My journalism students sat under the AP’s iconic photo of Nixon at the Great Wall today while, for two straight hours, News Editor Scott McDonald, an amazing Canadian guy here 5 years this time (Sri Lanka, Pakistan, all over) explained the challenges of getting the story in China when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs controls movement, sources are uncomfortable speaking, occasionally media gets rounded up, and the rules sometimes shift unannounced. And the people best able to get the story — locally hired reporters who understand China and speak several dialects — are legally barred from working as journalists for foreign companies.
For their part, the students challenged him, contending that Western media engages consciously in China-bashing to sell papers, that protecting China is vital while it plays catch-up on the world stage, and that the U.S. government also exerts control and frequently lies.
McDonald himself raised and explored the complexities. Along with questionable overseas advocacy groups putting out information on China, there are now countless online/amateur Twittering sources to sort through, and the truth (did police open fire in Lhasa on a “riot” or “a peaceful demonstration”?) is very hard to verify on deadline. There are budget constraints, especially after a big year (Egypt, Libya). And space constraints: How can you explain China-Taiwan in one sentence? And without the native insight a Chinese reporter could bring, even the best, bilingual international reporters who majored in Chinese studies can miss sublteties.
He hardly took a breath in two hours of nonstop, high-speed, spot-on, articulate chat.
“We try to be honest. We try to be fair… We try to get eyewitnesses on the ground.”
Long live the newsman.