The News From China

Time to start the coverage…..

The summer deluge of coverage of the Beijing Olympics is scheduled to start soon, and the networks are poised to spend tens of millions, if not more, on getting the China story into our homes. NBC, of course, has spent $3.5 billion just for the rights, but that, of course, is only the beginning. For more than year, the major networks have been preparing for a China-fest.

I was in Beijing last Christmas, and Tienanmen Square was dominated by a giant ‘countdown’ clock, ticking off the months. days, hours, minutes and seconds to the start of the event. And now, here we are… almost.

Yesterday, I got an email from Jocelyn Ford, a freelance public radio correspondent in China. (see correction in comments NPR v. APR v. PRI)

She wasthe bureau chief for American Public Media’s “Marketplace” bureau in Beijing, and before that, was Marketplace bureau chief in Tokyo. Fluent in both Mandarin and Japanese, she has covered Asia for more than 20 years.

A few months ago, Ford bought herself a small video camera and FCP. She had never, by her own admission, done video before, but she was intrigued. So she started reporting, for no one in particular, in video.

Now, every good radio journalist carries their own tape recorder and edits their own stuff. This goes without saying. And Public Radio reporters are among the best in the world. So I was curious as to what would happen when a great DELNPR radio reporter picked up a camera and started using it to report.

Ford gets great access. Working alone, she is able to uncover the kinds of stories that a massive network crew simply can’t get to. And of course, the cost of her coverage is… well, generally a bus ticket – or sometimes she rides her bicycle. Let’s compare that to what the networks spend for their coverage, shall we?

The most interesting part, of course, is the kind of stories she is able to get access to.

There has been a great deal of discussion in the printed press lately about television’s reluctance to show anything ‘amiss’ in China. They have a kind of unwritten agreement with the Chinese government that the skies will be blue every day.

Ted Koppel, who has just completed a documentary for Discovery on China was recently on TODAY talking about massive repression in China. When Matt Lauer commented that NBC would soon be bringing the Olympics to American homes (never miss a chance to pimp the net), Koppel commented that was quite sure it would be wall-to-wall positive coverage. Lauer was not amused and a look of annoyance crossed his face before he moved on to ‘other stuff’.

Reporters like Jocelyn Ford have no such problems, and as such, despite the fact that their cost of coverage is next to nothing, are likely to give a far better and far more accurate picture of life in China today. That is, if anyone cares to pick up her stuff.

She is making it available as a video stringer.

Here, I think, is a unique opportunity for both television stations and newspapers.

Take it.



38 responses to “The News From China

  1. …Koppel commented that was quite sure it would be wall-to-wall positive coverage. Lauer was not amused and a look of annoyance crossed his face…

    Doesn’t surprise me – Lauer appears to me to be the epitome of a corporate hair and teeth news lackey.

    Reporters like Jocelyn Ford have no such problems, and as such, despite the fact that their cost of coverage is next to nothing, are likely to give a far better and far more accurate picture of life in China today. That is, if anyone cares to pick up her stuff.

    God forbid that corporate news media actually take a chance and report the real world. She has the ability to narrate her own news content. The sheeple masses want the same kind of information that comes from pablum entertainment programming.

    She is making it available as a video stringer. Her contract with NPR covers only her radio work.

    Only quibble I have is that since she works in an audio profession, it seems her audio could have been better – she appeared to use the cameras built in mic – was somewhat distracting – but she has the ability to produce quality content as the video already shows.

    Here, I think, is a unique opportunity for both television stations and newspapers.

    I doubt television will take it up – too risky for their increasingly fragile business model – newspapers (like the Washington POst, NYT, etc), on the other hand, are ripe for taking this idea and running with it – as long as the newspaper shooter has the video skills in place to compete and more than likely, surpass, what’s currently being done on mainstream broadcast news.

