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Christine Marie Harvey

Christine Harvey (cmharve1@asu.edu) is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is a minor in political science and has a keen interest in international relations. This summer, she will intern as a business reporter for the Seattle Time and will then go on to graduate from the Cronkite school in December of 2011.

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Complications for foreign media outlets in China

Last week when Cronkite students visited The Wall Street Journal Asia office, the hot topic of conversation was the foreign media’s restriction on hiring Chinese journalists.

But today, when we visited Bloomberg’s Shanghai office, a different theme was on the forefront of the agenda: Companies neglecting foreign media outlets in China.

Stephanie Wong, bureau chief for the office, said one of the biggest struggles to overcome in Shanghai is getting access to information in a timely manner. She noted that in the United States, journalists can expect to receive certain press releases, trend information or market statistics on a regular basis. In China, however, that is not so much the case.

“Information doesn’t come in on certain days or times,” she said. “You have to be constantly looking for information on sites if you want it.”

Stephanie Wong at Bloomberg's Shanghai offices.

Wong said it helps that domestic news organizations sometimes know when and where the information can be found because reporters can then pick up stories and find the numbers based on that.

Another reason getting access to information is difficult in Shanghai is because companies tend to neglect foreign media organizations like both Bloomberg and Reuters. Wong said Bloomberg journalists are not always invited or even informed about the occurrence of press conferences and are sometimes even restricted from getting access to those meetings.

“They feel they don’t need us so they don’t want us,” she said.

That’s why Wong stressed the importance of foreign journalists establishing strong relationships with companies that operate in China. She noted that going to companies in person and setting up interviews with the executives is a key strategy in getting Chinese companies to open up.

Before concluding the discussion on foreign media, Wong gave one final piece of advice to Cronkite students and to any business journalists interested in working foreign news organizations.

“Learn to deal with your sources the best that you can,” she said. “That’s how you get the scoop.”

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Conversations on the evolution of online media

We’ve now been in Shanghai for over three days and it seems that here, more than in Beijing, the complexities that have arisen with the emergence of online media are a focus for news organizations and students.

On Monday, we visited Shanghai International Studies University, where the students discussed the disadvantages and advantages of China’s “great firewall.” While the firewall blocks the access to the networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the students said they were all still familiar with the functions of those sites and actually, use many Chinese sites that are similar. When we asked what the most commonly visited sites were, almost all of the students responded with Sina Weibo, a Twitter clone, Renren, the Facebook of China and Baidu, the Chinese google. This signaled to me that the use of networking and blogging sites are becoming common within the country.

The problem with these sites, however, as noted by Michael Cronkhite from Burson-Marsteller — one of the largest public relations Firms in Shanghai — is that the information being spread throughout them is not always accurate and can create errors in communication. He said that as social media and online networks become a more frequent tool for spreading information, public relation firms and journalists should tread carefully.

When talking with Chinese students about blogging and social networking, the majority said censorship is not something they consistently worry about. A student named Evelyn said when she writes blog posts, she takes into consideration the things that may be censored but that doesn’t limit her ability to write what she feels. If she were to write about a sensitive topic or use specific words that are blocked by the government, those things will appear on the blog with a large “XX.”

Censorship wasn’t deep concern for the students. They were more interested and delighted that they have the opportunity to use Chinese networking sites at all. Christina, a Chinese student who will enter into her sophomore year in the fall, expressed her concern that access to those sites may be blocked in the future since Facebook and Twitter have already been censored by the government in China.

A graduate student from the same university shared similar concern but said she has a deeper understanding why those two social sites are already non-accessible to them. She believes the main reason for this type of censorship could stem from the government’s worry that an over abundance of information could stimulate negative energy in China.

But not having access to Facebook and Twitter is not something that typically upsets Chinese students, she added.

“We don’t have as much of a need for them and we don’t have as much time as people in America might,” she said. “So it doesn’t bother us as much as you might think.”

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Understanding the value of money in China

With each day that passes, the Chinese way of life heightens my interest in the country and the way it functions. And my perspective is limited considering myself and my peers have only seen two of the country’s largest cities — Shanghai and Beijing. That’s a small fraction of the massive country and yet, the information we will take back with us to America is so vast and is growing each day.

Today what caught my attention is the way the Chinese value money. In a class discussion with Xu Wu and Andrew Leckey, both journalism professors at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, they explained the difference in the way Chinese and Americans view money.

A picture taken by Cronkite student Blake Wilson, who was comparing American and Chinese money.

The first interesting element to consider is the amount of cash the Chinese keep on hand or in a bank account. The idea of saving money resonates more with the Chinese than with Americans, who rely heavily on loans and credit accounts, rather than saving and using their own money. In my opinion, the Chinese just seem to have a greater respect for monetary value.

Wu pointed to a story written last week in China to highlight this point. The story noted that in Beijing alone, there are some 200,000 families with over $2 million U.S. dollars in their bank accounts.

