China grooms future journalists for Western-style news reporting
Shanghai, China — The students' questions after Professor Yu's class were more pointed than those during the session itself. ''Tell me, what do you think of the China Daily?'' one asked.
''I mean, is it written in 'Chin-glish'?''
Despite assurances that it was not, the students were skeptical. They wanted to be sure they had the true opinion of a native English-speaker about China's only English-language newspaper. It is, after all, a possible employer for them after graduation from Fudan University's English-language journalism program.
These students are the first of a new generation of Chinese journalists. It is a group which aims to be proficient in English and to be familiar with, if not practitioners of, the Western approach to news gathering and reporting.
Three-year programs in international journalism at two of the country's top schools, Fudan University and the Shanghai Foreign Languages Institute, began last year.
The challenges the students face might daunt aspiring journalists anywhere in the world. They are expected both to master writing in a difficult foreign language (English) and to adopt Western-style journalism to the special purposes of China's news media.
''One of our guiding principles is to import useful techniques in Western journalism ... just as we are importing science and technology from the West,'' said Prof. Qian Weifan, director of the international journalism program at the Shanghai Foreign Languages Institute.
''We want students to serve the interests of China, their country,'' Professor Qian said. ''On the other hand, they must observe the ethics of journalism, that is, be objective, stick to the facts.''
Qian said he saw no conflict in this.
Serving the interests of China involves adhering to certain guidelines. The constitution adopted last year by the All-China Journalists' Association requires its members ''to support all correct ideas and actions which are in the interests of the (Communist) Party and the people, and to combat all erroneous ideas and behaviors that are against these interests.''
The constitution also urges Chinese journalists ''to study Marxism-Leninism and Mao Tse-tung thought.'' But this new generation of English-language journalists also studies contemporary American news writing.
In one recent class, students analyzed the different accounts of Elvis Presley's career that appeared in Time and Newsweek magazines at the time of his death in 1977. The stories' breezy style and colorful imagery, so entertaining to readers, could not have been a greater contrast with conventional Chinese journalism, which tends to have a plodding style and to rely on dry recitations of facts and data.
The numbers enrolled in these programs are small - so far just more than 100 in all - but they include some of China's brightest and most broad-minded college students.
Discussions with some of these students confirm that journalism is emerging as a respectable, even prestigious, profession after the deprecations of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when many of China's veteran editors and reporters were sent to farm the countryside with thousands of other ''intellectuals.''
It also seems to be more acceptable now to have an interest in the world outside China, though there are very few opportunities, even for university graduates, to pursue careers abroad. The students' enthusiasm for journalism is partly a result of the prospects it offers for foreign travel, an especially coveted privilege.
A blend of East and West is apparent in the faculties of these programs, which include mostly young teachers who have studied in the United States in the past few years.
All the faculty members at Fudan have studied at the University of Hawaii and several have done graduate work elsewhere in the US. The head of Fudan's program , Prof. Zheng Beiwei, completed his studies in Albany, N.Y., and returned to China three years after the Communist victory in 1949.
Professor Qian was an editor for American- and British-owned newspapers in north China and served as city editor of the Shanghai Herald before 1949. Besides directing the new journalism program at the Foreign Languages Institute, he also advises graduate students who are working on such theses topics as the impact of radio broadcasting and the role of television in the mass media.
He encourages students to contribute free-lance articles to the China Daily, the Liberation Daily (Shanghai's Communist Party newspaper), and the Translation Weekly, also published in Shanghai. The institute also conducts special training courses for experienced Chinese journalists from the Ministry of Radio and Television to improve their English before working abroad.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Education in Peking said that students from the international journalism programs could expect to find jobs with the English-language wire service of the official New China News Agency, the China Daily, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Radio and Television.
A third program in international journalism is planned for Jinan University in Guangzhou (Canton), though sources said it will train students for the Chinese-language wire service of the China News Service, which provides mainly domestic news to overseas Chinese newspapers.