  2. Correction: Ford works for Marketplace, not NPR.
    Here’s a short lesson on the public radio alphabet soup:
    Marketplace is produced by American Public Media, which distributes Minnesota Public Radio’s national shows. Marketplace used to be with Public Radio International, which was created to distribute programs that NPR passed up. NPR is a membership organization comprised of pubradio stations. Most of those stations broadcast programs from NPR (which is based in DC), PRI and APM (which are based in the Twin Cities).

  3. I stand corrected.
    Many thanks
    Very confusing for us listeners!

  4. the Olympics will undoubtedly end repression in China – look how well it worked in Berlin in 1936

  5. That seems to be the paradox of the new internet journalism, doesn’t it?

    An influx of stories produced by unlimited number of visual journalists along with a growing number of outlets.

    Who will watch what? With a huge amount of fractionalized reports, how is society supposed to get their arms around anything and hold on to it?

    If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it….does it make a sound? If someone produces video journalism, and nobody sees it, can it make a difference?

    I am sure there will be outstanding reports. But with these positive changes in digital journalism, there are probably negative affects as well…. like nobody actually seeing some of these reports…at least not enough people to make a difference.

    The “Power” of the press….depended on the majority of citizens actually seeing the journalism. Does that “power” diminish… proportionately…. to a reduction in the audience?

    It’s just a question. Not a statement.

    If NBC were to cover some of these China stories, then perhaps changes might occur. But if only web VJs do one sided stories… and it doesn’t get seen by a wide audience…. does it really make a difference? Over time, perhaps. But the “power of the press” question really becomes questionable.

  6. Well said eb!

    Does a soldier win an important war by himself or working with an organized group?

    Nothing gets accomplished by an individual working alone.

    That includes delivering important news to the largest possible audience.

  7. “Nothing gets accomplished by an individual working alone.”

    Dear Picasso
    Give it up! Get an organized group!

    I don’t think so.

    Rather, on the contrary, let’s hear it for personal vision and authorship – something sorely lacking from TV at the moment.

  8. …let’s hear it for personal vision and authorship – something sorely lacking from TV at the moment.

    The only other option is the same cookie cutter pablum being created for the sheeple masses by the so called professionals in corporate news media.

    eb – sorry but your posting is cynical at best. YOU don’t take into account such technologies as social networking which virally create viewership. That’s the marketing end of this profession – something the detractors have no understanding of it seems.

    I hit CURRENT.TV again last night – IMO, that’s the destination which provides an alternative – and a better understanding – of what’s being done for news stories by solovj’s or two person teams. There are stories that aren’t worth watching – others being done for example by Current Vanguard exceed the so called production values of mainstream corporate news media.

    Along with Michael’s recent post about how solo vj’s at the Star Ledger are producing content (and doing a hell of a better job than anything I have seen come from TV crews), it’s only a matter of clock time before this takes off in a major way.

  9. Rosenblum: “Dear Picasso
    Give it up! Get an organized group!”

    If we were producing individual works of art, you’d be correct.

    News coverage is not art.

    It’s time sensative.

    At least real news is, not features on candy making and balloon artists.

    Picasso never met a deadline in his life.

    He didn’t cover news or change the world with his paintings.

  10. I agree that personal vision and authorship is not respected at the current TV outlets. “Producervision” is the name of the game. Producers who don’t get outside the newsroom much, certainly don’t get outside their neighborhoods or cliques, definately do not talk to a variety of people in different walks of life, and basically do not have a real understanding of the diversity of life outside the newsroom. These producers read the newspaper and decide which headline they can promote. THAT is TV news. So I agree that a diverse, visual product is not what television news is. There is a lot of potential.

    I was not making a statement, I was simply pointing out the paradox of the new media. And it is true. Social networking does provide a collective audience for their own video news clips. But those outside of that social network, do not see those stories.

    Isn’t it ironic that the term you used was social “NETWORK.” While you encourage the end of the tv news networks…. you are basically advocating the structure of internet “networks.” You are in fact then saying two things: Networks are bad. Networks are good.

