Thursday, October 30, 2003
(This week at Chinabiz)
In the coming months I will travel around the world investigating the changing nature of newsgathering. One of the questions I had to solve beforehand was how to keep updated about the developments in China. Because developments are going in such an unbelievable pace, getting information from China is very important.
One of the very new features in China (in the US they are already around for a few years) are the so-called weblogs or blogs and – watch my words – they are becoming a new trend in China very fast.
Blogs are websites with almost daily new entries in a reversed chronological order and offer many links to related information. They are often rather personal and opinionated and can focus on one person’s life or on an issue. Chinabiz is one example, although it was already blogging before it became popular. Some of those blogs will become famous, just like some became in the US, although most will be forgotten.
In China the government reacted in a classic way: it tried to ban blogs. Since the beginning of this year blogs hosted by blogger.com – a company bought by Google inc. – have been blocked. Blogger.com hosts about 1.5 million of the estimated 3 million blogs on the internet. The others have no problem and this year even the first China-hosted blogs emerged at for example www.blogcn.com.
In a new initiative www.livinginchina.com tries to act as a kind of portal for English-language blogs on China and that portal-idea is a very clever, since it is very hard to identify good information on so many blogs.
What Chinese and foreign blogs have in common is that most are very boring and are only interesting for the authors and their closest friends. The big difference is that while foreign blogs are dominated by a combination of male nerds and professionals – including journalists – Chinese blogs are mostly neatly designed websites, done by good-looking young women. Unfortunately, also most good-looking young Chinese women tend to have lives that are as boring as those of their nerdy counterparts.
In China they only emerged this year and a few are really encouraging. In one blog of a Shanghai girl review the sex she has with many men. Fortunate for the guys most reviews are anonymous. That is of course a classic way to score hits on your site.
Some blogs are giving really useful information. My favorite is www.wangjianshuo.com by the Microsoft engineer Wang Jiangshuo who really hit it on the head with his entry on the traffic in Shanghai. He explains the myriad of traffic regulations that – for example – ban new drivers from certain places. “The traffic sign forbidding the new car drivers are placed at the entrance of the elevated highways. I bet when drivers see the plate, it is already too late to change the lane to the other one leading to the surface road,” he writes. Wang got recently his first ticket, reason for his in-depth analysis. “At many intersections, left turn is forbidden. At the intersection between Cao Bao Road and Long Wu Road, for example, there is even a rule that cars can only turn left or right at the intersection, but cannot go straight forward. Many car drivers get the tickets at this place - I think not many people, especially for new drivers, can understand this strange rule. Thank God that that there are not many "right turn" forbidden roads yet. :-)
I will keep on getting my information from Shanghai.
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
“Senior Analyst Strategic Marketing” says the current business card of former AFP correspondent and AWSJ reporter Hyam Asher Bolande in a lunch this afternoon. He joined recently a larger telecom company as their analysts and is quite adamant about the claim in Foreign Affairs that in-house analysts might replace traditional media.
Bolande sees his current task mainly internally in improving communication between the large collections of individual and often hidden information. Compared to his job as a correspondent he does most of his work in-house and very seldom leaves the office for interviews.
When things go bad, the analysts are the first ones to lose their jobs, like we saw in the economic crises of the past decade. “We are considered to be a luxury; we have to prove every day we actually add value to the business,” he says. He does not see the number of analysts go up very fast. “We are too expensive for most companies,” he says.
Apart from internal sources, Bolande uses Google and Factiva as his second largest pocket of information, with proprietary information of investment banks and industry analyst as a third. For most of the information his company does not pay: only his favorite Factiva gets a small payment for each time it is being used.
Bolande does not need terminals or other real-time information and will not pay for it. Assessing the information is most important, and for that reason any decline in reliable sources like the newswires. Bolande: “Branding of the information is very important, that is why I would never use blogs as a source. Their information is very hard to validate.”
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Mike Lascelles@doctor.com comments (through www.livinginchina.com; thanks Andrea!)
