December 9, 2011 - News
China's vibrant, changing media landscape
Newsstands dot the street corners of China’s major cities, and each day the country’s netizens cram into Internet cafés to surf the web and connect with friends online. Last year alone, Chinese readers purchased 50 billion newspapers and the government reported 163 million regular Internet café users—roughly one-third of China’s total Internet population.
According to panelists at the Dec. 7 China's Changing Media Landscape event, organized by Stanford’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC), now is both an exciting and a challenging time to be a journalist in China.
Changes in China’s media landscape go hand in hand with today’s rapid economic, social, and political reforms, said Shorenstein APARC associate director for research Daniel Sneider as he opened the event. He described Caixin Media, recipient of the 2011 Shorenstein Journalism Award, as the “first truly independent media company in China.”
“We need to try harder to get a scoop, but I think it’s a nice problem to have.”
-Hu Shuli, Editor-in-Chief, Caixin Media
Hu Shuli, editor-in-chief of Caixin Media and a former Stanford Knight Journalism Fellow, said that China’s number of quality investigative and independent media outlets keeps growing. “We need to try harder to get a scoop,” she said. “But I think it’s a nice problem to have.”
Hu called technology a “double-edged sword” in that it can be manipulated in order to spread rumors and incite unproductive debates. She said, however, that the popularity of the Internet and mobile devices offers Chinese journalists the opportunity to publish news faster and reach the public through social media platforms like the country’s most popular micro-blog service Sina Weibo, which has approximately 230 million user accounts.
Caixin managing editor Wang Shuo spoke of the efforts by Caixin and other independent Chinese media outlets to gain an international audience. “China presents one of the most exciting stories of our time,” he said.
Caixin and the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal publish one another’s news stories on a monthly basis. Wang said that the modest amount of “bartered” content is not the point. “It means that a major U.S. newspaper recognizes that Caixin is up to international standards,” he said.
Ben Hu, a reporter with Southern Weekend and a current Stanford Knight Fellow, said that China’s tough licensing system makes it difficult for publications to grow. Without a license, he said, online publications cannot attract banner advertising—their real source of income. Hu spoke of a computer-coder-turned-online-news-publisher who draws half-a-million visitors to his website daily, but still cannot make a profit from it.
China’s weak copyright protection system is another major issue facing journalists today, he said. Start-up publications often plunder “real” articles and rehash the content to avoid paying a fee to license it.
Orville Schell, the director of the Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations and the recipient of the 2003 Shorenstein Journalism Award, said that as the traditional U.S. media industry declines, China’s continues to grow more vibrant. On the flip side, however, he said that aggressive industry competition and the state’s system of licensing and censorship challenges journalists.
But China’s system of media control may also have an inadvertent upside, Schell suggested. It may slow the spread of a dumbing down of content in television and other areas of the media, following the commerce-driven model of the U.S. media industry.
The panel discussion concluded with a lively question-and-answer session from the standing-room-only audience of members from the Stanford community and general public. Questions ranged from the role of technology in the media to China’s system of censorship.
Hu Shuli and Wang accepted the Shorenstein Journalism Award on behalf of Caixin Media at a dinner ceremony held later that day at Stanford. The event marked the first time that an Asian media outlet or journalist has won the award.
» Large photo gallery
- Sydney Morning Herald: Reforming China from the inside
- Patch.com: Stanford award for pioneering Chinese news group
- Qiao Bao: Stanford seminar on China's changing media landscape (Chinese)
- Phoenix TV: Caixin Media receives 2011 Shorenstein Journalism Award (Chinese)
- Sing Tao Daily: China's Caixin Media receives Stanford news award (Chinese)