Tag Archives: Media

The Telegraph trip: My impression

5 Dec

Thanks to my course at the University of Westminster, I had my first touch on a real newsroom of a British media, as we paid a visit to the Telegraph.

A few days after that visit I was still a little disappointed as I had expected more than that. But as a first visit to a real newsroom, that trip still remains very eye-opening and to some degree, exciting.

First impression

First impression is crucially important as it tends to remain in one’s mind for a long time.

  • The “Newspaper of the Year” of the UK has a very humble appearance from outside. Stepping out of the Victoria Station , you can even miss its building if you do not know the exact address – 111 Buckingham Palace Street. Unlike the BBC, The Telegraph has no such a logo hanging outside the building. If you are not expecting for a newspaper quarter, you may find it like a random front door of a hotel – a not very expensive one.

    In the lobby of The Telegraph

  • The security is impressive. Visitors will be checked name by name and previous registration seems necessary. A random visitor is not likely to get in.
  • The lobby resembles a shopping mall in every aspect – warm lighting, cosy sofas, a high ceiling and huge glass windows. We can finally spot logos of the Telegraph – the specially designed “T”. Again, if you want to enter the heart part of the newspaper, you need to pass another security check.
  • The most impressive decoration in the lobby is a decorating pattern made up by a lot of faces, which belong to those world’s most recognisable images, including former French President Jacques Chirac, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and the American movie star Tom Hanks.

The company culture

The company culture is a quite complicated conception while it can also be really simple.

The big newsroom of The Telegraph

  • As a news organisation the inner decoration of Telegraph is no different from other modern companies. It has simple but comfortable design style, with its company culture being reflected on the wall – mottoes related to journalism in several languages. Sadly as I Chinese people I did not find a motto in Chinese.
  • The Telegraph is quite generous as a media. Not only they let all over 40of us in, but also that day’s paper and tea and biscuits were provided free. It could be explained as “it is a big media oranisation whose generosity is obviously assumed”. Still, it makes people comfortable.
  • We listened to a lecture by their Compliance Officer – a lecture which is a little too long and exhausting but interesting enough.
  • As a media group, they are very cautious. Any unnecessary problems were to be avoided. We were asked not to name the lecturer in our blog and anything that could be controversial was required to be excluded.

A newsroom walk-through

The most exciting part of this trip was walking through the newsroom of the Telegraph.

  • For a newbie in journalism who rarely go into a newsroom, the panorama of the Telegraph newsroom was amazing. You just cannot help clicking with your camera. Visitors are firstly only allowed to take pictures on a higher floor through a glass, which makes me feel in a zoo. I really wonder how those professionals down there can bear such a feeling of being watched. Maybe they have just got used to it as part of their job.

    The very first version of Telegraph

  • The time we went there was in the morning, hence it was not the most intense time for a newsroom. At least half of the seats in the main hall were empty.
  • Then we went down to the newsroom. I could not help holding my breath when getting closer to people who were working there. The feeling was rather mixed. On the one hand you wanted to get as close as you can to the working atmosphere, on the other hand you realised that you were still an outsider and you should keep some distance.
  • The surprise came when we see the very first version of The Telegraph. You could tell the age just by the paper which had turned yellow. A newsroom that respects its history and legacy will benefit from the time it passes.

Chinese media: Enemy’s enemy is my friend

1 Dec

During a war sometimes you do not have many choices. You must optimize your chance to win. Enemy’s enemy is your friend.

The same relationship is experienced by Chinese media confronting with the Internet and the government. They tend to choose the Internet as their ally against the government, even though this ally may sometimes bite them as well.

Internet as a friend with adversity

In a place like China where the free flow of information is a rather luxury, any sign of hope is worth making effort to.

The early 2000s has witnessed the boom of the Internet in China, as well as the start of skyrocketing of Chinese online news, which later proved to be a doom for Chinese media on traditional platforms, especially for the Chinese print media.

Till today Chinese traditional media are still undergoing a complicated relationship with the Internet.

On the one hand they need to fully embrace it as a new platform which is welcomed by their readers; one the other hand they need to keep an eye on it as the Internet is also sabotaging their readership or viewship.

Enemy’s enemy

The Chinese government by no means sees the Internet as a friend.

Concerning the social stability in China, the government has set up the Great Firewall (GFW) to prevent Chinese Internet users from accessing “vicious” foreign websites such as Youtube and Twitter.

A slightly exaggerating explanation of the GFW

Online content in the Chinese Internet context is also under the scrutiny of the authority. Any content that is considered as unfavourable will be “harmonised” and kept out of the public sight.

