Investigative journalists cite low pay, lack of inspiration for quitting

By Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/14 20:18:40

Journalists cite low pay, lack of inspiration for quitting

Journalists gathered at the gate of RYB Education New World Kindergarten in Beijing on November 23. Photo: Li Hao/ GT

The number of China's investigative journalists has declined by more than half since 2011, and a majority of those remaining in the profession say they intend to change careers, according to a study done by a leading Chinese university.  

Researchers at the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University in South China sent questionnaires to 163 investigative journalists. Their findings show that the number of China's investigative journalists has dropped 57.5 percent in the last six years. The report says the profession is suffering a huge brain drain in part due to relatively lower pay and potential dangers associated with the job.

As she walked out of the newspaper office for the last time, Zhang said she felt both relieved and empty. She asked the Global Times not to use her full name or name her former employer where she had been an investigative journalist for almost a decade.

"My dream of digging out the truth and giving voice to vulnerable people had propped me up for years," she said with a bitter smile. Zhang said her job as an investigative journalist was rewarding, but it had become more challenging in the years before she quit in 2012. "People nowadays only want to be fed fast information, and they tend to believe information they read the first time, which really poses a threat to investigative journalists," she said. Zhang's current job in marketing pays her almost four times her previous salary as a reporter.

Zhang Zhian, dean of the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University and his student Cao Yanhui, published their report on Tuesday which revealed some disturbing trends. 

The report said respondents to the questionnaire were not satisfied with their earnings, and limited opportunities for job promotion. Almost 70 percent of respondents said their salary ranged from 5,000 to 15,000 yuan, which was substantially more than in 2011. 

The university study also found that investigative journalists were leaving the profession in droves because their inspiration was to some extent impacted by the administrative management of the local authorities, as investigative journalists have to rely on sources approved by government departments.

When Zhang left her job she was earning more than most of her peers but there were other factors that lead to her decision. "I felt the compensation wasn't adequate considering my efforts and the risk of being harassed by some unruly local government officials," said Zhang who recalled the time she was followed by a group of men while investigating a story in a village. 

"Now that I have a child, I cannot expose myself to that kind of danger," said Zhang, who works as a marketing specialist for an online news application and earns 40,000 yuan a month.

While the university report didn't mention threats or harassment as reasons journalists were leaving the profession, recent reports show investigative journalists have faced some real dangers.

Six people were arrested on December 5 after a journalist with a local TV station in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province surnamed Wang, was beaten up by staff at a public hospital he was investigating. Wang told the news site that he suffered head injuries and multiple bruises.

"Investigative journalists serve as the watchdog of government and society. They dig into society's problems and bring the problems to light," Yin Hong, executive vice-president of Tsinghua University's School of Journalism and Communication, told the Global Times.

Although their numbers are declining, respect for the work of investigative journalists and their remuneration appear to be on the rise.  The Beijing News announced that it will invest 20 million yuan to hire "the best journalists," and the Hongxin News vowed to offer salaries as high as 200,000 yuan to top-calibre investigative journalists.
Newspaper headline: Fewer probing journalists

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