Wu Nan on the Internet and the future of Chinese journalism

Wu Nan

Wu Nan, a Chinese journalist who’s spending the academic year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, compares investigative reporting in China to “playing a video game” — negotiating the system is like finding your way through a maze, and it takes “wisdom and courage” to avoid the obstacles that keep popping up.

“On the other hand,” she told Northeastern students on Thursday, “it’s very addictive.”

Wu showed a video report she produced on black-lung disease suffered by Chinese coal miners, and discussed stories ranging from the outbreak of SARS to a train crash in Shanghai last summer in which a microblogger pushed government authorities to step up their lifesaving efforts.

“They had to admit they’d made a mistake,” she said.

Wu also said the sheer size of the Chinese Internet — 420 million Internet users, 270 million mobile phone users and 250 million users of Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter — gives her hope that the government will limit its efforts at censorship. The half-dozen or so largest Internet companies are one-fourth the market value of Apple, she said, and the government is dependent on the tax revenue they generate.

Those remarks were accompanied by a PowerPoint slide that was optimistically titled “Online Media: Too Large to Control.”

Asked about the difference between reporting for the Chinese media and for the Chinese edition of the Wall Street Journal, where she has also worked, she responded that in China, reporters always lead with policy, whereas at the Journal, the rule is to lead with an anecdote. But, she said, “the essence of journalism is the same.”

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Wu Nan to speak on digital journalism in China

Wu Nan

A reminder that our class today will consist of attending a talk by Wu Nan, a Chinese journalist and Nieman Fellow, in 305 Shillman. The subject of her lecture will be “Will One Thousand Bytes Bloom?”

The event will be from 3 to 4 p.m., followed by a Q&A and refreshments. So I don’t think we’ll have time to reconvene in 171 Holmes afterwards.

I’ll be looking for a blog post on her talk. Don’t be shy with your cameras, either.

Here is a bio passed along by Professor Bill Kirtz, who helped organize her talk:

Wu Nan, a 2012 Nieman fellow at Harvard University, has worked from Beijing for leading Chinese and American press, including the Economic Observer, NetEase Portal and the Wall Street Journal Chinese edition.  Starting journalism in 2003, she firstly covered Chinese social and economic issues, then intensively reported on international news. Most recently she has worked as a multimedia editor and is dedicated in using multimedia skills to tell compelling stories. She holds a master degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley.

I’ll see you all at 3.

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More information about your final projects

On the syllabus you will see this: “You must write a blog post outlining what your final project will be by Tuesday, March 20.” Unfortunately, when I started looking for those posts this morning, I didn’t find any. I think you all got too busy with the Google Maps project. You did a good job with it, and so we move on.

Please have a post up explaining what your final project will be by the beginning of class on Thursday, March 22. Most of you seem to have chosen a good topic already. I want to see evidence that you’ve thought this through and that the main person you need will be available to you for interviews. (Which means you must make contact with her. Or him.)

Remember: Your project must be about a digital media initiative of some sort. I’m willing to be pretty flexible with regard to what that means. It is not a requirement that it be related to your beat, though it would be preferable. And I’d like it to be local if at all possible.

As I have told you, your project will comprise various components, the deadlines for which I am spacing out out so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.

1. Your text story. You will write an 800- to 1,000-word feature story, in the form of an extended blog post, about a person, persons or organization involved in digital media of some sort. I am looking for interviews with at least three people as well as at least five links. Deadline: Sent to me by email as a Word file on Friday, April 13, at 5 p.m.

2. Your slideshow. You will put together a slideshow comprising six to 10 photos that is either directly related to your story or that functions as a sidebar. You will post your photos to Flickr and create a slideshow as you did on our Flickr assignment earlier this semester. You will write a title and a caption for the set as a whole and for each photo individually. Unlike your earlier assignment, you do not have to interview people for this. But aim for variety and visual interest. Please do not create a slideshow consisting of the outsides of buildings, for instance. Deadline: Friday, April 13, at 5 p.m. Send me an email with the link.

3. Your video. I have built into the schedule a full week for you to work on nothing but the video. So take a deep breath and relax. Your video can be directly related to your story, or it can function as a sidebar. The video should be two to five minutes long, with interviews with at least three named people. (No interviews with any unnamed people, please.) There should be B-roll in the form of video clips and still photos. There should be an introductory slide, and though I am not making it an absolute requirement, I think it will be better if you do a stand-up at the beginning. Other than having a friend shoot your stand-up, all shooting and editing must be done by you. The deadline is Friday, April 20, at midnight. If there is demand — and by “demand,” I mean even one person — I will keep 171 Holmes open until midnight. Post it to YouTube and send me an email with the link.

4. Putting it all together. Our last class meeting is on Tuesday, April 17. That will be my deadline for sending you memos about recommended revisions to your blog posts and slideshows. Your final deadline is Tuesday, April 24, at 10 a.m. Post your revised story to your blog. Embed the lead image from your slideshow and link it to Flickr, just as you did with your earlier assigment. Embed your YouTube video.

Also: Send me a brief (a paragraph or two) memo explaining how you used social media as part of your reporting — whether it was finding sources or some other aspect. And after your post is live, use a Google map to link to it, just as we did with the historic-sites project.

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Our favorite historic sites

For our Google Maps project this semester, we chose to visit our favorite historic sites in Boston. Please have a look at our students’ stories and photos by clicking on the various points on the map.

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Getting ready for our Google map project

Each of you will write a 250- to 350-word blog post, with a few photos, about a historical attraction in Boston. You all have an assigned attraction at this point. Your post should function partly as a feature story, partly as a review, providing information that a would-be tourist would need to know in deciding whether or not to visit.

We agreed in class today that each post needs to include the following information:

  • Days and hours of operation
  • Cost, if any; or note whether it’s free
  • Website and phone number
  • Exact address
  • Whether the attraction is handicapped-accessible
  • The nearest T stop
  • A “strange fact.” Example: Legend has it that the Boston Athenaeum has several books bound by human skin. (I understand that not everyone’s strange fact will be that good.)

The assignment includes an interview. You need to get some quotes from someone — a tourist, a tour guide, whoever — with his or her name and some identifying information (i.e., Jonathan Turley, a tourist from Boise, Idaho). I’m only looking for one interview because we need to keep our posts reasonably short.

When you come to class on Tuesday, you need to have your story written and posted on your blog and your photos available to you. You will need one photo specifically for the Google map — a horizontal, general shot that could be of something as simple as a building or a sign. It must be online, either in your blog post or on Flickr.

We’ll put the map together in class.

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Encyclopedia Britannica throws in the (print) towel

The Encyclopedia Britannica will not be publishing any more print editions, in part because Wikipedia has taken away so much of its readership. This isn’t a story about journalism per se, but it is a story about the media, as well as the wisdom of the crowd versus the voice of authority. We’ll talk about it for a few minutes at the beginning of class.

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Preparing for class on Thursday

There are two subjects you should be prepared to discuss in class on Thursday.

1. The topic of your final project — an example of digital media, preferably local, preferably related to your beat, that you think is worthy of a feature story. You will be writing a story, taking pictures, shooting and editing video, using social media as a reporting tool and posting your story on a Google map. I want to move quickly around the room on Thursday to make sure everyone is on track with this.

2. A historical site in Boston that you would like to write a short story about and take a photo of sometime before class next Tuesday. This will be for our group Google map project, so we need everyone to choose a different site. We will also need to decide on some common information everyone will have to come back with — hours of operation, whether there’s any charge and the like.

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