The Chinese Web browsers, the real power behind the Internet, bear the large possibility of being irritated by the government due to the lack of free flow of information. Some activists have already managed to get over the GFW to see the “outside world”.

Internet as the leverage for free flow of information

Chinese media, have been kept their noses up and therefore been rather sensitive about the current of power rushing forward and back underneath the peaceful sea surface.

They now tend to mingle with the Internet as an important platform to release their news products, as well as a crucial leverage to keep the game on with the government.

By utilising the Internet, the Chinese media hope to see a more open environment for information to be cultivated in China.

As pointed out the Hu Shuli at the Reuters Memorial Lecture, although Internet seems to be dangerous for Chinese people concerning the risk of annoying the government, “it is helping China to grow”.

She also treats the relationship of Chinese government ant the media as “a game of cat and mouse”.

In this game, she said, “The mouse is smarter with modern technologies. While the cat needs to learn what will happen.”

The manipulation over news is possibly to be broken by the Internet as well, as empowered by the Internet, Chinese people can get access to any information (some may need a little technology to get over the GFW).

In the era of the Internet, according to Hu Shuli, “it is hard to fool people”.

Hu Shuli optimistic about Chinese media’s transition

30 Nov

China as the world’s biggest developing country, is facing a transiting phase. So are its media.

Where will Chinese media heading? People both from China and the rest of the world turn to the crystal ball for an answer.

Ms. Hu Shuli, editor of Caixin and a noble journalist, joins the team of fortune tellers,  saying that the Chinese media will face a bright future transiting “from an old one to a modernised and democratic one”, at the Reuters Memorial Lecture at Oxford on Monday.

Pressure from the government

It has almost become a cliche that in China, the government imposes a significant influence on its media.

Oh did I say “its”? Yes, the Chinese government has been making it’s effort to make meida as its mouthpiece for political propaganda.

Ms. Hu Shuli at Reuters Memorial Lecture at Oxford University

According to Yuezhi Zhao, this is due to the military origin of Chinese media. During the Long March in the 1930s, the Chinese Red Army used to utilise its official publication – The Red Star – to execute wartime propaganda.

This has created a mindset for Chinese government: the media should be controlled rather than liberated, as its power may harm the government itself.

It is true that the impact of the government has been mentioned by many scholars on this topic. Yet it is indeed a very important dimension of the Chinese media landscape.

Rather than being fairly upset about this objective condition, Ms. Hu Shuli seemed to be quite confident about Chinese media.

She did not deny the existence of the government’s impact on the media output. Actually she was very blunt about sensitive issues that media in China should not even touch, such as Falun Gong, Tian’anmen Square and Liu Xiaobo, a new name added to the list recently.

Ms. Hu Shuli has kept emphasizing that there is the hope for Chinese media to do a better job the the democratic progress of the country. Talking about her own Caixin, the sentence she has repeated for many times during the lecture and the panel discussion is “we will try our best”.

She treats the media-government relation in China as “a game of cat and mouse”. Although she thinks that there is no simple answer to questions about the government censorship over news, she believes Chinese media can still survive, by saying, “There is always a way to go. It’s always one step up, one step back.”

Pressure from the market

The media is never actually independent. Maybe it used to be like that in the very early days, but after people realised its amazing power and intended to get involved, the very pure days for media were over.

Apart from the influence from the government, today’s Chinese media also have to face the commercial impact.

As China is experiencing a serious transition, economic factors will play even a more important role in almost each domain, including media.

Panel discussion after the lecture

On the one hand, if the media are healthily sponsored by a company, it will enjoy more power to insert quality journalism.

On the other hand, the sponsor may also try to influence the media output in the consideration of its own profit.

Journalistic integrity and financial support are actually put on the same balance and weighed. For Chinese media, it is actually a severe problem of life or death.

Even Ms. Hu Shuli admitted that the commercial pressure is one of the “enemies” that Caixin now faces when trying to achieve genuine journalism in China, yet it is still “common”.

“‘Soft news’ is actually dangerous, ” She said, “They are paid news. But what’s more dangerous is fully manipulated news.”

It seems that to her, the government’s influence is still a bigger problem than the commercial pressure.

*The Times “Paywall”: An Unsure Future Led by Readers and Advertisers

23 Nov

Time: AD 2015. Two Londoners greet each other on the street. “Have you paid today’s charge for The Times on the Internet?” One askes. “Sure mate,” the other answers, “Have you?”

Instead of the weather, paying online for news has become the new domain where people can find something in common to start a conversation.

Time: AD 2010, the current time. Four months after the paywall was set up, Assistant Editor Tom Whitwell from The Times Online predicts a bright future for the new pay model of the 255-year-old daily paper.