    Which emphasizes the point I was trying to make. You have your network. I have my network. MR has his network. Joe Blow has his network. Jane Schmoe has her network. Etc…. Now instead of three networks, you have three hundred thousand networks. The “power of the press” – gets fractionalized, along with the revenues. Some say the “power” of the press is a bad thing. Because the small voices don’t get heard. That is true. With the new unlimited “networks” the small voices now get heard and are seen. But the audience is proportionally smaller.

    Everyone is now trying to figure out the economic “model.”

    I think the numerous small “social networks” will be linked together like a spider web…. with a larger network in the middle. Black Rock will be more like The Black Widow. These media companies will probably buy up the small social networks… and the best of the independent journalism will move up the ladder…. or web… to the main hub – or network.

  11. the proliferation of features over news was introduced by TV – not the net.

    But TV had a place for those features – unfortunately the net is destroying the notion of the 30 minute news show – so where are these features going to find viewers?

    This video was published on YouTube – it has had 17 hits.

    There are 10,000+ Elvis impersonation videos on youtube. The Star Ledger got less than 50 hits.

    But MR is right – if you are Picasso, or even Francis Bacon – relax.

  12. As for Picasso…. the analogy is:

    there may be someone somewhere creating content that will always be creative or powerful. It does not take a newsroom, a network or producervision to accomplish great work. That is absolutely true, and the current TV newsroom model doesn’t encourage this. In fact, producervision crushes creativity and content production by quality journalists. (sometimes for the better, sometimes worse.) I agree that the internet will allow for different “results” in journalism. You could well have more diverse Content, more Creativity, and stronger Commitment. The craft will not be as high probably. So, it would be smart for the current broadcast journalism networks and affiliates to “foster” some of those areas… or be ready to pay money to get it.

  13. actually no

    read Tom Wolfe’s “The Painted Word” – even Picasso needs a group.

  14. Here is an excerpt from David Dunkley-Gyimah, another cutting edge solo vj proponent, as he interviews Nick Pollard, who for ten years was at the helm of Rupert Murdoch’s flagship Sky News – those credentials have legitimacy as far as I’m concerned.

    “…(there is a) decline in the number of people gathering (news) in primary sources, and a lot of people don’t realise this, that the number of journalists in newsrooms is declining, the ability for news agencies to collect news is declining as well because of pressures on staffing… There is a danger that news gathering falls while commentary and reporting from armchairs and in front of computer screens increases exponentially and that’s something that I think everybody who’s interested in the sources of news should be aware of…”

    The word decline is what’s happening not only in newspaper, but in broadcast as well. Your job in no more secure than anyone elses.

    And now you’re defining what is and what isn’t real news – pretty elitist and arrogant on your part.

    At least real news is not features on candy making and balloon artists.

    Evidently you’ve never worked in a small community where those kinds of topics are considered newsworthy to a its residents. I’ve lived and worked in those kinds of communities as a full time staff newspaper photojournalist – and those are typical topics one has to make something out of nothing – if you can’t do that, well…

    These topics are a cross section of what a typical small to mid sized community would see as having news value to them – not your opinion on what is newsworthy.

    I could be mistaken, but it seems your statement eludes that you’ve never worked in the news biz within a small community – this “candy making and balloon artists” kind of content IS the news.

  15. “Nothing gets accomplished by an individual working alone.

    That includes delivering important news to the largest possible audience.”

    I seem to recall freelancers doing some pretty good work at various points in photo-journalism history.

    However, the true fallacy of that statement is in that it ignores the internet. What does it take to distribute news? An internet connection. What does it take for that news to be recognized and get a wide audience? A few people who say: You gotta see this.

    We can argue over the taste people have and whether they are interested in seeing hard news that is self-produced. Jury is still out. However, there is no arguing about the internet as a distribution media. I frequently cite the butt-rocket video ( as an example of how viral video can gain a huge audience.

    Crude and tasteless, zero production values, not much of a story arc. However, when I first saw this video more than three years ago it had already been viewed on one site over 7 million times.

    There is no audience like that or most local news stories. But there are countless examples at YouTube of stories made by one or a few people that have gained a wide audience. And since some TV networks are now taking the best of those and repackaging them for traditional distribution, I would say the TV folks recognize that as well.

