International reporting

Chinese police officers, paramilitary policemen and plainclothes security personnel prepare to clear Tiananmen Square ahead of an official ceremony in Beijing, China, on May 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

On eve of Tiananmen anniversary, early optimism pushed aside by press, speech crackdown

Chinese police officers, paramilitary policemen and plainclothes security personnel prepare to clear Tiananmen Square ahead of an official ceremony in Beijing, China, on May 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Two years ago in China, during the run-up to the Communist Party’s ritual changing of the guard, there was a heady mood of expectation that the country’s new top leaders might revive long-stalled political reform and maybe, just maybe, reopen the history books on one topic considered taboo: the June 4, 1989 massacre of hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy students in the streets around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The reasons for the early optimism were sound enough.

Xi Jinping, the incoming president, and Li Keqiang, who would become prime minister, were new generation leaders. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary hero, was widely believed to have opposed the Tiananmen crackdown. Li Keqiang was a student leader at Peking University during the 1989 protests, and he is known to have kept up ties to some of the old student activists. And besides, the events known as the “6/4 incident” were already more than two decades in the rearview mirror, and China had grown rich and powerful under the Communist Party’s continued tutelage.

Now, on the 25th anniversary of that brutal crackdown, those early hopes have given way to a harsher reality. The government under Xi and Li is cracking down on any Tiananmen Square commemorations with an intensity unseen in recent years — and journalists and bloggers have been especially targeted.

This year, even people holding small private commemorations away from public view have been rounded up and jailed. That was what happened to Beijing Film Academy Professor Hao Jian and others after Hao hosted a small group at his home in early May to discuss, in privacy, the 1989 crackdown.  The group had held a similar private event five years earlier for the 20th anniversary and suffered no consequences for it.

The arrest of Hao and several others was detailed in a moving New York Times op-ed by the novelist and blogger Murong Xuecun, who in the essay pledged to return to China from Australia to be arrested too, as his “contribution to resisting government efforts to erase the nation’s memory.”

The same thing happened to the performance artist Chen Guang — formerly one of the martial law soldiers sent to Tiananmen Square in 1989 to suppress the student movement. Last April, Chen invited a dozen friends to an empty building outside of Beijing to watch a set piece that included him wearing a mask over his mouth, and a wall whitewashed of dates like “1989.”  He was arrested May 7.

“The seminar in Beijing was in Hao Jian’s own flat,” said Louisa Lim, an NPR correspondent who was based in Beijing and Shanghai, and is the author of the new book “The People’s Republic of Amnesia; Tiananmen Revisited,” about the Communist Party’s efforts to erase the memory of Tiananmen Square. In an interview, she said Cheng Guang’s performance art, like Hao’s gathering, “was in a private space.”

“The crackdown is more intense,” Lim said in an interview. “This year it started very early.  There are a lot more measures being taken.”

At least 50 people have been detained in the weeks leading up to the anniversary, according to a recent roundup of arrests compiled by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Those arrested include blogger Liu Wei, who was picked up May 17 in Beijing, forcibly sent back to his home of Chongqing and charged with “creating a disturbance” for a seemingly innocuous act: posing for photos with fingers in a “V” sign and a stiff-armed salute at Tiananmen Square.

Human rights lawyers, academics and journalists have all been detained, including veteran reporter Gao Yu, 70, who was one of the first people arrested at the start of the 1989 crackdown. And in another ominous development for foreign reporters working in China, the Japanese financial newspaper Nihon Keizai reported that its Chinese news assistant in Chongqing was taken away from her home and detained on May 13.

The arrests have been accompanied by the requisite Internet clampdown, as the authorities try to block out searches and postings related to the anniversary. Searches for terms like “Tiananmen Square massacre” and “6/4 incident” have routinely been blocked in China. But this year the number of banned phrases has expanded, and now includes variations of “25,” plus words “square,” “mourn” and the phrase “when spring becomes summer.”