This very magazine/blog is one of the main reasons why the traditional FC is on the way out. As someone who used to devour the China coverage of the main papers, I now find that a lot of the stuff written in the China blogs tells me more about China than the Reuters, Times or AP correspondent ever did. There are now a lot of excellent China/Taiwan blogs (Brainy Smurf and a Better Tomorrow my own faves) that show up the Emperor's New Clothes aspects of many traditional China correspondents. The bloggers often speak better Chinese, and live in the real world away from the embassy compunds of Beijing. OK, maybe they don't pore over every Xinhua news release for hidden meaning or speak to diplomatic sources, but so what. Sorry Fons, but maybe the loss of some of the timeserving foregin correspondents is no bad thing.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
A reaction on the initial start of this blog, republished in www.livinginchina.com
"I quite agree and regret that I have no answers for your questions. My former employer, a world-respected international magazine 'brand' heavily depends on its network of forr corrs for authoritative and exclusive insider analysis. But the rates it pays are pitiful, and the network is slowly eroding.
"I think the biggest problem, recession aside, is the growing trend for media organisations to be run by accountants and sales/marketing types rather than journalists. The former two are only interested in one thing - the bottom line - while any journalist worth his salt is only interested in good stories. And ne'er the twain shall meet, sad to say.
"Granted, the days of junket-hopping forr corrs living on extravagant expense accounts had to end, but without their type international publications can only feed off the scraps thrown them by official and commercial outlets. And we all know what that means!"
(The comment was not signed, so I have done no effort to identify the writer further)
Friday, October 24, 2003
disagrees with much that has been said in the article in Foreign Affairs, he writes in an email.
"Bloomberg is not a new form of news dissemination but a modest expansion of the traditional wire service. It does not distribute news “directly to the public.” The customers are large financial institutions and are far different from your average citizen. Some news is given free to newspapers but this is typical for any wire service and for Bloomberg is a form of marketing. As for the distinction made for their foreign correspondents being somehow “different,” I believe they are the same as for all the wire services. Ask Dow Jones what their “60” translators do in Beijing. Bloomberg has many locals in the same way all the major news outlets do in China and elsewhere; perhaps there are more now at a place like Bloomberg than there were 20 years ago but I believe all the wires have added overseas staff as that’s where the growth is. As for Bloomberg radio, it has a tiny audience in most parts of the world, including New York. I have a great deal of respect for Bloomberg but wouldn’t characterize it as a radically different journalistic model than, say, Reuters – just better run.
"As for in-house business reporting, I don’t believe it is any more advanced now than it was 50 years ago, with the possible exception of the investment banks. Most businesses I cover do not have extensive in-house reporting staffs and I have never heard of an extensive internal news organization. Some have marketing and newsletters, but I would doubt this differs much from a few years ago; I know Citibank for decades has had an influential newsletter/journal and its role is likely unchanged. The flow of information is certainly better now electronically in these firms than it was decades ago but I wouldn’t characterize it as “news.”
"I would agree that websites have opened up new channels of communication and information oversees. If you say that foreign news tends to be consumed by elites than yes, small distribution outlets – e.g., Greenpeace – will play a larger role in news dissemination. However, for the broad bulk of news, most large audiences continue (and arguably will continue) to rely on established news organizations as filters. The AP, the NYT, Bloomberg, Reuters, Time Magazine etc. will continue to shape the news most people receive. (I speak as an American here but the same applies elsewhere). Yes, internet usage soared during 9/11 – but it was mainly to places like CNN, not bloggs.
"Also on the topic of internet information, it is true that people to a small degree “are taking on functions of editors.” But I notice the examples cited in the Foreign Affairs article refer to news culled from major news organizations. I don’t consider it highly significant that a reader will personalize a group of stories -- but all from the New York Times; after all, the paper is doing the selecting in the first place so what difference does it make? This may change over time – we don’t know – but I know that every morning I read the Financial Times, the Asian Journal, and South China Morning Post online (I cannot get the hard copy in China until 6 pm), and deeply miss the story layout provided by the papers’ editors because it gives me their hierarchy of news. This will always be necessary.