  16. Cliff, if you don’t know the difference between what is real, time sensitive news and evergreen features, then you are in the perfect spot to continue what you do best.

    Remain unemployed as a VJ.

    I guess when 9/11 happened, Cliff would be deciding to run a soft balloon feature instead of covering important world events in a timely manner.

    Thanks Cliff for proving once again what you do and don’t know.

  17. Dear $
    Distribution platforms are essenatial. So I’d good journalis. She’s got the journalism. You’ve got the platform. Why don’t you commission a few pieces. Probably costs less than your anchor’s lunch.

  18. Rosenblum: “Distribution platforms are essenatial.”

    The internet today is nothing more than a modern version of the mailbox on your home when it comes to unsolicited information.

    No one ordered it but, gosh, it’s there so it must be important.

    Sorry, VJ work, especially by those who think they can do it all on their own are no different than junk mail.

    Once in a while something interesting but never truly important.

    You harp on costs. As if that is all that counts.

    The truth is even you need others.

    You don’t accomplish anything on your own with this VJ effort.

    You need others to pay you for your work.

    You need the Travel Channel.

    Without them you don’t have anything.

    While you say one thing, your own business model proves you don’t follow what you preach.

    The above claim of freelancers having some affect is laughable.

    Those freelancers were hired by others to cover the events.

    They got paid by others to do those jobs.

    They didn’t do it on their own, then distribute it, followed by a paycheck.

    They, like you, needed a group effort to accomplish anything.

    It’s the main flaw of the VJ sales pitch.

    VJ’s fail as stand alone business models.

    Just ask Cliff.

    Here’s something you won’t want to answer.

    How come none of those New Jersey VJs ever have the story that makes the headline of the newspaper?

    Sure, they’ve got some kind of VJ pablum each day, usually features.

    Why is it the newspaper has what they consider the important news of the day in big headlines but there’s no newpaper VJ story to go along with it?

    If VJ work was really the future of that newspaper and any other, a VJ story would be the headline story of the day for that paper.

    It’s not.

  19. Ah…
    now I see the problem
    VJ is not a business model.
    It is a manufacturing process.
    Of course it needs a platform.
    The product needs a client.
    Look at your own station (I am certainly doing the same thing). Look at it from a manufacturing point of view. Is it as cost effectively run as it might be? I, of course, am arguing (quite convincingly, I think) that it is not. Management seems to agree.
    Which is why I predict you will soon be seeing my smiling face…. and a camera and laptop on your desk… in the not too distant future.

  20. $ – SSDD response – once again having no credibility whatsoever in anything you post.

  21. What makes you think your predictions about the future might make me nervous?

    They don’t.

    I’ll still have a paying job.

    Cliff still won’t.

    One thing I know for sure.

    There won’t be a Rosenblum involved in teaching anyone where I work.

  22. Well, unless you run the network yourself, I wouldn’t be too sure of that!:)

  23. Goodness sakes!

    I just noticed!

    Mr. Rosenblm!

    You forgot to give me a reason why, with all your newly minted VJs at that New Jersey paper, they never seem to be able to turn a VJ story about the headline news of the day for that paper?

    Why is that?

    Don’t those newspaper editors know that your VJs are the future?

    Don’t they think the lead story, with the big local headline of what is most important for their city should have a VJ story to go along with it?

    Why aren’t they covering that news with a VJ?

    A simple question that seems to be difficult for you to answer.

    Maybe the newspaper editors figure, like Cliff, the news of the future should be important stories about candy makers, balloon races and javelin throwers and not that hard to cover stuff that takes money out of tax payers pockets or puts people’s lives at risk.

    Just safe stuff that can run any day, at any time.

    Or maybe the newspaper editors still don’t agree with what you promote and those newspaper employees doing VJ work just can’t handle doing timely news coverage in a timely manner with audio and video.

    Just like Cliff.

  24. $ – SSDD responses.

  25. $ – you’re right – I don’t have a J.O.B.

