Message from Keith
If you want to feel optimistic about the future of journalism, take a short trip up to Beijing.
Yes, you read that right, Beijing.
I spent the first weekend in March in the Chinese capital, and had lunch with about 16 JMSC alumni. The oldest graduated in 2008 and the most recent finished our Master of Journalism programme only in 2018. And pretty much all of them are either working as journalists or at internet companies, freelancing or, for one of the more recent grads, still job-hunting and about to take a writing test that I’m confident she will ace.
They are working for international outfits like the Beijing bureaus of the BBC and The New York Times, and for local media such as Caixin, China Daily, 21st Century Business Herald, and internet companies Youku and Sohu. They are writing stories and shooting and editing video. They report on tech, finance, features and just about everything else. And they are putting into practice what they learned at the JMSC right now in China.
We hear and read a lot about the pressures facing Chinese journalists—the censorship and “red lines,” to be sure, but also the financial pressure, and the concern from parents and family members that dabbling in journalism will only lead to a life of low pay and poverty, at best, and at worst the heavy hand of state power if they happen to cross one of those “red lines.” The Economist wrote about the constraints on Chinese journalists in a recent Chaguan column (which, to boast a bit, also mentions the JMSC as “the region’s best college for reporters,” to which I could not agree more).
The pressures may be real but the students I had lunch with were undeterred. Most of them said they had the full support of their parents, and they were committed to the profession. I had a hard time keeping track of their exact number, because before the lunch was finished, at least two had to run out on assignments—covering the opening session of the annual National People’s Congress.
Another data point on the optimism scale; the number of applications for join our Master of Journalism programme is as high as ever, and with some top-notch candidates, from all over the country. Some young people even told me they wanted to switch career choices, after studying finance or engineering or other more potentially lucrative fields. Their passion was in telling stories and they really wanted to be journalists.
Journalism in China is under severe pressure, there is no doubt about it. Reporters Without Borders’s "2018 World Press Freedom Index” puts China at a dismal 176 out of 180 countries measured. According to the index, reporting conditions in China are far worse than in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and barely better than in Syria (number 177) and North Korea (in last place at 180).
But if you want to feel optimistic about the future, go to Beijing, and meet up with some of our super-smart, dedicated JMSC alumni. The future of journalism in China is in great hands.
Director of the JMSC