He also noted that in China, the salary of workers only account for about 30 percent of their income, on average. Instead, he said a large part their income is accounted for by bonuses, stipends and the fact that there is no tax in China.

In America, taxes cause the loss of a substantial amount of money on a total paycheck. Leckey noted that Muhammad Ali received only about 30 percent of what he made due to heavy taxes. He added that taxes are such a huge issue in America but in China, they’re virtually not existent.

“Taxes are very capricious from state to state,” he said.

In addition to the information listed above, I also find it interesting that China’s salary is set up in a very unique way in comparison to America. Here workers are paid for 14 months of work in any given year. They are paid a “double salary,” in the last two months of the year and are even given free gifts, like ham for example, on major Chinese holidays.

The notion of a “double salary” in America probably wouldn’t go over too well with many company executives. In China, though, it’s the normal practice.

Wu also noted the difference in the value placed on money between China and America. He said it will be interesting to watch how the American dollar exchanges with the Chinese Yuan in the future.

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Pushing beyond stereotypes: Becoming curious about the real China

As we near the end of our study abroad trip to China, it’s becoming clearer to me that America is lacking the full picture of China.

In some ways, there is a level of ignorance by many Americans about what China is, what it represents and what it eventually will become. And this ignorance is creating communication problems.

We increasingly hear that China is a nation to “fear” in the future but what do many Americans truly know about China?

As Americans we may think in stereotypes, that the Chinese run around wearing rice hats and doing kung fu. We see pictures of Mao Ze Dong wearing cowboy hats and think of a funky sounding language. We see communism, censorship and an oppressed culture. This doesn’t even begin to describe the “real”  China.

The back alley of a market near People's Square in Shanghai

Though it’s true that China is nearly impossible to understand because it is so complex and is developing so rapidly, people in America need to develop a hunger for learning about the Chinese culture — mostly because as the country moves forward, business cannot be understood without it.

China already has the largest car market and is the manufacturing hub of the world. The country is setting the price tag for consumer products worldwide and will continue to affect all global markets as it progresses.

The problem with the country’s progress is that the “perception gap,” as journalism professor Xu Wu calls it, will increase if the people living in our society do not awaken to the reality that China is and will continue to be a major player in the global sphere. To begin understanding, it is key to view China in three different lights, Wu said.

“There is the developed China, the in-line China and the remote China,” he said.

Wu also noted that even he, a native from Beijing, cannot fully understand China because there are so many areas that must be taken into consideration just to scratch the surface.

It is his hope that this study abroad course will give Cronkite students a better understanding of his country and enable us to spread the desire to become more curious about China and not to just rely on stereotypes for a matter of fact.

As Wu puts it, we will be the generation to either bridge or further the gap between America and China. Considering the current state of that gap, it Read more…

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Establishing relationships in China

Christine Harvey (left) and her new friend Serena talk about shedding cultural boundaries at the International School of Business in Beijing.

We traveled to the International School of Business in Beijing early this morning and met with the students majoring in mass media.

Over the last year, Professor Andrew Leckey has been meeting and talking with students and the dean of the school in hopes of setting up an international exchange program for international business journalism. And after talking with the students today, I realize it would be to the benefit of those at both the Walter Cronkite School and the School of International Business to begin this type of program.

I feel this way because while talking with the Chinese students, I recognized two commonalities among them. The first was that they all, regardless of what career path they feel is best for them, have a strong desire to promote better cross-cultural communication. The second is that they all seem to be somewhat unfamiliar with the history of American journalism and of the fundamental workings of its role in the United States.

I spent most of my lunch hour talking with a Chinese student from Dali who goes by the American name of Serena. She chose the name because she enjoys watching the show Gossip Girls and said Serena is her favorite character. She asked me various questions about whether or not the American way of life mirrors that of what is portrayed in the show. Never having watched Gossip Girls, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I explained that television shows are typically an exaggeration of the stereotypical American lifestyles. We shared conversation about the barriers that both her and I have both experienced in communicating and understanding each other’s way of life.

Serena will be traveling to America this study to summer and I can only hope that during her trip, she is able to develop her own perceptions about the American culture. A few of her classmates traveled to America last year and detailed their experience.

The library at the School of International Business in Beijing

One young man who called himself Jeffrey explained that when he visited America last summer, he was very overwhelmed by the political coverage.

“Journalism and politics are interesting in America,” he said. “I saw a lot of untrue stereotypes about China and also about the U.S., but through communication on both ends we can help this.”

This was a view shared by many students in the school. They were all willing and open to hosting American students at their university and spoke many times about how they hope that the friendships we made today would be everlasting.

Though I didn’t get her name, I remember the quote of one student that will forever stick with me.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, as long as we share the same interests, we are friends forever,” she said.

That quote, in itself, represents the type of relationships we have already begun to establish in China. And they are relationships that I am sure, will continue beyond the borders of our countries as we move forward in our journalism careers.