    But you seem to think that’s the only way to earn a living – and once again, you are misinformed.

  26. Dear $
    The reason we start with the features is two-fold.
    1. They are in fact harder to do than ‘breaking news’. They require a good deal more research. When you go to produce the piece they require characters, story structure and so on.
    2. Once made they have longer shelf life than ‘breaking news’.

    We will needless to say, start to migrate the paper to breaking news in video in the next few weeks.

    But seriously, how hard is it to point a camera at a building on fire and write ‘flames licked the sky in Newark as firemen raced to control a 3 alarm blaze on the corner of Union and First’.

    Come on now! Really, anyone.. anyone can do that one. We do the harder things first.

    In any event, please rest assured that the VJs will also cover ‘front page’ news. Features come first.

    What I should like you to do, as we know each other so well now, is to send me a dvd burn of your own news program. I will gladly dissect it for you (I do this all the time for clients anyway) and show you just how your own stories could be done far more cost-effectively by VJs. Vo/sots for example, are a breeze. I would be curious as to how many of your packages are merely wallpapered with b-roll.

    Lemme take a look. After all, I have showed you mine, so to speak.


  27. If I did VJ work, your request might have some merit.

    I don’t claim VJ is best as you and others do.

    Look at any local or network tv station web site.

    Look at the video offered there.

    Timely, covering news of the day.

    Not only features but real news holding public officials accountable.

    Fires and shootings are typical first thoughts from those who have no imagination.

    They are in the newscast but so is the meat.

    Your own claim of “features come first” says it all.

    Your VJs can’t compete when it comes to covering news.

    Your own words admit it now.

  28. No
    They are on a learning curve and experience has taught me that we start with features because they have longer shelf life and in fact are harder to produce well. News will follow and it will be easy for them, having gotten to this point.

    I don’t understand, ‘if VJ did work, your request might have some merit”. If you are so sure it does not work, you should have no fear in sending me a few airchecks of your news shows. What’s the problem? Lemme take a look. As I have said, I have no problem in showing you my stuff. What are you hiding out there anyway? Seriously.

  29. Hiding?

    It’s pretty obvious.

    Seems like plenty news of the day.


    Sorry to disappoint.

    Take a peak and see the amount of work being produced.

    Features and news together!

    Pick away!

    But don’t forget to check out the most important part.

    The profit margin that provides paycheck to so many.

    Along with a large audience wanting to see what we produce.

    Those VJs?

    Their audience and lack of any real money from their business model says it all.

    That’s why so many who claim VJ is the way have other means, they claim, to pay their bills instead of a job as a VJ.

  30. The network?
    I’ve seen it.
    I thought you worked for a local Fox affiliate. Hard to compare apples to oranges. The newspapers are local. I would say the audience for the Star Ledger’s VJs have money and the business model works.
    Would VJs improve output and cut costs at Fox Network.. for sure. At an affiliate, even more. So are you with the network or an affiliate. I am happy to parse either.

  31. Apples to oranges?

    Many times you’ve compared the New York Times, and their video efforts, to the networks!

    Why aren’t you so eager to do that now?

  32. I think The New York Times is pretty close to a national newspaper, if not a global one. I certainly don’t think of The NY Times as a ‘local’ paper! Do you? I think of the Newark Star Ledger as a local paper. The NY Post as a local paper. The Wall St Journal is not, and neither is the Times, at least in my opinion. I don’t think local to local is wrong. If you work in a local Fox affil, send me the link. If not, I am more than happy to parse the pieces in the link you sent me. I am already preparing the study. I call it ‘Dear Ruppert”.

  33. I work for Fox net.

    Not local.

    Are you now going to try and claim your VJs theory only works for small local news operations?

    Your tap dance goes on.

    I think the New York Times is a national newspaper.

    Easily compared to a national network.

    You’ve made that comparison many times yourself.


    You prefer to avoid the comparison.

    The Star Ledger doesn’t seem to be able to cover daily, important news with video.

    As you say, it’s easier for them to do features.

