I was reading an article in The Atlantic Monthly, called China's Great Leap Backward and the article below was mentioned. I think it should be required reading for all aspiring journalists. Trump has proved no friend to the press, and in my opinion, we could start seeing the kind of thing described below in the US.
A man reads the Southern Weekly at a newsstand in Beijing. The once respected liberal broadsheet was forced to censor its content. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters
China's young reporters give up on journalism: 'You can't write what you want'
The ever greater constraints placed on news reporting by Xi Jinping mean many Chinese journalists see no point in pursuing a media careerWhen a 7.9-magnitude earthquake ripped through Sichuan province in May 2008, Lin Tianhong, a 29-year-old reporter at China Youth Daily, was one of the first to volunteer to head into the disaster zone.
“Everyone wanted to go,” he recalled. “Otherwise, why be a journalist?”
Hours later the Beijing-based reporter was flying towards Sichuan’s shattered countryside for what would be one of the most horrifying and defining moments of his short career in journalism.
For the next two weeks Lin trawled the disaster zone writing a series of devastating frontline dispatches. One article, Back Home, told the story of a couple who carried the corpse of their teenage son, Cheng Lei, home for burial after digging him from the rubble of his six-storey school.
“His mother wanted to put new clothes on him, but Cheng Lei’s body had grown stiff,” the journalist wrote. “The couple knelt before his corpse, stroking his hands and feet, calling out his name over and over again.”
The heart-wrenching article earned Lin the respect of his editors and the adulation of a generation of Chinese reporters. But fast-forward seven years and the former high-flier has abandoned his notepad and pen and given up on journalism.
“Boredom,” says Lin, who now works in PR on the 19th floor of Beijing’s World Profit Center, when asked to explain his decision. “One day I woke up in the morning [and] asked myself: do you still think it is fun doing the same thing over and over again each day?”
Beijing’s decision to expel the French journalist Ursula Gauthier in December has thrust the dispiriting situation facing foreign correspondents in China into the headlines. But Chinese journalists are facing far greater challenges – and many reporters are simply turning their back on the profession as a result.
French journalist Ursula Gauthier approaches the security gate before boarding a flight to France after her expulsion from China. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images
David Bandurski, an expert on Chinese journalism from the University of Hong Kong, said an exodus was now under way from the country’s newspapers as talented young journalists decided there was no future in the profession.
“We have reporters in their 30s and 40s who generally would be at the height of their professional careers in journalism who have left,” he said. “The mood is quite dismal right now in China’s media.”
Experts say two key factors are driving the hollowing out of Chinese newsrooms. One is the increasingly bleak financial situation facing newspapers as they struggle to adapt to the digital age. The other is the ever greater constraints being placed by President Xi Jinping’s increasingly authoritarian Communist party on what can and cannot be reported.
“It’s really a kind of double whammy,” said Bandurski, who traces the current political chill to Xi’s rise to power in late 2012.
In one of the most notorious cases a 70-year-old journalist, Gao Yu, was jailed for leaking state secrets after she allegedly passed an internal Communist party document to the foreign media.
Another journalist, Wang Xiaolu, a business reporter for one of China’s top financial magazines, was arrested and forced to make a televised “confession” for writing a story about last year’s stock market turmoil.
China fell one place in last year’s Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking and now occupies 176th position out of 180 countries.
Lin, who now works for a film company run by the billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba group, denied politics were behind his decision to quit journalism, instead pointing to the dwindling readership and influence of Chinese newspapers. “Nowadays, nobody reads your stories,” he said. “Nowadays, readers are all living inside their smartphones or inside WeChat.”
Chinese police push protesters and reporters outside courtroomas one of China's most high profile human rights lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang, stood trial. Report by Sarah Duffy.
But his frustration with censorship was evident in a blogpost in 2014 when he lashed out at the destruction of Southern Weekly, the once respected liberal broadsheet that he said had inspired him to become a journalist.
“All these years, people like us have seen our articles killed and our voices silenced, and we’ve started to get used to it. We started to make compromises and to censor ourselves,” Lin reportedly wrote at the time. “We’ve gone too far, as if we have forgotten why we had chosen this industry to begin with.”
Despite such problems Lin, who resigned from his last journalism job in April 2014, said it was still possible to write worthwhile journalism in China. “It’s just like a person has 10 fingers. There is one finger you can’t use but the other nine all work. There is one story you can’t write but there are still nine others you can.”
Asked what the 10th finger was, Lin laughed. “It’s the same for you,” he replied. “I guess I don’t need to say it out loud.”
Before the Xi Jinping era, editors at least had the autonomy to choose their own headlines, the journalist complained. Now newspapers and websites were forced to conform to a tedious monotony of praise for China’s Communist leaders. “The top headline must [always] be about Xi Jinping and the second must be about [prime minister] Li Keqiang,” the editor said. “If you read one website, you have read them all.”
Bandurski, the author of a book on investigative reporting in China, said the Xi administration’s growing intolerance of critical reporting was becoming clearer by the month.
In the past, Chinese newspapers endured six-month-long government crackdowns in silence but would emerge from those periods by publishing a powerful investigative report or exposé. “We are not seeing those kind of examples any more,” the academic said. “We are seeing much more silence.”
Posters of books about Chinese politics, including President Xi Jinping (centre), on display outside a Hong Kong bookshop. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images
Newspapers or websites that still tried to push the boundaries found themselves slapped back into line. A recent investigation into the social and environmental cost of the Three Gorges Dam by Shanghai’s
“The winter has turned into an ice age in terms of media,” Bandurski said. “For investigative reporting it has worsened steadily since 2005 and then of course the Olympics was a tough time. But since 2012 under Xi it has just gotten much, much worse.”
After more than a decade in the business, the editor, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said he was also on the verge of resigning. “Freedom is very important – it is the most important thing – but we don’t have it in China, especially in journalism,” he said.
“You can’t write what you want. You can’t interview who you want. And even if you do, you can’t publish it. Working in the Chinese media feels like you are wasting your life.”
Additional reporting by Christy Yao