Censorship is not why Chinese journalists give up

By Ni Dandan Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-18 19:33:01

Illustrations: Chen Xia/GT

Perhaps more than any other hot-button topic, foreign correspondents in China love to criticize our country about censorship. Conveniently overlooking the fact that they wouldn't even be here or have the freedom to report on what they want if censorship was as bad as they say, Western reporters will seize on any opportunity to condemn Chinese media.

Take for instance Tom Phillips, the Beijing correspondent for the Guardian. His latest report, titled "China's young reporters give up on journalism," is nothing short of inaccurate. In it he asserts that "the ever greater constraints" mean many Chinese journalists see no point in pursuing a media career," then backs up his claim with just one - yes, only 1 - credible interviewee, former China Youth Daily reporter Lin Tianhong.

The only other quotes by Chinese journalists in Philips' article is an unnamed editor, hardly enough to support Philips' broad claim that "Chinese journalists are facing far greater challenges and are turning their backs on the profession." Contrary to this assertion, the reality is that, just like what is happening in the US or the UK, traditional print journalism in China is witnessing an end of days due to declining readership.

In Shanghai, where I am based, when the 15-year-old Shanghai Evening Post closed its doors at the end of 2013, it pioneered a trend of local media closure that was followed by daily broadsheet News Times, then in 2015 the 30-year-old Shanghai Business Daily and Shanghai Weekly (a once-favorite publication of the city's bourgeoisie class) and, two months ago, The Bund.

Contrary to Philips' assertion that Chinese journalists are resigning en-masse, they are in fact being laid off en-masse as media agencies around the country fold. But far from the "Being a journalist has no meaning any more" despondency that Philips attempts to illustrate in his melodramatic article, what is in fact happening is that legions of veteran and amateur reporters alike are turning to digital platforms. Traditional media outlets have also diverted more resources into new media. The trend does not take place in China alone.

Another reason that former and aspiring journalists in China are abandoning reportage is the rising cost of living in big cities, where most major news agencies are based. Being a "poor, starving writer" is an age-old truism that journalists, poets and authors around the world have all experienced at some point, but here in Shanghai, which ranks even higher than New York as one of the world's most-expensive cities, idealism sometimes can give way to quick money and comfort.

I recall a journalism class at a local university that had invited me to speak. When I asked how many students intended to work for news media after graduation, less than 20 percent said yes. Despite their obvious talent as writers, most said that they instead would be applying for better-paying jobs at a PR firm, of which Shanghai has no shortage of.

At the time I pitied them for being so greedy and shortsighted, but today many of those students are earning very comfortable salaries and rubbing shoulders with important players in various industries. The fact that more journalists are now leaving the media industry is more related to pay than to politics.

Never during my long career in Chinese television, radio and print reportage, or from any of the hundreds of other reporters I've ever known in Beijing and Shanghai, have I seen evidence of censorship such as what Tom Phillips and so many other foreign correspondents in China dramatize. My colleagues and I have been working hard to present facts and views albeit the current difficult of media industry.

Edited, sure. That's part of being a writer, as Phillips himself has experienced; I doubt that the Guardian has published every single thing he has ever written. But for Phillips to say "You can't write what you want. You can't interview who you want. And even if you do, you can't publish it," sounds more like he is projecting frustrations all journalists have to grapple with.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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