A must-read: a reporter’s guide to covering the Olympics
[Update] The full text is now added below. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of formatting to this nice writeup to make it more presentable than the big lump of text posted at Time.
[Further update] Now that we are examining journalist guides, please also take a look at Kaiser Kuo’s “Forbidden Cliches: A Guide for Visiting Journalists” (H/T ESWN) and Gideon Rachman’s “The lure of the great cliché of China“.
Reporter Guidelines for Covering the Beijing Olympics
1) On arrival, set the scene by saying a few nice things about the infrastructure—the high rises and the multi-lane highways, the interchanges. Developmenty sort of stuff.
2) Make an amusing, self-deprecating comment about your inability to speak or read the funny language they have in China. Play down the fact that you are dependent on a translator for quotes and newspaper reading. Never admit in print to getting story ideas or borrowing quotes from the China Daily.
3) Get story ideas and borrow quotes from the China Daily. Make sure you do this discreetly. For background only.
4) Now for reportage. After saying the nice things about the new buildings, get your translator to find a Beijing yam seller whose slum was knocked down to make way for the Olympic badminton hall. Do a few paras on him, and how all the money thrown at the Games is not helping the poor, and how terrible the huge income gap is. Make sure you write at least three times as much about the yam seller whose slum was pulled down as you do about all the new apartments, new metro lines, the growth in car ownership, the expanding health insurance and all the other good news about China that nobody in the west really wants to know about.
5) Say how horrible the air in Beijing is, even if it isn’t on the days you are there. Everybody says Beijing air is horrible, so play along.
6) The political bit. Interview a token party member, but reword him subtly to make it sound like he is just spouting the party line. Bend the translator’s words to fit—it’ll be rubbish English anyway. (Ditto in all quote treatment). Then find a good Chinese, one who is fluent in English, has lived in America or Britain, and is prodemocracy. Give them lots of space, let them sing. Martin Lee types, but preferably younger and female, for the mugshot. If you can get an interview with the Olympic artist, Ai-whatsisname, who is an anti-Commie quote machine, give him full throttle. Hopefully, he hasn’t been arrested yet.
Lastly, please remember: Chinese who love their country are called “nationalists.” Never use this word for Americans, French, Tibetans and other civilized peoples who love their country or territory. When demonstrators protest over Tibet they are acting in a heartfelt, spontaneous way, waving pretty flags you would be happy to see woven into your granny’s bedspread. When Chinese counter-demonstrate, they are always “bussed in,” the mood is “ugly”, and they are draped in intimidating red flags that can be made to look a bit Hitler Jugend-ish with the right kind of photo. (They probably did arrive in buses as this is the cheapest way of moving numbers of not-very-well-off people around, but you don’t need to prove the insinuation that the regime laid on the vehicles). Beijing is always a “regime,” by the way, and is not to be confused with western “governments.” (But: Hong Kong is an exception. Because it was under benign, enlightened British dictatorship for a long time, it cannot be a “regime.” “Regime” only applies to dictatorships in rubbish countries).
That’s about it. Don’t be deceived by all that friendly smiling and optimism, that’s just a front. It’s your job, with your long days of experience of the Far East and your fluency in a language spoken by nearly 0.005% of the locals, to get under the radar and ferret out the truth.
Did I mention how bad the air in Beijing is?
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