“Five years later, it’ll be a normal thing to pay [for online contents].” He claims optimistically in a talk to students, against the backdrop that the news industry is struggling to survive the recession.

In July of this year, The Times made a controversial move by putting its online contents behind a “paywall”, where readers needed to pay to see its full articles on the web.

It is able to see charming smiles of William and Kate on the front page of Times Online

But the future is far more unpredictable than what we think it will be.  Especially the news industry has become a business that sells dual products: to both subscribers and advertisers.

To customers: comfort  and persuade

By setting up the paywall, The Times has made buyers of its physical products less upset about the free contents online, which has made them feel paying for something that can actually be free.

According to Whitwell, this is indeed one of the motivations for the new pay model although it “may be not the main reason”.

But it is also true that the paywall has blocked a significant amount of online readers, as the figure suggests that the online traffic of The Times has dropped by around 90 percent.

In consequence, it is blocking itself away from the online conversation, which should involve the free flow of information.

In terms of news dissemination, the paywall also prevents articles from being shared via Facebook or other social networking sites. This hardly does any help to set up the brand image of The Times among minds of the next generation.

Rupert Murdoch on Paywall and iPad

Perhaps the iPad and Kindle versions of The Times may do some help, but the number of subscribers is very limited, as these portable platforms are still exclusive to a small group of people considering the current situation.

To advertisers: show and attract

Except for readers, The Times also has to deal with advertisers. Whilst keeping readers staying, it needs to tell advertisers that it is still a business model that is worth investing.

Despite the dramatic slump of webpage traffic, Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive of News International believes: “Each of our digital subscribers is more engaged and more valuable to us than very many unique users of the previous model.”, according to Reuters.

Oops, it may cost some money if you want to see the whole article

Her unspoken words are: those who stay with us are more helpful than those random web browsers to attract more advertisers. But she does not imply how.

Tom Whitwell has shed some light upon it, as he tells students: “If you can tell your advertisers exactly what your audience is, ads will become more expensive.”

In an interview he exemplifies the “interesting demographics” of The Times website: “There is a considerable number of younger women. In fact there are more younger women than younger men.”

No matter how people from The Times are optimistic about their paywall, the future remains a puzzle. That is also why other British newspapers have not followed this move, yet.

Whether £2 a week can help The Times survive or not is still unsure. But one thing for sure, as pointed out by Tom Whitwell, is that the paywall has “challenged the news industry quite a lot”. Hopefully this is also a sign of hope.


For more on this topic, please click here and here to see blog posts by my colleague Stefanie Söhnchen.

* This feature article was written originally for the Westminster News Online.

Tell me you didn’t have an agenda in your mind, please

8 Nov

Being the world’s largest developing country and a rocketing economy, it is not surprising to see China on the news agenda of British media. But it IS a little surprising when I see a Chinese artist being under house arrest so easily finds its place on the news agenda.

Ai Weiwei was under house arrest on Friday at his home in Beijing. This story was easily picked up by British media like the BBC and the Times.

Continuity of the previous agenda?

There must be something to do with his recent work on display. Last month Ai has just filled Turbine Hall of Tate Modern with 100 million hand-painted ceramic sunflower seeds. This is apparently news worthy for British media as it perfectly satisfy the criteria of proximity, supelativeness and to some extent quirky.

Especially after the picture with Ai holding his seeds has been displayed again and again by the media, some impression will be implanted in brains of British people. It is also understandable that it will ring their bells when something (especially bad) happens to this (crazy) modern artist.

But this is not enough to put him onto the news agenda again.

Beyond art

When we are talking about this, we must first know what kind of person our subject is.

The Times describes him as “an outspoken critic of the ruling Communist Party, and a man whose political activism is reflected in his art”. In other words, our subject is somehow in a tricky relation with the Chinese government.

Thanks to The Times pointing out the ruling party, I can hear Noam Chomsky reminding us of the “Propaganda Model”.

To put it in a simple way, the “Propaganda Model” refers to several factors that may influence media outputs. There are basically five filters within the news producing process. Ideology is one of them.

Putting this in mind, we can now to some extent understand why a Chinese artist with political activism could easily find its way to the agenda.

Because the news institution itself has an agenda in its mind.When bringing Ai Weiwei again to the news agenda, it is beyond just art.

Conspiracy talking

I must sound a little about conspiracy now, but so do British media.

Being an uprising economy also means an easy way of being demonized. Plus there is the ideological difference. These factors makes the Chinese government an easy target especially when coming to human rights.

In this sense, Ai Weiwei’s case is a perfect story of a Chinese political activist being in trap set by the evil government. He is one part of the long-term news agenda.

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