N3Con First Look: “Tank Man” Photographer Jeff Widener

Tank Man. Tian’anmen. 1989. These three words conjure up the iconic image – a man, on Beijing’s Avenue of Eternal Peace, blocking a People’s Liberation Army tank from rolling ahead.

You’ve seen the image. Now meet the photojournalist, Jeff Widener, coming to Hong Kong.

In advance, AAJA-Asia President Ramy Inocencio asked Widener to share thoughts on his association with attempts at Chinese democracy and his historic shot seen around the world.

A quarter century has passed since the events of June 4, 1989 on Tian’anmen Square and across China. How do you feel about being known as “the” man who photographed the now iconic “Tank Man” image?

004There were four other photographers who made a still image of “Tank Man.” For me, the picture has been a blessing and a curse in that it has been a distraction from my other body of work. On the upside, “Tank Man” has opened a lot of doors for me through the years. People who normally would not have given me the time of day have suddenly found time to chat. I have been invited to many events to speak. I never thought I would lecture at Harvard University but that did happen a few weeks ago. The BBC flew me to Beijing on the 20th anniversary and I met a young German schoolteacher named Corinna. We were married the following year in Hawaii. Through the years, the “Tank Man” and my association have taken on a progressively higher profile. “Tank Man” is now part of my life and I guess since no one seems to know where he is, I get to be the one to share his story. That’s not such a bad thing.

On that day — that instant — when you took the famous photo, what was going through your head at that exact moment?

The event was too far away and I had to make a quick decision to grab a teleconverter from the bed which would have doubled the focal length of my Nikon 400mm lens to an 800mm at the risk of losing the picture, or play it safe and have an image that was too far away and grainy. I gambled, barely making the image in time.

Did you ever try to find out what happened to “Tank Man?” What did you find, if even the smallest of leads?

So far I have no concrete proof. Rumors I have heard are that the tank driver knew the “Tank Man.” Other rumors (purport) that “Tank Man” was upset because his girlfriend was killed by the military. But again, these are just rumors without any confirmation and I cannot even recall where I heard them from.

After 25 years — honestly — do you get tired talking about your famous photo? Why or why not?

Yes and no. Right now I am trying to concentrate on a major solo photo exhibition in Italy and I actually should be in Lucca right now but because of the importance of the 25th anniversary (of the 1989 Tian’anmen Square crackdown), I feel compelled to be in Hong Kong. I want to feel the pulse of 300,000 citizens marching in memory of “Tank Man” so that the world will not forget the incredible feat that this single individual accomplished. It’s just awe-inspiring to see such loyal support for this great act.

How do you feel when you look on China’s evolution — in any sense of the word from political, to economic and socio-cultural — since 1989?

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Well, I am not an expert on China affairs. I am just a guy who loves photography and managed to be in the wrong place at the right time. However, I will say that at each visit to Beijing I have noticed a gradual improvement in the economy with better disposition of the Chinese people. In other words, the citizens seem to be happier on the outside but on the inside may be another matter.

Do you go back often? Did you ever fear you were a marked man in Beijing’s eyes?

I returned on the 20th anniversary. I was never quite sure whether I was being watched but one curious thing happened at the airport on my departure. The average tourist took about 30-60 seconds to be processed by immigration. When my turn came up, my customs agent went through a stream of emotional postures. Sometimes he frowned, other times smiled, but one thing is for sure, my 20-minute processing time was clearly longer than the other passengers.

You’ve covered so many other events since 1989, what are you working on today?

Right now I am trying to preserve and organize my archives going back to age 12. It is a daunting task. I am also working on two book projects and with a curator who is organizing a major photo retrospective in Italy. Once I have caught up with these events in my life, I hope to return to serious documentary photography.

010What best words of professional advice can you impart to photojournalists now in the field and for students who want to follow your path?

The journalism business is going through great changes. It is apparent that one will not get rich as a photojournalist so this will be a profession that requires a real sense of purpose for the sheer joy and self fulfillment it brings. For students wanting to run off to war zones, my advice is to carefully calculate the risks and tread with utmost caution. It’s not like the movies. I have almost been killed several times in my career and only a miracle saved me from a rock to the head during the June 4th massacre at Tian’anmen Square. Going down the ‘conflict road’ can lead you towards death’s door so extreme caution is required. During the diplomatic compound shooting following the events of June 4th, I found myself under attack by a truckload of soldiers firing automatic weapons. I jumped out of a cyclo (foot-powered tricycle), dropping the Nikon 400mm lens that made the “Tank Man” photo and ran off like a scared schoolgirl. I am no hero and I sure as hell was not going to die like one.

CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout and AAJA supporter continues the conversation, hosting an hour-long session and audience Q&A with Jeff Widener, June 7 at the 2014 New.Now.Next International Media Conference in Hong Kong, June 6-8. Register now.

 

 

 

Living Your Dream Career

By Jeffrey Lee (MJ-2014 from JMSC/HKU)

Everyone should just sit back and reflect on what it is they truly want for their careers, regardless of where they are on that journey. This was the message from a group of career coaching experts participating on a panel entitled, “Executive Life Coaching: Your Career, Your Hands,” at the New.Now.Next. Media Conference held June 7-8 at the University of Hong Kong.

“I think the starting point is to really get in tune with what you want, as opposed to what you think you should do or what other people expect from you,” said Abigail Croft, a freelance executive coach. “The first thing I would say is quite key: cast off anything that starts with a ‘should’ or ‘other people want for me,’ and then to really start getting a bit creative.”

Some of the things we should be asking ourselves, the experts said, include “What would it involve?” and “What are some of the skill sets that I really, really enjoy using?” One of the most powerful questions, according to Croft, is “What do I lose track of time doing?” or “What would I voluntarily spend my Sunday afternoon doing?”

Only then can we begin to search for that perfect job.

“You can have the career of your dreams, but not many people tap into their dreams,” said Croft. “If you don’t get the dreams in place, your roadmap is so much harder to navigate because you don’t know where you want to go, and you don’t have that sense of freedom, creativity and belief that you can be whatever you want to be.”

This is particularly important here in Asia, where people tend to do what their parents want of them.

Jane Horan, founder of The Horan Group, an executive coaching consultancy, said, “I’ve been in Asia for 25 years, and I will often have a lot of young Asian talent come to me and say ‘I really hate what I do. I’m in finance or I’m an engineer, and I went into this career because my parents said I should do this.’ ”

Horan said that such people usually realise midway through their careers that they want to do something different.

For others, getting fired can also serve as a wake-up call.

“People that have been incredibly successful have failed very spectacularly on many occasions,” said Croft. “Being sacked can be viewed as a huge failure, but it can also be viewed as a huge opportunity.”

There could be cause for celebration in being fired because trying out one path, getting things wrong and then realising that it’s not the right path for you can be a good catalyst to assess where you are, and what you want, she said.

In the end, it comes down to understanding yourself and your priorities.

“The journey is a tough one,” said Angie Lau, an anchor at Bloomberg TV who moderated the panel. “But don’t let yourself be your own worst enemy.”

Is Armed Conflict in Asia Inevitable?

By Piotr Zembrowski (MJ-2014 from JMSC/HKU)

With a clear majority of both Japanese and Chinese thought leaders supporting the use of force to enforce territorial claims, armed conflict in the East and South China Seas is looking ever more likely, or is it?

A panel of seasoned “Asia hands,” some of whom have reported on the region for decades, tried to answer this question in a panel entitled, “Diaoyu Debacle: Asia on the Brink,” at the New.Now.Next Media Conference held at Hong Kong University on June 8.

“I don’t think there will be a deliberate conflict,” said Demetri Sevastopulo, a South China correspondent for the Financial Times. “But it’s much more likely, and scary, that an accidental conflict escalates out of control.” And given that there is no bilateral confidence building or de-escalation mechanism between the two countries, “it will be difficult for national leaders in China and Japan to get such an incident under control,” he said.

The journalists generally took the view that China’s rising economic, political, and military power would lead it to continue to try to assert its influence over its neighbors. One reason is that natural resources located in the disputed territories are considered an important strategic asset for China’s resource-hungry economy.

China’s latest display of the region’s strategic importance came on May 2 when it deployed an oilrig south of the Paracels, islands claimed by both China and Vietnam. The incident triggered anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam and a naval standoff involving dozens of ships from both sides.

