NEW MEDIA NEWBIES
Chinese journalists discuss challenges and opportunities in the internet age
“When will the video be ready?” “Hey, has anyone seen the camera?” “Oh, no, my PR is down again!” “Hooray, we have 1,000 more followers on Weibo!” Just three months ago, when I first started my new career as a reporter for the Global Times in Beijing,
I never expected that being a journalist
would sound like this. I thought it was all about getting scoops and conducting investigations and interviews and typing away at my keyboard. But now, besides the occasional interviews and story-writing, we have a more critical task: making short video reports in order to attract more millennials on social media.
In fact, thousands of journalists in China are undergoing a similar transformation in their careers and places of work as print media quickly becomes replaced by digital content.
According to the China Internet Development Report 2017 released by China Internet Network Information Center in January, the number of Chinese Internet users reached 772 million in 2017. Among them, 97 percent are mobile phone users, which increased by about 2 percent yearon-year.
Data released by iiMedia Research, a mobile internet business that offers data mining and integrated marketing services, shows that by the end of 2017, short video users in China reached 242 million. The figure is expected to increase to 353 million by the end of 2018.
How to attract the short attention spans of millennial netizens has become the biggest challenge in today’s media. But for professional journalists who have long favored quality over clicks, what are the opportunities and challenges they are facing?
On this special occasion – November 8, which marks the 19th annual Chinese Journalist Day – I interviewed my colleagues here at the Global Times in Beijing to share their experiences about being a “new media” journalist in the digital age.
Every step takes effort
“At first I thought being a journalist was all about interviewing and writing. Then I was told that we have to also make short videos – all by ourselves. At that moment I thought, ‘oops, I’m about to lose my job.’”
These words were spoken by my colleague Li Jieyi. After receiving her master’s degree in June, she chose journalism for her first job. Although she learned about journalism in university, nothing prepared her for the advent of new media.
However, after three months, she is now getting used to the faster pace of her new responsibilities. Some of Li’s videos have received hundreds of thousands of views on one of China’s biggest social media platforms, Sina Weibo.
A new journalist myself, I have experienced a similar journey. Interviewing, shooting and editing videos – in addition to having to promote it on social media – every step takes a lot of effort, especially for new media newbies.
Similar-yet-different to the old days of journalism, when a writer’s happiest moment was seeing their article in print, our happiest moment now comes when one of our videos receives thousands of views and likes. Occasionally it even goes viral. It is then that you finally realize the importance of new media.
The more things change...
My colleague Wei Xi has been a journalist for over seven years. As an old hand, she told me that her decision to become a reporter was out of a desire for freedom. “I don’t like sitting in an office all the time. Being a journalist, you can go outside to interview people. I like this working style,” she said.
Another reason for her career choice was that it gave her the opportunity to glimpse into other people’s thoughts about life. “The stories of ordinary people always attract me,” she told Metropolitan. “I once interviewed a food deliveryman who works only at night. He is optimistic and loves reading books in his spare time. When we went into his simple room, I noticed that Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was at his bedside. That was encouraging to me.”
That interview was also turned into a short video. To shoot the material, Wei and Li rose at 3 am that day and traveled across the city. The interview and shooting took them four hours. They wrapped just as the sun was rising over Beijing.
...the more they stay the same
“The most difficult thing [as an oldschool journalist] is to compete with you post millennials,” Wei says half-jokingly. “Software and cyber language are my headaches. So I hope I can keep learning and make advances constantly.”
Like her colleague Wei, writing for Metropolitan for the past seven years is Yin Lu, who too has witnessed China’s digital revolution as well as the marked changes in her profession and office. Established in 2009, Yin has seen Metropolitan Beijing go through major transformations. But according to her, there are some things that never change.
“At first, we focused mostly on local news. Later we shifted to in-depth reports on the lives of local expats and hot topics in Beijing. Now we are transforming yet again to new media,” Yin said. “Although many [employees] come and go, the feature of our team remains the spirit of innovation and constantly seeking change and improvement.”
“Making a good video not only require professional editing skills. It also depends on the journalist’s own qualities, like the ability of story-telling and creative thinking, a sense of aesthetics and the understanding of the features of different social media platforms.” Yin said.
“We will keep learning through practice,” she added.
With the rising popularity of short video, Chinese journalists are transforming themselves from print media writers to new media content creators in order to cater to the tastes of young audiences.
Taking photos and shooting video clips are required skills for many journalists in China today.