    How can a newspaper survive without covering, well, the news that is important?

    I don’t think they can.

    The Star Ledger is no different from the New York Times when it comes to dramatic drops in revenue.

    To somehow slow down their much needed change to video, doesn’t seem productive.

    Kind of like putting a bandaid on a severed limb.

    Your cure is nowhere near enough and you seem quite happy to let them bleed out with excuses justifying feature stories instead of teaching them what they really need to learn.

    How to cover news and survive.

  34. I am equally happy to parse the network as well as the local. I agree NY Times is a national newspaper and Fox is a national network. Star Ledger is local, as is WABC. We’ll keep the comparisons separate.
    I have brought VJ to national networks as well as local stations, so trust me, it works for both.
    If you don’t believe me, ask the folks at ABC Network who are populating their overseas bureaus with VJs. 13 bureaus, 13 VJs, so far. But of course, David Westin has already said that this is going to come to the locals as well. Its only a matter of time.

    The network ops remind me a bit of the Detroit auto manufacturers who are just now getting to the hybrid party – better late than never, but way way behind their foreign competitors.

    I read this morning that Ford is announcing a loss of $82 billion, while Toyota seems to be having a record profit year. Just cause you are big and established does not mean you are right.

    As for the Star Ledger news piece I posted above, it is not perfect, they are not even on air yet – but it is about commensurate with most of what I see on local news in NY. I don’t think they’re going to have much trouble competing.

    As for your network, I am already hard at work taking apart the pieces you sent me on the link.
    Not so hard to do, really.

  35. Don’t forget to include graphs, as you did for the New York Times post, showing who makes money and how much.

    It’s a tough economy for all right now, no matter what a person’s business is.

    What counts is staying in business.

    This isn’t a sprint.

    It’s a marathon.

    Do you really think newspapers doing feature stories and little or no news of the day stories are going to save them?

    It’s too little too late for them.

    The world of business can be frightfully unforgiving.

    While television news, network and local, has long been making the transition to the web succesfully, newspapers continue to fail.

    Look at any newspaper in the country.

    Not just the Star Ledger.

    You’ll see the important story of the day in the newspaper is rarely if ever done by a VJ for their web site.

    Their VJs, like you and yours, prefer features.

    Features alone = failure.

  36. I could not agree more. Features alone do equal failure, so newspapers are going to migrate to breaking news in video as well, and even live shots, since they only have to stream. not so hard to do. no trucks.

    I also agree that tough times are ahead for all media, tv and newspapers, which is why i am more than happy to play both sides of the street. The VJ thing is obviously the only way newspapers can move to video, but conversions of stations and networks are also looming. Replacing your edit suites with laptops and having your reporters and former cameramen all carry cameras and shoot and cut their own stuff will not only cut costs to the bone it will also feed the beast much better. Trust me, this is going to come to you as surely as the sun rises.

  37. I agree with your last post.

    I join you in the soon to be real dream of live shots with no live trucks.

    It can’t come soon enough.

    I won’t be a VJ.

    VJs have their place as part of a larger team.

    Playing where their skills are best.

    Sitting out when other skills are needed.

    It’s the old restaurant analogy that fits VJs as well.

    There will be plenty of McDonalds (VJs) around but there will also be the higher end restaurants as well (me and others).

    In the end, one does not really threaten those of us with real talent.

    There is room for both but the failure happens when one side or the other thinks it can only be one or the other.

    It’s why I have my confidence and no fear of VJ work.

    I can do it all if need be but have too many who want my best.

    My best is something a VJ, by themselves, is unable to produce to compete effectively in the todays news business.

    Me best is working with others, putting out a better visual product with more elements and getting it to the customer long before a VJ can.

    In today’s world, speed matters more.

    Just coming back with a narrow slice, claiming speed at the expense of a more complete story, is failure over the long term.

    Customers, viewers, don’t want to have to come back to the same place piece meal if they can go somewhere else and get the whole meal faster and better.

  38. Have you ever seen Epic 2015?
    Check it out. I think you would find it interesting:

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