“The situation is the new normal, it’s unavoidable”, said Bloomberg’s John Liu. “When economic relationships grow, it generates tension. If my country is dependent on your country for economic wellbeing, you have influence. Am I going to allow this influence to grow or change course to reduce it?”

“Eighty-one percent of Japanese experts would support the use of force [to retake territory seized by another country if diplomacy fails],” said the Asahi Shmibun’s Yoichi Kato, quoting Power and Order in Asia, the June 2014 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In China the number is 83 percent. If Japanese and Chinese experts support it, that means war.”

“I’m not convinced that China is after a new cold war,” said Voice of America’s Steve Herman. “China’s assertiveness in its own backyard, and what it claims as its own waters, is awakening a new potential for an Asia-Pacific alliance, with the US being a very formidable presence.” With America’s interests in the region having suffered recently from “benign neglect,” we may see a shift, with the Philippines and even Vietnam welcoming some sort of US military presence in their countries, he said.

“[During the Cold War], the US and USSR had very strict security protocols,” said Reuters’Greg Torode. “China has never started discussions with US on this, and there’s quite a big difference of opinion on it.” With accidental military encounters increasingly possible in the sea, as well as in the air, “these issues will need to be sorted out,” he said.

So what role should the media play in reporting on the growing tensions? The panelists stressed the need for fair, objective, and accurate reporting and were critical of some of the media in Japan and China for rousing nationalist sentiments around the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute.

That issue came to a head in 2012, when the Japanese government purchased the islands to pre-empt their acquisition by Tokyo’s fiercely nationalist governor. “It was a way to prevent provocation of China,” said Kato. “I’m frustrated with the way that Chinese media never reported this fact,” he said. “The role we can play is to mitigate tension.”

 

Reporting the MH370 Disappearance: Lessons Learned

By Arshiya Khullar (MJ-2014 with JMSC/HKU)

The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 will certainly go down as one of the great aviation mysteries of our time. With so much left unanswered and still to be reported, how well have newsrooms across Asia handled the story so far?

A panel of journalists who covered the disappearance as it unfolded offered their take on that question at the June 7-8 New.Now.Next. Media Conference held at the University of Hong Kong.

For starters, not many had anticipated the story would last so long, and few expected the story to take so many twists and turns and still be unresolved three months after the initial report of the plane’s disappearance.

“We had seen coverage of plane disasters before. So the first few hours were dedicated to setting up what was thought to be a plane crash story, with a plan that we would kick into the usual stories on survivors and any wreckage. After five hours, we realized this was something unusual,” said Ted Anthony, Asia-Pacific News Director for AP.

Because things seemed so out of the ordinary, most international news organisations and local media in Asia ended up investing much airtime and resources to the story. “We had five bureaus around this region dealing with this story everyday for five months. We used reporters in the U.S. who covered aerospace, defence, and the satellite industry,” said Adam Najberg, Digital Editor Asia at The Wall Street Journal.

For those covering the story on the ground, it was natural to draw analogies to past crashes. “I was thinking about a New York Times story on the Air France crash years ago. I didn’t know what I would be confronted with,” said Vivienne Huang Yuan, Tencent.

But unlike past events, the MH370 story raised many questions and offered few definitive answers. And with the public maintaining a constant curiosity about the incident, newsrooms were challenged to keep covering the story and generating content.

“There were a lot of places involved – Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, the U.S. – but the core of the story lacked a place, it was fragmented. How do you make coherence of it all,” said the AP’s Anthony.

“There was a huge appetite around the world for information,” said the WSJ’s Najberg. “People were paying attention beyond expectations and this led us to have to make sure we had angles and to be assertive about reporting responsibly and accurately.”

What also made reporting challenging was the quality of the information trickling in, some of it conflicting data from the authorities who had presented themselves as working together, said AP’s Anthony

“There was a lot of noise, so many things coming from so many places,” said the WSJ’s Najberg. “Every blogger, tweeter was posting unconfirmed news. So we were spending a lot of time back reporting and confirming.”

Many remote provinces in China had also sent local media to cover the news, said Tencent’s Yuan. “But people didn’t like the coverage. They thought it was just what the international media was reporting.”

The big question facing the media now is, with almost no new information coming from the authorities or the airline, does the story still have legs?

