… China’s new generation of metropolitan newspapers, current affairs magazines and Internet media have all reported on the quake with an intensity and professionalism that has not been possible in the past, when stories were banned outright or media were instructed to use only pre-approved releases from the official Xinhua News Agency. Hundreds of Chinese reporters have filed stories from the front lines of the rescue and relief effort in Sichuan. Students and volunteers have blogged their eyewitness accounts. Web portals have aggregated quake-related content, opening up topical pages, offering online slideshows and video. Chat rooms have hummed with activity. And media, new and traditional alike, have teemed with suggestions, cautions, calls and criticisms from Chinese of all walks of life.
This is possible, in part, because Chinese media have undergone important changes over the last decade. Once solely supported by the state, media have moved progressively into a more open marketplace where they must compete fiercely for audiences and ad revenues. This means they answer increasingly to readers, even as they are still ultimately accountable to party leaders. China’s vital and growing media industry has also fostered a growing sense of professionalism among journalists, who see themselves less and less as mere pawns of the state press apparatus.
The power of the Internet and new media has coalesced with the trends of professionalism and media commercialization to create a force China’s leaders find increasingly difficult to control. And this is why, when top leaders experimented with a more open approach to information after the Sichuan earthquake, the flood gates were opened.