]

So it seems too early to declare the “death of Chinese journalism.” In the midst of desperation and frustration, there still remains a glimmer of hope and endurance.

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Yueran Zhang

Yueran Zhang is a student at Duke University, class of 2015, currently majoring in sociology and math. He spent all of his life before college in Beijing.