Time for Chinese media to come of age

Updated: 2014-03-20 07:43

By Zhang Zhouxiang (China Daily)

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In comparison, the Chinese media encountered the information age during their growth period, facing traditional competition as well as the challenge posed by the emerging new media.

The pressure of new media on traditional media cannot be ignored. On Aug 5, 2013, The Washington Post, along with some other assets, was sold for $250 million. Before that its circulation had dropped to 470,000, about half of the peak in 1993, and its revenue had fallen by 44 percent in six years. That was after The New York Times group sold its influential newspaper The Boston Globe. When even such media giants cannot sustain the shock of new and social media and the changing times, it is understandable why the Chinese media are finding it difficult to cope with the challenges.

Besides, the successful business mode followed by media giants has several prerequisites. Turning excellent journalism into wider readership and thus larger circulation and more profit is not easy in China, because society does not follow journalistic and business ethics. For example, when Gu Junshan, a senior military official, was found to have been involved in corruption in January, caixin.com published a news feature titled, "The mansion of General Gu Junshan", which narrated an excellent story about how he became corrupt. The report won widespread praise but hardly increased the hits on the website. The reason: it was almost immediately reprinted or relinked by several other media outlets, some of them didn't credit either caixin.com or the reporter for the excellent piece of journalism.

After condemning the media outlets but without being able to do anything, caixin.com complained on its official micro blog: "... society needs high-quality reports but gets it almost for free ... the traditional business mode is failing." The reporter, Wang Heyan, even said, "piracy is a sustainable business while creation is not".

The habit of "paying for what you read" is not yet part of the Chinese psyche. According to the ninth reading habits survey of Chinese nationals, released in March last year, only 41.8 percent of the people reading digital contents said they would pay for them. The figure is not only lower than that in most Western countries, but also lower than that in China in 2010. The average acceptable price for a book for them is only 3.5 yuan ($0.56), not enough to buy even a 1.5 liter bottle of water.

That's why Chinese media outlets face a dilemma: if they insist on providing only quality reports, they cannot possibly survive. There is no dearth of good journalists in China, as was seen in Gu's case. The problem is in making good journalism a rewarding experience.

There is hope, though. With the likely improvement in overall business rules, including strengthening of IPR protection, this year, the Chinese media will find more support and returns for their efforts. Perhaps that will help them gain global influence.

The author is a writer with China Daily. zhangzhouxiang@chinadaily.com.cn.

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