“From a digital standpoint, it was easy to show all the big data in the first month, using explanatory videos and graphics. Now after three months, it’s still a story, but you just can’t constantly stay on top of it,” said the WSJ’s Najberg.

But beyond the headlines and the human tragedy, the MH370 story has changed how journalism is both perceived and practised, said the panelists. AP’s Anthony said the story underscored the importance of verification, while Tencent’s Yuan said that it all came down to the basics of journalism: persistence and good judgement.

“We are accustomed to distinct endings. We get uncomfortable when things don’t end in a coherent way. This has made us see that not all news ends in a distinct way,” Yuan said.

“All perceptions about how you cover stories have changed with this,” said Najberg. “You think you’ve seen it all, but you haven’t.”

 

Women in Journalism

By Kevin McSpadden (MJ-2014 from JMSC/HKU)

The recent firing of former New York Times editor Jill Abramson has put a new spotlight on the role of women in journalism.

It also provided a timely backdrop for a lively discussion of the topic at the June 7-8 N3Con Media Conference at the University of Hong Kong, led by a group of veteran female journalists.

“When she left I think there was a lot of discussion — was she fired because she was a woman? Was she trying to be assertive, but everyone thought she was being a big B? But, I think ultimately it would be unfair to brand her departure as being bad for women,” said Angie Lau, Lead Anchor of Bloomberg Television Asia.

Whatever one’s views on the Abramson firing, the subsequent news that she was being paid less than her subordinates has helped highlight anew an issue that has divided the journalism profession for years — that of wage disparity between male and female journalists – and one that the panelists were no stranger to.

Julie Makinen, a Beijing correspondent with the Los Angeles Times, who was privy to employee salary information in a previous job, said that the profession was going through a bumpy salary transition. “Legacy journalists,” those who have been working for 25-30 years, are receiving, deservedly, high salaries, she said. As they retire, their replacements come in with a completely different skill set, but usually work for a fraction of the cost.

“Salary parity is a very difficult issue right now, and it behooves women to do the research beforehand,” she said, referring to salary negotiations.

But salary disparities are just one issue facing women in journalism.

“I think there are some changes going on in the new generation of young Asian women,” said Ying Chan, founder and director of the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. She offered three tips for young female journalists.

First, build personal worth, and don’t give excuses, not even ones like culture or gender.

Second, it’s important to build allies in the newsroom. Find managers, colleagues and ask for their help, and then return the favor.

Finally, pick the right battles.

Deborah Kan, the Executive Producer at the Wall Street Journal-Asia, said having patience pays off in the long run. “I think it’s your individual experience, and if you can rely on yourself, and allow yourself the time to build credibility, then you can stand up, but it takes time,” she said.

So what’s the best way to build credibility and reputation?

The Los Angeles Time’s Makinen offered some advice based on her personal experience — take a job nobody else wants. Her own career started, she said, when she took a position as the City Night Editor for the Washington Post, a job that gave her a lot of responsibility but required her to work from 6pm to 2am.

“I must have been 23-years old, and it seems a bit crazy today, because I was managing colleagues twice my age, but it really gave me a chance to prove myself,” she said.

While gender and title are factors, the most important part of proving oneself as a journalist is not that different from previous generations — you still need to produce interesting stories. And in today’s media environment, women’s issues are underreported, offering a potential niche for female journalists, the panelists said.

“Only a quarter of stories written are centered on women, and there are a lot of stories that we women may be more in-tuned to,” said Makinen. “We have a different perspective, and sources may be more willing to speak to us. Use these advantages through your career. Look for those niches and get yourself out there.”

 

Threats to Press Freedom in Asia

By Gloria Cheung (BJ2014 from JMSC/HKU)

Media around the world are under serious pressure from all sides.

This was the view of Francis Moriarty, Chairman of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club Press Freedom Committee, who moderated a panel discussion on press freedoms in Asia at the June 7-8 New.Now.Next Media Conference at Hong Kong University.

Joining Moriarty were veteran journalists specializing in Asia and a former Hong Kong government official. The event also broadcast an exclusive video message from former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau, who was brutally attacked last February getting out of his car in Hong Kong.

