It will be nearly impossible to describe last night with Mr. Kong, the benevolent government publicity director of Liu Shi. It is he who came up with the idea to create the Liu Shi Today newspaper, and it is he who must take responsibility for it, should it fail. But by all accounts, his risk has been worth the venture. And our conference has been hailed a great success.
Suffice it to say, the evening banquet following the conference was awash in toasts and counter-toasts in the time-honored Chinese tradition of “gambei,” which translates as “bottoms up” — but really signals a bout of competitive drinking.
Had the day’s conference not been such a big success, the evening’s jollity would not have been so, well…jolly.
However, my take on the day is slightly more nuanced. Here’s the back story.
Following my morning “lecture” there followed a meet-and-greet lunch, and then a four-hour editors’ roundtable, attended by about 40 folks (men mostly) who all took turns speaking.
But the moderator skipped one attendee, Zhu Yin, a middle school teacher who has integrated the Liu Shi Today newspaper into his class curriculum, sort of like the U.S. version of Newspapers in Education. But what so impressed me about teacher Zhu was this: he did this entirely on his own, without any external vision or leadership.
At the invitation of Liu Shi Today director Ying Yu Zhi, teacher Zhu was attending the conference to share his work, but the moderator ignored him. Skipped right over him and went to the next person at the table on the far side of the teacher.
I was stunned.
Realizing my power as “the panda,” (aka the out-of-town so-called expert) I knew if I had the mic again, I could slide into an introduction of the exemplary teacher, and then pass the mic to him.
After all, Here was a reader, a volunteer, a fan, and real person offering solid personal evidence as to why community journalism was valuable, worthwhile and deserving of his support as a citizen.
Teacher Zhu, a handsome, 40-something man with intense dark eyes and a lock of hair that kept falling charmingly across his forehead, took the mic with the confidence of a man comfortable in his own skin. “I have used the newspaper to enrich my class,” he began.
“I care about my community and the people around me,” he said, “It’s like an instinct.”
He said the newspaper helps him create class exercises, like test questions from local current events. He awards free KFC coupons to students for every mistake they find in the paper. And Zhu encourages them to pick a photograph and come up with a title, or a headline.
A student survey revealed what his kids liked the most about the paper (the photo pages) and the least (the fact that the weather page recently got cut), and what they wanted more of (more local school coverage).
Teacher Zhu feels so strongly about his newspaper that he serves as a volunteer photographer and delivery person. When the paper’s management tried to pay him for delivering papers, he refused, insisting that he was just doing his part for the greater good.
Editor Ying told me later that his newspaper’s two most valuable resources were Mr. Kong with his benevolent, open-minded leadership, and teacher Zhu, whose devotion personifies the loyal readership.
As a result of Zhu’s comments, the paper’s leadership promised to restore the weather page and give the schools more coverage.
Teacher’s Zhu’s testimony was a game-changer, convincing the leaders in attendance of the importance of this town’s new community newspaper.
Score one for the home team.