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China Ink: The Changing Face of Chinese Journalism

The young journalists introduced here come from a variety of news organizations, including established official organs of the Chinese Communist Party and government and newer commercial upstarts. Some majored in journalism at college or graduate school; others took roundabout paths, in some cases veering sharply from earlier career plans. Work methods and arrangements vary greatly; some have comfortable sinecures while others work for piece rates. Some find satisfaction in small daily achievements; others seek fulfillment in writing books. Some take great pride in commendations from national leaders for constructive reporting on complex issues; others find glee in being a thorn in the side of officials. The challenges that seem to loom largest may be as mundane as limits of time or space; they may be organizational, related to operation of editorial hierarchies; they may be structural, stemming from dictates of central or local propaganda authorities; more often they are a combination. The most reflective journalists have strong social consciousness and ethical awareness. They favor fact over preconception. They believe in compassion and sensitivity. They pick their battles, negotiating strategically with sources, editors, and officials in the interests of illuminating important public issues and drawing attention to problems. They are perturbed by the commercial imperatives seeping into news endeavors, while seeing this trend as inexorable in China’s current climate of profit seeking. Most like their work for its intrinsic rewards and the sense of having a ringside seat at key rounds of history; they are not averse to making names for themselves, but don’t necessarily expect to. And the bounds of state control turn out to be far more elastic than formal lines of authority and rules of supervision might suggest; journalists are constantly testing the parameters, sometimes brashly, more often in subtle ways.