And on May 27, China’s state media reported of a new month-long clampdown on the widely popular mobile messaging application WeChat — which allows users to send text and voice messages to small closed circles and which has become an alternative news source as the government has increasingly targeted Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

But the massive effort at online suppression has been hard-pressed to keep up with China’s growing army of Netizens — now some 600 million strong — and their clever ways of bypassing the censorship with word-plays, double-entendres and phrases with hidden meanings. And that leads to the larger question: can China’s Communist rulers successfully suppress all memory and mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre in the rapid-fire information age of social media?

“The answer is, yes, they have been successful — but they can’t stop it all,” said Dan Southerland, who was the Beijing correspondent for The Washington Post from 1985-1990 and is now the executive editor of Radio Free Asia based in Washington.

Louisa Lim agreed. “The crackdown is clearly much worse than in any previous year,” she said.  “But there is a lot more happening on social media.”  She added, “The question is if they see social media slipping beyond their grip.”

Lim added that, like the title of her book makes clear, “The government has been remarkably successful at enforcing amnesia.” But she added, “It’s something the people have colluded in, because the cost of remembering is too high.”

The current Tiananmen-related crackdown is the clearest sign yet, if any more were needed, that China’s new leadership is making political stability and control its top priority.  And that marks a near-complete reversal from just two years ago, when many foreign journalists, including myself — as the Beijing correspondent for The Washington Post — were reporting on the cautiously optimistic mood of many Chinese that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang might begin to usher in a tiny bit more openness.

Li Datong, a veteran journalist who was fired as editor of a China Youth Daily supplement for daring to push against official censorship, told me in a 2012 meeting just before the new leaders took over that he had high expectations.  “I feel both Xi and Li realize there’s no way to solve the problems if they don’t start reforms,” he told me. The two men, he said, were China’s “Third Generation” leaders. “They represent the 1980s, when China reopened its doors to the world. They lived through the enlightenment of the 1980s.”

“I hope they bring us some surprises,” he said.

That view was widespread. Yang Baikui, who knew Li at Peking University and who later spent 11 months in jail and was expelled from the Communist Party for his part in the 1989 student protests, met me over coffee in the hutongs near the Forbidden City. He told me he was confident that the new leaders would not only revive political reforms, but would also reopen the long-closed book on the Tiananmen Square massacre.

“I feel it will happen,” Yang said then. “I’m very confident in Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping. I believe the problem of June 4 will start to be reviewed in one or two years.”

That optimism soon came to naught. With Xi in full control, China has launched a widespread clampdown on the Internet, which had emerged in recent years as a free-wheeling public speech platform.

Southerland, the former Post correspondent, said the optimism before Xi and Li’s elevation was similar to the high hopes for reforms when Hu Jintao took power in late 2002 — hopes that were dashed by 2004. “I think we sometimes focus too much on individual leaders and not enough on the system that limits what they can do even if they want to make major changes,” Southerland said.

Lim agreed. “There was, I don’t know if you’d call it an expectation, but perhaps kind of groundless optimism,” she said. “I think Xi Jinping turned out to be a different kind of leader than people hoped for — especially those people who were looking for a reevaluation of Tiananmen Square.”

Lim said she took extreme measures to write her book on the Tiananmen Square massacre while still working in Beijing as an NPR correspondent, including writing on a brand new “clean” laptop that she locked in a safe at night.

“I was sweating the whole time I was there,” she said. “I was concerned I would be detained or arrested. It made me realize what a taboo Tiananmen still is.”

Keith Richburg is finishing a semester as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He was The Washington Post’s China correspondent from late 2009 until 2013, and previously was the Post’s bureau chief in Paris, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Nairobi and Manila as well as New York City. He has won numerous awards, including two George Polk Awards, and he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of “Out Of America; A Black Man Confronts Africa,” and is now working on his next book idea. Read more


Letter from Poynter India’s Workshop Team

Kochi, India, Workshop Participants. March 25, 2014 — One of the nicest traditions at The Poynter Institute is the seminar photograph. This is a record of a special time with colleagues and faculty and of new friends made.

