China's No.1 paparazzo

By Liao Danlin Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-3 21:23:01

Zhuo Wei Photo: Courtesy of Zhuo Wei

Zhang Ziyi and Wang Feng Photo: Courtesy of Zhuo Wei

Wen Zhang and Yao Di Photo: Courtesy of Zhuo Wei

Gao Yuanyuan and Mark Chao Photo: Courtesy of Zhuo Wei

A married TV star having an affair isn't what most would call earthshaking news. However, it was precisely this type of scandal that turned the entirety of Sina Weibo into one huge discussion board about the love triangle between actor Wen Zhang, his wife actress Ma Yili and actress Yao Di this week. Meanwhile, the man who spent over half a year to dig up this dirt is once again under the spotlight.

Almost every celebrity and tabloid reader knows his name: Zhuo Wei - China's NO.1 paparazzo.

A dream come true

Zhuo has made a big name for himself over the past few years since he began giving up-to-date status reports on the love lives of numerous Chinese celebrities including actress Zhang Ziyi's love affair, director Zhang Yimo's secret young wife and three children, and singer Faye Wong's divorce.

Born in 1971, Zhuo described the place he grew up as a "slum" in Tianjin. Coming from a relatively poor family, he used to be a very shy and introverted person. Before entering the media industry, he worked as a secretary in a factory and later in a cinema.

Always dreaming of being a journalist, Zhuo finally seized the chance to work for a local Tianjin newspaper in 2000.

However, soon after he started out Zhuo discovered that general entertainment coverage held no challenge for him. Therefore, in 2003, he moved to Beijing and joined Big Star, one of the very first tabloid-styled weekly magazines in the Chinese mainland. Here he discovered his talent and passion for professional paparazzo work. More importantly, it was there that he met his business partner Feng Ke, who has cooperated with Zhuo ever since.

At the beginning the two knew nothing about how to be paparazzi and it often took them half a month to get a single trace of information. They were also easily caught by celebrities when attempting to photograph them.

Now, Zhuo has his own working studio and his team has extensive knowledge of celebrity license plate numbers, addresses, likes and dislikes, and even keeps track of birthdays.

Zhuo explains that there are two kinds of sources: paid informants such as waitresses and bartenders, and  people involved in celebrity circles such as managers and agents.

"What the latter tell us most of the time are rumors. It's our job to carry out an investigation." 

His achievements as a paparazzo have changed Zhuo's personality, making him a more talkative and positive person. "I am very grateful that I became a journalist. People like to look forward, but I like to look back. Since I know I'm in a better position than I was in the past, I'm more willing to work harder," said Zhuo.

Digging in the dirt

On March 28, news that Wen had cheated on Ma leaked onto the Internet. Soon after the editor-in-chief of the Southern Metropolis Weekly, Xie Xiao, posted on Sina Weibo that the magazine would release photo evidence of the affair that Monday.

Not long after the scandal exploded online, Wen confessed to the affair on his Sina Weibo. At this point the social media carnival became livelier than ever with Netizens responding by re-posting Wen's confession and his wife's follow-up statement, and making fun of photos of the two together.

Some also criticized Xie for making the scandal into such a big deal.

Although Zhuo wasn't behind the leak itself, it was his team that had discovered the affair and handed the evidence over to the magazine.

"I knew it would be big news, but I didn't know how sensational it would be," said Zhuo who sees the case as a textbook example of how social media can get involved in a news story.

He feels there were many factors that boosted the event. The first being that the people involved in the scandal are all TV stars, exactly the type of star that is best known by the public. Add to that the fact that Wen Zhang and his wife have had an established image as a "loving couple" for so many years and were seen as role models by many helped make this story more dramatic and unexpected.

"This is an era where everyone can participate in a conversation and express their feelings. The result is a combination of everything: social, psychological and journalistic factors," Zhuo remarked.

Journalistic integrity

"They wave the flag of 'pursuing the truth' but have no limits. Paparazzi style journalism can bring about severe threats and harm to public figures and their families," Xiong Jian, a People's Daily reporter wrote on the paper's website Wednesday.

Regarding criticism aimed at him, Zhuo said that celebrities are like brand names and once this brand's been damaged, celebrities will do everything they can to alter the situation, including influencing public opinion and placing the blame on the media.

"They can't point a finger at the public, so they need to find a specific target," he said.

Zhuo's studio sells dozens of news stories to different entertainment channels and magazines every month, with each story worth about 1,000 to 2,000 yuan ($150 - 300) including photos and videos. 

"Say we sell 100 news stories in a month. Wen Zhang's story is just one of the hundred, we don't receive extra income for that particular story," he noted.

For Zhuo, money was never the goal. He feels it his social responsibility to reveal both the truth and human nature.

A day before the news was released, Wen's public relations team approached Zhuo saying they would pay whatever price he offered to buy whatever evidence he had.   

Zhuo rejected their offer, "If I took the money, people would look down on us even more. We have some journalistic integrity and dignity. I only earn money that ought to be mine."

Zhuo explained that when it comes to entertainment news, scandals are always rare. Most of their time is spent introducing different sides of celebrities and what they like to do in their spare time.

"People have some misunderstandings about us. One is that paparazzi don't have moral values. Second is that we make a lot of money," said Zhuo, adding that their principle is never to break the law - only film celebrities in public spaces, without involving any type of wiretap or tracker, and to report only what has been proven to be true.

"We do our research and fact check. That is why no one has sued us so far," he added.

For Zhuo, the most important thing is to love your job and believe in it. "We've faced tough times, misunderstandings and pressure but I've made it through them … I was born for this."

Posted in: Miscellany

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