THE BACK STORY
Returning for his fourth time in as many years, UNC-CH Senior Lecturer Jock Lauterer is documenting a whirlwind two-week teaching gig to four cities in China where he will be advising community newspaper start-ups and helping to launch a community journalism program at a university in Foshan in the southern province of Guangdong. His latest book, the revised fourth edition of “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local,” was published last summer in Mandarin. This blog is written expressly for his photo and community journalism students back at UNC-Chapel Hill, with whom he will be Skyping later in March.
So this, my fourth trip to China, is drastically different from the previous three journeys, which, completed during the summer, were devoid of teaching content for my American journalism students.
Each summer from 2012-2014, I taught Chinese journalism students and Chinese newspaper reporters, photographers, editors and publishers. And I don’t think i did too shabby a job. But something was missing. How to connect the dots between Carrboro and Durham with Beijing and Shanghai and make it real for my Tar Heels.
My solution was to embed the trip during the semester, allowing me to actively and intentionally observe, report and write mindfully for my students. For you!
In fact, as I write this now, I can see all your young fresh faces, upturned and expectant: “What is Jock gonna do now?”
The screen-grab of y’all/you guys back in the U.S. of A. makes me grin.
So…what’s the elevator speech on China? If I had only 30 seconds to tell you quickly about a land this old, vast and complex, what would I say?
The Lonely Planet guide to China is a good place to start:
“Antique yet up-to-the-minute, familiar yet unrecognizable, outwardly urban but quintessentially rural, conservative yet path-breaking, space-age but old-fashioned, China is a land of mesmerizing contradictions.”
At over 5,000 years old, China is “the longest lasting complex civilization on earth.” — a country that American political scientist Lucian Pye has famously defined as, “a civilization in search of state-hood.”
With 1.34 billion people, China is the world’s most populous country. Picture this: One out of every five world citizens is Chinese.
China is: the world’s largest economy, the world’s leading consumer of energy, the world’s worst polluter, and since 2012 has more high-speed rail lines than the rest of the world combined.
And from Lonely Planet again: “Behind the hype, however, China still sees itself as a developing nation.” — spending more on domestic security than on national defense, and“suggesting an obsession with internal, rather than external, threats.”
China’s land space, like that of the US is vast. But the population density is something else again. You just can’t grasp it until you experience it.
Beijing is roughly on the same latitude as New York City, But BJ, with 22 million folks, eclipses the “big” Apple, with a mere 8.5 million New Yorkers.
Compare this to Guangzhou in the South (formerly known as Canton) where I’ll be later. The southern latitude gives that industrial metropolis weather like Havana, Cuba! Guangzhou, a city most of y’all have never heard of, has a population of 12 million, dwarfing LA, with mere 3.8 mill.
And why is the ol’ perfesser here? Turns out China’s community journalism industry is a new and burgeoning media phenomenon. Chinese colleagues tell me there are thousands of cities roughly the size of Durham WITHOUT A LOCAL NEWSPAPER.
Smelling money/yuan, canny Chinese newspaper publishers are creating start-ups left and right. But never having run a hyper-local community newspaper before, these visionary Chinese journalists freely admit they are at a loss for how to make a community newspaper a success.
I am here simply to share America’s “best practices” which allows the Chinese media leaders to cherry pick what practices might be adaptable to the Middle Kingdom.
Tomorrow: On to the suburbs of Beijing where I get to meet staff members of several new community newspaper start-ups and get their take on how and why community journalism is slowly but surely changing the media landscape in China.