Profession still gives a voice to the powerless
Chen Feng is a mainland reporter who has witnessed the evolution of his trade. He has seen the power of journalism raise social awareness, but he also feels depressed when he sees injustice.
When and why did you become a reporter?
To be a journalist was the ideal of Chinese graduates in the 1990s. I thought there was freedom and honour in being a reporter. After I graduated in 1994, I became a reporter in Zhengzhou, Henan province.
What was the industry like in the 1990s?
The mainland news industry was very immature at that time. There were only party-run newspapers, and very few independent publications. Newspapers only reported news as propaganda for the Communist Party. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, metropolitan newspapers were launched, with aggressive reporting on social issues and investigative stories of public concern. Since then, mainland journalists have gained greater freedom to report.
What's the turning point of your career as a journalist?
I was deputy editor-in-chief of the Zhengzhou Evening News, but felt there was a lack of press freedom in the hinterland provinces because of censorship. In 2002, I quit and became an investigative journalist with The Southern Metropolis News in Guangdong. Breaking the Sun Zhigang story was the most important moment in my career. In April 2003, I reported on how Sun, a migrant worker, was beaten to death after being detained by police for not carrying identification. The story touched off a wave of public outrage that reached the central government.
As a result of that incident, Premier Wen Jiabao led a cabinet vote that prohibited the detention of migrants simply for straying far from their hometowns. The Sun case is regarded as one of most influential events on mainland society in the past three decades.
In the past years, which news stories and events have made the biggest impression on you?
The Sun case was the most remarkable one. In reporting the case, I reached countless migrant workers and farmers like Sun who had suffered a lack of rights for a long time.
The 2008 tainted-milk incident and the continuing, frequently violent evictions and demolitions across the country also leave impressions. The milk-powder scandal exposed the darkest side of public safety: collusion between business and government officials. The demolition violence also shocks me. Both stories will affect our society for a long time. Why did you quit the print medium and turn to new media? I was sent to Beijing in 2003 to launch The Beijing News as news editor. I think the internet offers Chinese people more space to enjoy democracy and freedom. So in 2006, I left the print medium to join online media. Now I'm chief editor of the Ku6 website. Our website mainly produces content such as live broadcasts of news events and reality shows.
How is online video media developing on the mainland?
Online media is growing very strongly. China has 420 million internet users, 75 per cent of whom say they watch videos online. Internet videos are more popular on the mainland than in the US because the traditional media are not competitive here. Online videos provide an alternative.
This is an edited version of an article which ran in the Post on December 12, 2010