Panelists described the many challenges the media in Asia were facing, not least of which were such basic principles as trying to ensure freedom of speech and journalistic integrity. Chinese economic influence on media operations was another growing concern highlighted by the journalists.

Mike Forsythe, a New York Times Foreign Correspondent, shared his experience being fired by Bloomberg as a result of his investigative reporting on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s family. He said that mixing politics and business is a line that the Chinese government does not want foreign media to cross when it comes to reporting in China. The family assets of Chinese leaders therefore become an especially sensitive topic.

“China is an enormously complicated country. It poses incredible challenges to press freedom around the world,” Forsythe said. “We need to make sure that we, as journalists, are aware of it and push back.”

Joseph Wong, a former senior official with the Hong Kong government and Yin Ting Mak, former Hong Kong Journalism Association Chairperson, also highlight China’s growing economic influence on media freedoms.

According to Wong, news organizations will sometimes kill negative reports about China. “This is because most media owners have extensive business affiliations and investments in China,” he said. “’Guanxi’ (relationships) is a very important thing.”

Advertising revenue from pro-Chinese enterprises is another factor driving self-censorship by media outlets. According to Mak, in 1997, 22% of listed companies on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange were from China. That figure has now risen to 56% in 2014, he said.

Wong explained that the concern over China’s economic influence did not mean Hong Kongers were opposed to China. “We are not anti-China on principle. We just want to preserve Hong Kong the way it was — freedom of speech, freedom of expression.”

In other parts of Asia, the threats to press freedoms were similarly disturbing. Steve Herman, Bureau Chief of Voice of America Bangkok, described his experience covering the recent coup in Thailand, where the military had intensified threats against the media.

“There’s more press freedom in Myanmar now than in Thailand,” said Herman. “There can be no criticism of the [Thai] royal family.” He said even raising the issue can get journalists in trouble.

Rather than going on the defensive, some of the journalists argued that both the media and the public needed to fight back against government controls and self-censorship.

“It’s not just the government. It’s a problem for us. How should we deal with this and how can we stand up,” urged Mak.

Given that Hong Kong enjoyed more freedoms than mainland China, Forsythe suggested that journalists here take more responsibility to push back. “We need to be very aggressive,” he said. “If you are able to whistle-blow, if you are able to make it public, then you have to do it.”

 

Making It As a Freelance Journalist

By Martin Murphy (MJ-2014 from JMSC/HKU)

While there’s no magic formula for becoming a successful freelance journalists, reporters at the June 7-8 New.Now.Next Media Conference at Hong Kong University pointed to persistence, networking, and starting out with smaller local media organizations as some of the proven ways of making it as a freelancer.

“Locals and foreigners will have different experiences,” said Glenn van Zutphen, a media consultant. “For example, if you’re based in Hong Kong but don’t have special skills, look for low hanging fruit, such as Hong Kong Magazine or other local publications to get your foot in the door. Then you’ll have something to show your next employer.”

Besides active networking and starting out with smaller media outlets, freelancers should research potential client’s media organizations and get to know what’s popular. “For each client, I create a Google document. I then watch their videos, read their articles, and find out what’s successful and what their readers like,” said Diego Laje, who works for CNN en Espanol on a contract basis.

But not all freelance journalists work for the big media outlets, where the competition for work can be fierce. While less glamorous, one area where freelancers can earn a living is in custom publishing, which involves niche areas or industry publications. “This is a good source to make steady money, and there are tons of jobs doing work for customs publications,” said van Zutphen.

For those interested in this area, van Zutphen recommended a book, “Freelance Writer’s Guide to Customs Publishers,” and several websites for finding jobs reporting for specialized publications. For example, for those interested in travel writing, www.travmedia.com is a good source, he said, as is www.food4media.com for food writing. Other good sites for freelance jobs include: www.journajobs.eu, www.elance.com and www.getacopywriter.com. NGOs and international organizations, like the World Bank, are other good sources for freelance writing jobs.

One of the obstacles freelancers sometimes face when approaching sources for a story is that they may be reluctant to talk to journalists if they’re not affiliated with a big name news organization. But Laje said that this should not be a concern. “Sources are talking to you, not your organization. You say, ‘I’m a journalist’ or ‘I’m independent.’ If you’re confident, they’ll talk to you. You can always say that you are just ‘researching’ a story.”