"Responding to the notion of the “internationalization” of the correspondents themselves, I believe readers will always be more comfortable with news from their compatriots. For example, there is a cultural gap between British and U.S. style journalism (I speak as a three year news veteran in London). Readers of the “Sun” don’t necessarily want the style of reporting found in “USA Today.”
"As for the elite image of the foreign correspondent, there was a period when there were few of them, from the 50s until the 80s. It’s a testimony to the internationalization of news that there are now hundreds of reporters in most foreign capitals; thus, there’s less need for a few highly educated reporters and more need for legions of local or at least cheaper help. This is good or bad, but it’s a fact news organisations and readers must confront.
"At least for American news organizations, one could argue that the greater competition and lower revenue (due to the decline in growth in the U.S. market and of the news monopolies for organizations such as CBS News and ABC New) has forced these companies to seek revenue outside of their home territory. Coupled with the larger overseas staffs, and the need for more local people, the organizations automatically begin tailoring their news for a larger audience. (When it launched its highly successful U.S. edition, the Financial Times began shaping its stories as much for an American as a British audience.) This is good for a reduction in U.S.-centric reporting.
The South China Morning Post is an Hong Kong daily.
Andrew Collier is a former reporter at the financial newswire Bloomberg in New York and a media analyst in Hong Kong for of the investment bank Bear Stearns
Finally, the tickets are in order. Will leave for Tokyo on Nov 4 and continu my trip to San Francisco by November 8. Meetings in Tokyo with students of the Sophia University and the Tokyo Progressive Forum. I will meet also colleagues, partially at the FCCJ: Sam Jameson, former Tokyo chief of the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune, Hans van der Lugt, NRC Handelsblad and Pio d'Emilia of Il Manifesto.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
A new jazz bar at the 50th floor of the Bund Center opened with many colleagues present, so I had to update them a bit about my plans. Photographer Fritz Hoff, who was already engaged in a rather successful plan to put China pictures online, told me he was expanding the project now to other countries too. Will check out his expanded website tomorrow and tell you more about it.
Also former AFP colleague Hyam Asher Bolande, who ages ago, left Shanghai to join the Asian Wall Street Journal as their telecom specialist. The paper laid off much of its staff and after a period of freelancing Hyam joined the team of analysts at telecom giant Alcatel in Shanghai. It was one of the option Foreign Affairs mentioned as a way out when traditional foreign correspondents disappear. Reason enough to invite him for drinks next week.
New passport, new residence card, new visa, new business cards, new suit, ticket: what about the tickets. "Do not panic," says Jenny at the travel agent, it will work out. Airlines have no set the prices yet so they cannot get anything done. I get the same story from more travel agents.
Booked Hotel California in Palo Alto for 8-13 November, still have to fetch my suit. Get appointments in place in Tokyo: despite the upcoming elections (on Nov. 9) some colleagues want to exchange their thoughts.
What should I tell the students at Sophia University? And nothing heard yet from my trip to Europe.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
The official number of foreign correspondents in Shanghai has gone slightly up over the past year to 69 now, according to the ministry of foreign affairs. Compared to Shanghai’s development that is still rather modest, especially when you see that more correspondents cover Hong Kong and Beijing from Shanghai, while five years ago more would cover China from Hong Kong.
Still 69 is rather low, most political capitals would have over a hundred (like Bangkok) or several hundreds (like Beijing).
I met yesterday number 70, Charlotte Windle of the TV-department of the International Herald Tribune, who is currently on a short-term assignment in Shanghai. She is covering much of the regular stuff, Worldexpo, Formula one and an item on how business people find their way around in China. And I’m on her hit-list too, for tomorrow.
Monday, October 20, 2003
Another initiative in creating high-tech networks that generate news. Moreover Technologies offers companies high value information they collect from "25,000 hand selected, business-critical weblogs in real-time."
They cite the Pew report, saying that the US has 3 million blogs and about 8 million Americans that followed the Iraq war using blogs.
Their CEO Jim Pitkow says: "Weblogs are increasingly being recognized as an important source of business-critical information. Blogs highlight the news that matters as well as providing instantaneous commentary and opinions on a wide variety of topics and events."
Interesting to see how it works out.
