Journalism challenges in China

In many ways, the media here is still very young and developing in China, as compared to North America. Some of my work here involves editing stories written by Chinese reporters who, I must say, have slightly different “rules” to play by than the ones that were drilled into my head at journalism school.

First off – plagiarism. It’s absolutely rampant here and honestly, there is complete acceptance amongst my bosses here that it takes place. The other week, a reporter (who generally struggles quite seriously with English) handed me a story that began, “A look of satisfaction played on the trade official’s face as he reeled off statistics recently from a ministry report about China’s booming commerce with Africa.”

Um, full stop. I knew immediately something was strange and typed the phrase into Google. Turns out, Howard French of the New York Times wrote that very same lead on a story back in 2004. As I read on, it turned out the entire story, in fact, had been plagiarized.

I was horrified.

I met with the reporter, who then flatly denied that she plagiarized anything. An incredibly uncomfortable situation then took place where I explained that she deserved to be fired. Insert some tears and a boss who said that it was fine just to tell her not to do it again and I left rather frustrated and sad, to be honest.

One of the other problems is the language thing. Now, I know that writing in a foreign language would be a great challenge and I’m sure if I wrote in either French or German, my work would be littered with grammatical errors. That being said, here is another example of what someone handed into me the other week.

“Before occurrence of the international financial crisis the American, European and Japanese car companies were working for sollowing the markets movement through sequestration and blocking networks that were known by cars manufacturing industry during recent years. The storm of money market came to shake these entities on their crowns, so many have fallen and the rest of these giant entities who continued became unstable like wearing pendulum, which search on whom stopping its random swinging.”

Errrr…. come again?


  1. Christine

    Oh dear. The badly written one i can at least understand a bit. But plagiarism?? I guess I have this notion that when people are adults, they act like them.

    I work at an adult private college, and we occasionally catch ppl plagiarizing too and i can’t help but think how on earth can they think they’ll get away with it! I hate to admit it, but almost everyone who is caught is an international student. And they’re excuse? That’s how the wrote essays in school and it was okay. -_-

  2. Suzanne Ma

    oh dear indeed – at that rate of plagiarism and that level of english is the mag ever going to come out? i’d love to know who is funding this ambitious project.

    and shame for even trying to pull a howard french.

  3. Benny

    Oh Katiekins. I really wish we’d had a chance to sit down for a beer before you went off on this project!

    It’s line for line like what I experienced at the start-up business paper in Kenya. I too was an editor tasked with trying to bring Canadian-style journalism standards to writers who often struggled with basic aspects of English, never mind journalistic style, and never-ever-mind journalistic ethics and integrity.

    I too caught line-for-line plagiarizers. One example being a tech writer who would take entire stories about Indian hi-tech off the net and change each “India” to “Kenya.” Clever.

    When I exposed this, the response was “that’s terrible!” And he was spoken to. But that was it. When I thought of the response it would get at home, I just laughed. But hey, it wasn’t Kansas anymore!

    I had writers who would simply not do an assignment. Who would not show up for work. Who would roll in 3 hours late for no discernible reason and without a phone call to let us know.

    And when I think of your situation, I cringe, because Kenya, for all it’s poverty and problems has a pretty well-established English press tradition thanks to its colonial days. You’ve been to Uganda, so you know the score, but in Kenya it’s supposedly even better.

    And I spent many horrible meetings trying to keep myself in check as I explained to a writer why they were not doing their jobs. Eventually it got to be too much for one man to do — at least this man.

    When I think about it now it seems easy: Just focus on the big picture stuff. Get writers interested in the role of journalism in society, and the rest will come with time. We can’t force people overnight into becoming fluent, ethical, stylish writers in a language and ideology that is not native to them.

    But on the day-to-day? It’s rough. I feel for you. But you will be stronger for the experience. And I wish you luck in your new scholastic ambitions.

    So where to now?

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