Freelancers should also not be afraid of competing against traditional reporters, the panelists said. “You often will have better contacts, for example, if you know an insider in the shark fin industry. You can also compete on price, especially if you take your own videos and pictures,” van Zutphen said. Sunshine de Leon, a Philippines-based journalist, recommended doing stories no one else is doing. “Find that niche. The best way to get new ideas is from talking to people,” she said.

So what can freelancers expect to earn? Sunshine de Leon said that price was not something that writers should expect to have the upper hand on. “You are usually told what they will pay. It can range from US$250 per article or US$1 a word,” she said. Laje said that a compelling video, however, could fetch in the thousands of dollars.

But despite the sometimes low pay and irregular work, freelancers can enjoy several advantages over those in traditional jobs. “If you have multiple clients, you have more flexibility, rather than working for just one firm,” said Malte Kollenberg, a freelancer based in South Korea. “If one client drops you or you don’t like working for another anymore, you have the freedom as you’re not reliant on just one employer.”

And while it’s nice to have the luxury of many clients, Glen van Zutphen’s advice to freelancers is — “never say no to a job, as you don’t know when the next one is coming.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minority Report

By Piotr Zembrowski (JM-2014 from JMSC/HKU)

Whether it’s persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, Uyghur violence in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, or educational disadvantages of Nepali minorities in Hong Kong, reporting on ethnic minority issues is a complex and ever-changing challenge.

“One of the biggest challenges is just trying to figure out what’s really happening,”said Gabrielle Paluch, a Myanmar-based journalist, currently covering the Rohingya story in that country. She was speaking June 7 on a panel entitled “Minority Reports,” devoted to covering ethnic minority issues at the New.Now.Next. Media Conference at Hong Kong University.

In addition to making physical access to the Rohingya areas difficult, the government of Myanmar employs a number of tactics to suppress information on the Muslim minority and the violence that is perpetrated against them by the Buddhist Rakhine villagers, said Paluch.

Issues of access also frequently pose obstacles to reporting on ethnic minorities in China, said Chris Buckley of The New York Times. “I’ve had an experience of travelling hundreds or thousands of miles and being thrown out,” said Buckley, who was forced to leave the country in early 2013 when his visa was not renewed. He now reports from Hong Kong.

In addition to being denied direct access to his sources, Buckley encountered other difficulties working in China. “Uyghurs are increasingly wary of talking to reporters,” he said. “They get in serious trouble even for being seen with a Western reporter.”

Reluctance to talk to reporters is also an issue among ethnic minorities and refugees in Hong Kong, said Aideen McLaughlin, a Director at Justice Centre Hong Kong, an NGO devoted to helping refugees and asylum seekers. “Journalists may have to approach them in different ways,” she said. “They have to be more open to giving questions in advance and letting them look at the article afterwards. It can have life and death implications.”

Under-reporting refugee and ethnic minority issues is another problem in Hong Kong, said McLaughlin. “I would hear that domestic helpers’ living conditions aren’t news,” unless it’s a story of crime or violence. The recent case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and her abuse by her employer, which caused much soul-searching in Hong Kong, was a case in point.

“I don’t criticize media,” said Eni Lestari, an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong and an advocate for the rights of migrant workers. She said that the public view of domestic workers was largely shaped by the government and wanted the issues discussed by Hong Kong society. Domestic helpers are the biggest ethnic minority in Hong Kong, but the most invisible, she said. “Media don’t understand what they experience.”

Joanna Chiu, the panel moderator, noted that there were many articles about foreign domestic workers, but most of them didn’t quote the workers themselves. “Their voice is suppressed, they quote employers and experts instead,” she said.

Minorities in Hong Kong are often portrayed as exotic, said Holing Yip of Hong Kong Unison, an advocacy for ethnic minority residents in the city. “Usually before every holiday we get calls from reporters wanting to know how minorities celebrate New Year.” As a result, minorities get pigeonholed into roles that make Hong Kong colorful but that reinforce their segregation. “This perpetuates the ‘them vs. us’ rhetoric,” said Yip.

In Hong Kong, one problem in covering ethnic minorities is that few reporters follow the issues long enough to gain a deep enough understanding of them. “Every time we have a new reporter coming, we have to explain things from the beginning,” said Yip.