Another information network has been emerging over the weeks: Living in China, an initiative of some foreign bloggers in China and bringing together information about this 'niche' market. Just like Indymedia based on volunteers, but more focusing on culture, economy and not that outspoken political. This blog also provides now and then entries.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? NYU-lecturer and head of the journalism program Jay Rosen asks himself in this weblog and comes with ten tips. (Courtesy of Dann Gilmor)
Number two: "2.) Journalism had become the domain of professionals, and amateurs were sometimes welcomed into it— as with the op ed page. Whereas the weblog is the domain of amateurs and professionals are the ones being welcomed to it..."
Traffic is slowly going up and I will start my worldwide trip in a few weeks time, so I have started to add a few new things. Comments can now go directly to the 'comment' section, although I will report in my contribution about emails that are worthwhile for a larger audience. Very late, I have started to expand my links, to other resources and blogs. I'm still missing most :-), please let me know what you think is worthwhile to add.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
Writes Robin (well, not literary), who participates in the voluntary network of indymedia, who are introducing a new kind of correspondent. It was a flashback into my own history, as I started off as a volunteer at a city paper in the Netherlands, de Nijmeegse Stadskrant, trying to challenge the local dinosaur in our one-paper city.
Thanks to the internet indymedia offers a worldwide network, but still seems to have both the assets and the disadvantages of my own starting point as a journalist. (In the end we did not challenge that much, but it was a great learning process).
Commitment is the major force and indymedia is firmly linked with the anti-globalization movement. Many of today’s media have their roots in political movements and were initially driven by the same commitment in stead of the urge to get revenue in.
But I do have to ask this very politically un-correct question: who will pay my rent? New models of reporting are fine, but I do feel more comfortable when it is also backed up by a kind of revenue model. I departed twenty years ago with a group of volunteers to join, what we called then, the traditional media.
While being connected with a movement has it advantages, as a professional you need a certain degree of independence (probably in other sense than indymedia means) since you will also have to deal with ‘the other side’. What makes a medium mature is when you are taken serious. My first trip to the local spokesperson of the police was still a scary one, but part of the learning process that made me became a professional journalist. Those are necessary steps for a mature medium, including reporting about large corporations: they cannot be ignored.
Friday, October 17, 2003
A small message in the Dutch online hub for information on journalism Villamedia is starting to cause some interesting fallout. Will give an update later in the weekend.
An encouraging reaction of the FCC in Thailand. I made for them a general description for their members. Please feel free to use it too and send it to others that might be interested in this project.
My name is Fons Tuinstra and very soon I will embark into a research trip that focuses on the future of foreign correspondence. As a Shanghai-based journalist and the former president of the Shanghai FCC I have seen numbers go down worldwide and budgets being cut. Some of the wire-services have developed into sweatshops.
For the past two and a half year I thought it was caused by the economic crisis, then 911 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or a combination of all of this. Just like many I hoped that one time that economic crisis would be over and good times would be back again.
In de past few months I have been reading about the development of the new media and how they might have in impact on journalism in general. Amazing discussions are taking place in the US, that are being missed in most place in Europe and Asia. When the magazine Foreign Affairs announced in its latest issue that traditional foreign correspondence is more or less dead, I decided to become officially worried and leave this habit known to ostriches.
I had already planned a trip that would bring me to some of the institutions of the finest higher education in the US, to Tokyo, Amsterdam and Brussels and I decided to ask faculty, colleagues and other experts during this trip one additional question: what is going to happen to foreign correspondence?
The Nieman Report of the Harvard University has asked me to contribute to their Spring issue on my findings. But I'm also looking for your feedback, while I'm trying to find my way into new waters. You can follow my quest at foreigncorrespondent.blogspot.com that should work as a public notebook. Feel free to send me you comments and tips, while I'm traveling. Forward this message to anybody else that might be interested.
I will not be coming to Thailand on this trip, but let's make the best out of this tool that is called the internet and send me your feedback at email@example.com
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
The first appointments in Japan and the US are coming in. Quite a difference in response between US university staff and faculty on one hand and my colleagues on the other. My colleagues are not as fast as the academic. While you would expect it the other way around. :-)
Trying to find some figures on the number of foreign correspondents (probably a hopeless search even if I could come up with a decent definition) I found an interesting discussion on blogs at the end of 2002.