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International reporters and academic experts detail China’s hot topics

A visit to Reuters' North Asia bureau

The issues surrounding China’s economic growth — inflation, population, urbanization, media censorship — are the main topic of conversation as we converse with people living and working in the country.

In a series of lectures, Phil Smith of Thomson Reuters‘ North Asia bureau and Andrew Broome from The Wall Street Journal Asia Edition shed additional light on coverage of these hot issues and also offered their own perception of China’s position in comparison to the rest of the world.

Smith said that while the world perceives that China has multiple issues of focus, it really does not. Instead, he called them “sensitivities” and noted that this perception is not so much influenced by topics like inflation but by the world’s fascination with watching the way the country continues to develop.

Historically, there is no country that matches the demand and the speed of China’s growth over the last 30 years. By 2010, the population grew to 1.34 billion, according to the Chinese Bureau of Labor Statistics. And China could surpass the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy.

“The world is interested and fascinated by China and the challenges its growth is giving to the West,” Smith said.

Smith said China’s main challenge is rising prices. He called it an export-driven economy and said it needs to begin moving toward more domestic consumption in order to combat the negative effects of a growing economy. Smith compared China’s growth to Europe’s expansion some 200 years ago, when it was undergoing a series of transformations during the industrial revolution. By looking at the effects Europe experienced during the revolution, he said journalists can detect important areas to focus on when covering China.

Andrew Broome inside The Wall Street Journal's Asia bureau

Broome also discussed the importance of journalists’ coverage when we met with him at The Wall Street Journal’s Asia headquarters this morning. He said the journalists reporting on China are sitting on stories that impact virtually every world market. These stories, Broome noted, all stem from China’s ever-growing demand.

The chronical problem on the media front though, he said, is that foreign publications like The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, are restricted from hiring Chinese journalists and must hire foreign reporters. Broome said media restrictions aren’t as severe as they were before 1989, but in the last year there has been a “backward lurch” in the media’s freedom of coverage.

Xu Wu, a professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and also a faculty director on our study abroad trip, said the recent tightening on the media is mostly a result of the upcoming transition in the generations of leadership. He said it’s a “conservative time” and as China prepares for its next transition it will be a country to continue observing.

As our trip in China progresses, it is my hope that we will be able to observe some of the country’s preparation for this transition and later offer insight on what journalists may or may not expect to see in the upcoming year.

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Discussing the role of media at Tsinghua University

ASU business journalism students visit Tsinghua University

On our second day in China, we spent a majority of the time talking with students and faculty at Tsinghua University, as well as in lectures with Xu Wu and Andrew Leckey.

We met students from Russia, Poland, Australia and America, as well as many other countries, and had the opportunity to learn about their interests in global business journalism. They also shared with us their experiences during their time at Tsinghua and detailed how studying in an international program is the experience of a lifetime.

Another main, and extremely important, topic of conversation was about the role of the media in China. A lecture from Wu, a professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, helped clarify that role and highlighted the reformation in recent years.

To provide background on the issue, Wu pointed to following data.

In 2010, China had:

  • 1938 newspapers, 44 billion copies
  • 200 national newspapers
  • 9,468 journalists
  • 2,507 television stations
  • 1 billion tv sets (95.9%)
  • 578 publishers; 3 billion books a year

He noted that the media didn’t always play such a large role in the country’s society. Before 1989, Wu said the media faced the strictest conditions in China’s history. Reporters didn’t have the freedom to write about many things and it became a constant debate that eventually led to some changes after 1992, when there was a new round of economic reform throughout the country.

Students stop to visit a market in China

China’s media began to play a double-faced role: It was the “throat and tongue,” of the Communist party because they played an integral role in transmitting information about the ideology of the country, while it was also a profit maker for corporations and businesses.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, this role has been changing as there has been some relaxation in media control. Though restrictions have become tighter in the last year, Wu said journalists in China have gained more independence and will continue to act as ‘ideological transmitters’ between the ruling party and the public.

Having the opportunity to listen to Wu’s lecture and then reflect with international students was an incredible experience and will surely give myself and fellow Cronkite students some things to think about as we continue studying international business journalism in China.

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It’s China bound for 10 Cronkite students

A group of 10 students from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication made final preparations on Saturday before embarking on a 14-day trip to China with professors Xu Wu and Andrew Leckey.

Bags are packed. Passports are ready to be used. Our cameras, recorders, microphones (and for me, my notebook,) are locked and loaded, waiting patiently for our arrival in Beijing.

In less than 15 hours, we will be standing on Chinese soil. We will no longer be in a country that allows the freedom of the press or the choice of religion. It is a country that operates much differently than the United States and we have much to learn during our two-week international business journalism course.

But I know that I speak for the group  when I say that we are so excited.

It is currently 2:05 p.m. Our 12-hour flight to Beijing departs at 2:50 p.m. from the San Francisco airport. Thanks to an online China Time Zone Converter, I know we will land on Sunday, May 15, at 2:22 a.m. Desert Mountain time.

Check back for updates.

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