The Plight of the Chinese Newspaper Reporter

For the Atlantic blog, Christina Larson profiles a Beijing journalist and writes about the current status of the media in China:

“I think sometimes I want to change nationality to be a better journalist,” he told me that evening in Beijing over ma po tofu.

His appraisal of his career so far as a journalist in China — brimming at once with earnestness and cynicism (a contradiction not uncommon, somehow, in many fields in China) — has stayed with me. Over cheap bijou, he shared his exploits covering illegal border crossings in Burma and sneaking into North Korea (he had posed as a tourist, and brought his wife along for cover).

Alas, the resourcefulness and capacity for personal heroism among some, not all, Chinese reporters too rarely shows through in the final published product. The censor’s red pen is hardly the only obstacle. Equally powerful is the appointment system for top personnel. The government designates the editor-in-chief of every newspaper — sometimes it’s someone with no interest in the position per se, simply a bureaucrat on his way from being vice-mayor of one city to another. Among other things, this means there’s little hope for young stars to rise and envision themselves as leaders. Eventually, the best and brightest, the would-be reformers, drop away.

In recent months, Yang’s aspirations have shifted. Having butted up against the low pay and fact that he’ll never advance to the top based on the caliber of his work, he is looking for another career.

“The track has ended,” he told me. “There is nowhere forward to go.” His eyes, as ever, looked big and round, but now somehow dimmer

March 22, 2011, 7:44 PM
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