In reporting minority issues, it’s sometimes tempting to use well-worn narratives, said Paluch. “It becomes a David versus Goliath story.” But it can also paint an incorrect picture, she cautions. “Minorities may not be minorities where they live.”

For their part, reporters need to overcome an urge to stereotype, said Chris Buckley. “There’s an expectation that minority societies in China want to remain in a pristine and undisturbed state,” he said. “People acting on their behalf are trying to return them to that state. We don’t deal well with the fact that minority societies in China are undergoing dramatic change,” he said.

“A lot of reporters are interested in cases that portray minorities as vulnerable,” said Yip. “There’s a kind of sensationalism that comes with it.” Yip thinks journalists need to consider that their work is more than just a story, but also about human rights. “They’re real people with real lives, and the way you report will have real consequences.”

 

 

A Special Thanks to the JMSC Staff and Volunteers

This conference could not have been the success it was without the dedicated staff and volunteers from the Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC). Thanks to all for your tireless support and hard work!

Staff:

Matthew Leung
AJ Libunao
Wylie Cheung
Roy Ching
Kitty Lam
Suzuya Tang
Will Chang
Horatius Li
FoonLee
Eddie Kwok
Jason Hui
Jessie Wang

Volunteers:

Jeff Chen
Kevin Dharmawan
Li Chen
Arshiya Khullar
Chahana Sigdel
Gloria Cheung
Haruka Nuga
Kadri Karolin Kouts
Kevin Cureau
Kevin McSpadden
Piotr Zembrowski
Sol Han
Stella Ko
Jeffrey Lee
Saloni Jain
Martin Murphy
Billy Wong

 

 

 

 

 

Respectful Reporting: LGBT Issues in Asia

By Piotr Zembrowski (MJ-2014 from JMSC/HKU)

Coverage of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues in the Hong Kong press has made significant strides in terms of quality, fairness and respect during the last few years, said Nigel Collett, a Hong Kong correspondent for Fridae, an online magazine devoted to LGBT issues and culture in Asia.

Collett was participating in a June 7 panel discussion on “Respectful Reporting on LGBT Issues in Asia” at the New.Now.Next. Media Conference at Hong Kong University.

While Hong Kong’s English-language press has been on the side of gay rights for more than six years, the Chinese-language press has caught up only in the last three years. “We’ve seen, particularly since the Ms W case, Ming Pao daily reporting much more objectively, without using derogatory words,” said Collett, referring to the 2010 High Court ruling denying a transgender woman, Ms W, the right to marry her boyfriend. (Ms W subsequently won the case in the Court of Final Appeal in 2013.)

Arthur Tam, an editor for TimeOut Hong Kong, covering the LGBT scene, clubbing, shopping and lifestyle, has encountered criticism only from within the LGBT community concerned with its image. “I had negative commentary after reporting on the increase of meth use in the gay community,” he said. To Tam, fair representation of all facets of the community is important. “LGBT issues are not only about rainbows. If there’s an increase in drug use, it’s perfectly right to talk about it.”

Outside Hong Kong, journalists’ insensitivity and ignorance about LGBT issues remain a major problem, for example in India, especially in the non-English-language press. “There’s a lot of bad reporting — ‘deviant’, ‘pervert’, whatever words I can dredge out, very derisive, are used,” says Ashok Row Kavi, the founder of Bombay Dost and a prominent LGBT rights activist. He is planning to hold workshops on sensitive reporting for Indian journalists.

Kavi’s main concern is that the diversity of the LGBT community be reflected more fairly. “I don’t really care how people perceive us, as long as they don’t perceive us in a derisive way, as a caricature,” he said.

Bobby Calvan, a reporter working for the Heartland Project, faces different challenges in covering LGBT issues in the conservative US state of Nebraska. “Nebraska is a different culture from New York City or San Francisco,” he said. “People are rather polite, like in many Asian cultures. So talking about LGBT issues is sometimes not an easy thing to do, because it brings out a lot of discomfort.”

Calvan, who acknowledged he was straight, described his experience covering LGBT issues as an outsider. “I’ve been told I’m not welcome,” he said. “And when I said I’m straight, it became more icy.” Nevertheless, Calvan said he strives to cover the community fairly. “I can never fully understand what it’s like, but I can make an effort to understand and to be respectful.”