Samizdata.net reported from London that for him most bloggers are foreign correspondents since most of them are living in the US. Reason was the Trent Lott-story, broken by bloggers like Instapundit.com, who forced the mainstream media to take on this story about the US politician Trent Lott, who had to step down as Republican leader in the Senate in December 2002 after bloggers caused a firestorm after Lott had made racists remarks, initially ignored by the other media. (Sorry some earlier links have become outdated).
No professionals, the professionals might say. But nowadays you can even learn the trade only as the course "How to become a foreign correspondent - Without leaving home" shows!
Monday, October 13, 2003
Hmm, a bit of a dilemma. I want to use this blog to get feedback from my colleagues in the US and Europe on my finding. But every time when I mention here in Asia the word 'blog' people think my Dutch accent is playing up: they simply do not know what it is.
Will start a bit of propaganda today.
Friday, October 10, 2003
Ulrika Engstrom, a Swedish journalist working in Shanghai, just sent me an email on the developments of the Swedish media scene. Will go over there to have some coffee or something stronger next week, but the example is interesting.
All big Swedish papers and TV-station withdrew last year all their foreign correspondents, Ulrike writes. (Unclear is yet whether we talk about all correspondents everywhere, or only their two accredited China correspondents).
Ulrike and two fellow journalists and one photographer have set up their own company and produce freelance work for Swedish media. They send their contacts a weekly update by email.
That changes the one-to-one relationship of an employee into that of a service provider.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Very hard not to get overwhelmed by what is already available in research on a subject I hardly knew existed only a few months ago. "We Media" gives a very thorough overview in a much more academic way, compared to the much praised Nieman Report that allows participants to disagree quite a lot. The whole stuff might be too much for many, but for journalists chapter five is a must. "The mass media are dead", says one quote.
Yes, thank you for the tip, of course I also had a look at the Columbia Journalism Review and of course they have their issue also dedicated to blogging, this feature that is so new for many of my colleagues here in Asia. Will start going through it now.
When can you call a discussion mainstream? I thought that the article in Foreign Affairs on the future of foreign correspondence was a very good start, but it is obvious not a magazine with a large readership. I keep on getting requests for a link to the article.
The opposite happend with an Australian friend who did sent the link to me, obviously not reading this blog.
Yesterday I met some of my colleagues at the party for German National Day and I kept on explaining to them what blogs actually are. It was all very new for them. Of course they had not seen the article, but also some of the people I'm going to see in the US heard through me for the first time about it.
Worry a bit about my idea of starting a blog on my venture: outside the US it seems to be very new territory.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
4-8 November, Tokyo, Sophia University
9-13 November, Palo Alto, Stanford University
13-22 November, Ann Arbor, Michigan University
23-29 November (1 December), Amsterdam, book tour (Brussels?)
30 November (2 December) - ??Cambridge, Harvard University
?? – 25 December, Ann Arbor, Michigan University
25 December – 1 January, Las Vegas
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Harvard is keeping the momentum in bloggerland and saw at the initiative of David Winer of the Berkman Institute for Internet and Society at Harvard a major gathering of famous bloggers and more traditional forces in journalism.
As you might expect, much of the conference can be found online, nice summaries by Steve Outing and interviews by Christopher Lydon.
The discussion seems to move in two directions. 1. How can blogging help to solve the current crisis in credibility between traditional media and their audiences? 2. How is blogging going to erode the traditional media?
Likely both directions will be valid options at this stage, and both might even work in the early stages.
Monday, October 06, 2003
I just finished the rather impressive piece of work the Nieman Report has produced. Still, I'm missing a very important angle. Some of the articles mention the lack of confidence audiences have in the way traditional media work. They are perceived to be part of the establishment, not as a necessary instrument to investigate and challenge that establishment.
The discussion goes on whether blogs might or might not be able to re-establish the link with our audiences.
