Nieman fellow Wu Nan on Chinese journalism
For class last Thursday (March 29), we sat in on a talk with Wu Nan, a Chinese journalist who’s worked for both Chinese media outlets and the Wall Street Journal’s Chinese edition. She’s currently a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, no doubt to honor her contributions to investigative journalism in China.
Wu said the censorship is “frustrating,” but investigative journalism is “very addictive.” It’s work that can change lives and hold the government accountable, she said.
Wu gave the example of Sun Zhigang, a young Chinese man who moved to the city to look for a job but lost his identifying papers. The police arrested him, and two days later he was dead, beaten to death. A large newspaper investigation into the incident caused an outrage among the public, and the government was forced to acknowledge that it had been wrong. Twelve people, including many government employees, were sent to jail, receiving sentences from 3 years to life in prison.
Most Chinese investigative work is done by economic papers because they are better off financially and face less censorship from the government, Wu said. But with the rise of Chinese social media site RenRen and microblogging site Weibo, people can get messages out before the censors can stop them.
Wu said the sheer size of the digital media industry is too big for the government to over-regulate or shut down. In China, there are 420 million Internet users, 270 mobile phone users, and 250 million Weibo users. Chinese tech companies make good money – the total market value is 25 percent of the value of Apple, Wu said.
She said she sees future for investigative journalism in China. In response to a comment questioning the validity and journalistic integrity of Chinese state media, Wu said no one really trusts it.
“We don’t watch that anymore,” she said. “I think the young Chinese generation is questioning.”