Josie M, a writer for the newly-founded Hong Kong magazine Plug, stressed the need to reflect diversity in covering LGBT issues. “A lot of gay publications do tend to focus more on the ‘G’ in LGBT,” she said. “I came to bring some of the ‘L’, to make sure that everybody is represented.”

Her go-to resource for sensitive covering of LGBT issues is glaad.org, which she uses when reporting on transgender issues. “There are guidelines on how to write about lesbians, gay people, bisexual people,” she said. “It takes less than five minutes to look it up and tidy up your writing.”

Even when journalists show sensitivity and pay careful attention, covering LGBT issues can be a minefield.

Collett, who has been writing about LGBT issues for more than eight years, said, “Somebody, somewhere, always objects to the terminology I use.” Young men don’t like the word ‘homosexual’, older men don’t like the word ‘gay’. “You’re going to make a mistake in the articles you write,” he said, “but as long as you’re treating it with sympathy and trying to say something that’s true, don’t worry too much about it.”

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Business Journalism

By Arshiya Khullar

Business journalism is often perceived as a complex maze of data and numbers. Stock markets, economic indicators, and financial statements seem incomprehensible and dry. But business reporting can be both fun and challenging, say business journalists.

Speaking at the panel aptly titled, “Business Reporting is Fun” at the annual NewNowNext media conference held at Hong Kong University, Angie Lau from Bloomberg Asia, Heather Timmons from Quartz, The Wall Street Journal’s Wei Gu, and K. Oanh Ha from Bloomberg debunked some of the myths surrounding business journalism.

Business reporters say that one reason for business journalism’s revival is that the global economic and financial crisis has aroused greater interest in business issues, with Asia emerging as a hub for business stories.

“We are at a juncture in history when there hasn’t been this much interest in business journalism before,” said Angie Lau, lead anchor at Bloomberg Asia.

One of the biggest business stories today is the ongoing investigation and exposure of corruption among China’s ruling elite.

“Articles like these on offshore accounts of companies will be important business stories in Asia. Covering earnings reports can help you understand the weak points in a business model,” said Heather Timmons, Asia Correspondent at Quartz, who underscored the importance of public data in writing these types of stories.

Recounting their personal experiences, the journalists confessed to having limited understanding of business and finance when they first started out.

Bloomberg’s Ha did her first business story on dumping. “I knew nothing about it, but I researched and talked to people,” she said.

For Quartz’ Timmons, one of her first beats in business journalism was writing about mortgage backed securities. “Ask a lot of questions,” she said. “You will realise early on that you know a lot more than some of the analysts.”

Wei Gu, Editor, China Wealth and Luxury at WSJ, initially wanted to pursue business academically but eventually transitioned to business journalism. “Everyone knows a lot about sports and entertainment. How do you stand out? Business journalism gives you credibility,” she said.

Like all other journalism, business stories need to have a good human interest angle. According to Bloomberg’s Ha, any conversation might lead to a good business story. “We all have experiences that are unique. We just need to use those and find ways to connect them to business.” As an example, she pointed to a Bloomberg story about Indian women’s low use of sanitary napkins and how that had an impact on economic development.

Bloomberg’s Lau added that, “Every point on a global supply chain can lead to a story.”

However, in certain countries, like China, accessing information and cultivating sources for business stories pose formidable challenges for reporters.

“It’s harder to approach the average Chinese person. They are more wary about stories,” said WSJ’s Gu. “You need to be persistent. Show them your stories. If they see that they are balanced, they’ll be more willing to talk to you after a period of time.”

In other places, lack of local language skills often becomes an impediment to in-depth reporting. For Quartz’ Timmons, establishing a relationship with the translator therefore becomes a crucial factor.

One of the biggest concerns in business journalism remains sponsored “advertorials.” With news organisations receiving funding from corporations, conflicts can develop between the interests of a media organization’s editorial and sales objectives.

“Journalism is an industry that is contracting and growing in different ways because people haven’t figured out the business aspect that supports great work, whether an advertising model or a subscription model,” said Lau.

However, Lau maintained that news organisations should continue to report companies’ dealings freely, and corporations should be transparent in order to retain trust.