When I listen to the technology people, and also people like Graham Earnshaw, the managing editor of XFN, I feel that might be the wrong focus. The question is whether our audiences are interested in the traditional media. We are of course, but what when the receiving end of the message is no longer willing to pay for that message? Who is going to pay my bill, to ask that very existential question again? I'm not paying a dime anymore to any media company. How are they going to make money?
Before I got this Google-gadget installed to stop pop-ups I would get now and then questionnaires asking me whether I would recognize certain online adds. I would not even recognize them when they were looking to me from under the pop-ups! Who wants to pay money for those adds?
I will be the last one to deny that my little project here is an interesting one. But like any insecure human being, it is a good thing when my own megalomania idea get a confirmation from independent sources. Two inquiries from both prestigious magazines who want or want to discuss my contribution on my upcoming trips.
My good friend Marc van Impe, a senior Flemish journalist in Brussels (important to be pc in those countries) wants to know whether his city is on my agenda. Well, it was not, but agenda's can be changed. Brussels is hosting one of the largest contigents foreign correspondents, so interesting ground for investigations. Because many of the European media are forced to focus on Brussels, their numbers will be increasing, I guess. But then, by now European news should be domestic news for most European media apart from the British of course.
Saturday, October 04, 2003
By coincidence I also received an email from Pekka Mykkanen, the China correspondent of one of Finland’s major dailies who is currently a fellow at the Nieman program at Harvard. We agreed to drink some beer in what is most likely going to be the first week of December. Pekka has been working form Shanghai for years and was a loyal , although sometimes cynical supporter of the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club.
He advises me to talk then also to the fellow of the Washington Post Ju Don Roberts, who has picked a very interesting topic indeed: “"How the Internet has transformed the way people live, work and communicate, and the lessons from the evolution of radio and television that apply to the development of the Internet."
Trip is getting in shape. First week of November Tokyo, although unfortunately not with Martin Fackler of the Wall Street Journal, but with other colleagues at the FCCJ. On November 6 a meeting with students of the Sophia University and a few other speeches.
Second week of November I will be in California, with the emphasis on Stanford University. The third week I will visit girlfriend Renee in Ann Arbor and investigate the playing field there, especially at the Department of Communication that focuses on mass communication and the effects of the new technology.
Then a week in Europe, to promote my book “15 misunderstandings about China and the Chinese” and in the first week of December, after my return from Europe, I hope to “do” Harvard. Then things are still open.
The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University addresses in its Fall publication one of the key issues on future developments in journalism: the weblogs. (Here in pdf). It is at first glance a very comprehensive overview of the battlefield. Future trends in journalism are of course of major influence on the state of the foreign correspondent. I will comment when piece require that in my view in the coming days or even weeks.
The question whether blogging and journalism have something in common and from that perspective I found the piece by Rebecca Blood so interesting, because it is so defensive about journalism. According to Rebecca blogging is no journalism, even when now and then journalists engage in this new form of publishing.
It is maybe my China experience that makes me slightly tired of this western approach of labeling. We first make a definition, we apply it and – hurray – blogging is no journalism. It is the defensive system of a group under siege and might not be the most useful approach.
Journalism is under siege because our readers, our audiences can increasingly make their own choices, choices we made not so long ago for them. So perhaps the question whether we think something is journalism is less interesting than the question what the audience thinks, how do they get in the future their information.
Again my China-background might be playing up here. Unlike in the US, Chinese journalists traditionally do not have high ethical standards. They used to write down what the government told them, and now more often what the advertiser tells them. So, we as consumers did not need a Jayson Blair, who caused an Enron-like shock for ethical standards in the US.
We are already happy when we see a decent piece that does not make us suspicious at first glance. It is good to have ethical standards, but we cannot rely on them to really convince our audience.
Rebecca Blood wrote "The Weblog Handbook" and this is basically her chapter on ethics.
Thursday, October 02, 2003
The first leg of my journey gets in place. While I have data on Shanghai and Hong Kong foreign correspondents, Tokyo is still blank. But on my way to the US, in the first week over November, I will pass over a few days in Tokyo, and of course will visit some of my colleagues and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.
Will catch up with Martin Fackler, the former Shanghai correspondent of AP, now working for both the Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review from Tokyo.