When I first thought about the idea of bringing a group of faculty members to India to conduct a series of workshops, I had that moment of self doubt that affects most of my new or innovative projects. That pesky inner voice of doubt whispered: What could we teach that would be relevant? What will the participants want from our teaching? Would we have an impact?

After three workshops and traveling more than 500 miles within India (not counting the 8,000 miles to get here), I found my answers (and doubt silencer) in a participant’s tweet:

Teaching in any new environment is always a challenge, but organizing a workshop with six great teachers who had yet to work together was a bit of a magic trick. Any credit for our success goes to them. I’ve organized workshops at Poynter but never something like this. To me, the real magic emerged during the first workshop on the first: It was the collaborative spirit of the faculty members, Vidisha Priyanka, Tom Huang, Sue Bullard, Casey Frechette, Zella Bracy and Jeffry Couch.

Sue Bullard, left, and Zella Bracy, right, take a selfie with a group at the Chennai workshop.

Later we would joke as we walked through airports and through crowded and bustling street markets that “no Poynter faculty would be left behind.” It was in the seminar where that saying came to life, with each faculty member helping the other, each presenter knowing that if there was a stumble, a fellow faculty could share a perspective and add to the teaching. It was a generosity of spirit.

That generosity was also in the seminar room, with participants sharing their ideas and experiences. It was about helping Poynter faculty to learn about India and its journalism training needs — as well as its strengths. It even extended to helping with a shopping trip.

That tweet from the Kochi workshop participant also reminded me about the impact of social media when it comes to capturing key learning points from a workshop. It has been fascinating to see which points resonate with participants. And they even served as a “tease” from one workshop to the next. Capturing those tweets for our Storify pages was a challenge as sometimes the flow was fast and furious.

Zella Bracy (second from right) and Howard Finberg (right) speak with participants at the workshop in Kochi.

Since the faculty is the heart of the workshop, here are their own impressions:

Sue Bullard, associate professor of journalism at the University Nebraska, Lincoln

India is colorful, chaotic and charming all at once. At first glance, from the backseat of an auto rickshaw, you can’t help but think about how different we are. Crazy traffic — motorized rickshaws, cars, buses and motor scooters packed with families — snakes its way down crowded streets where lanes and rules appear to be suggestions at best. Markets teem with vendors selling fresh coconut juice, silk scarves and aromatic spices. India sounds different than the quiet plains of Nebraska too. In India, the blast of honking horns, the melodic call to prayer, the Babel of many languages spoken on crowded streets remind us we’re across the world.

Yet despite all of the differences, the Poynter workshops show a different reality. Editors, educators and students here have much in common with us too. They are passionate about journalism, about exposing wrongs, about learning new ways to tell the stories of India. They’re curious, challenging and eager to be heard. On the first day of each series of workshops, we all are cautious, wondering if this will work. By the third day, we’ve bonded. We share a common goal, making journalism succeed despite the challenges of today’s world.

Tom Huang, right, discusses a point with Kochi workshop attendees.

Jeffry Couch, executive editor, News-Democrat, Belleville, IL

India has been a trip of discovery for me.

I’ve learned that we have much in common with our Indian colleagues. We have similar missions – to do excellent public service journalism that holds public officials and institutions accountable. We’re connected by many of the same professional values, such as accuracy and fairness. We’re passionate about what we do, and we want to do it well.

I’ve also discovered that we are very different. Indian journalists face challenges that we don’t have, including issues of personal safety. Newspaper circulation is mostly growing in India, and digital transformation at most places is in its early stage.

Like Howard, I had a twinge of doubt about what American journalists and educators could possibly offer that’s useful to Indian journalists. That’s been my biggest surprise. Indian journalists have been hungry to hear our view on craft issues, digital transformation and new tools. They’ve been engaged in our teaching, and have pitched into discussions with vigor.

Teaching in India has been invigorating and exhausting. Thanks to our Indian friends and my teaching colleagues, the trip will rank as one of my most rewarding professional experiences.

Zella Bracy, business development for Tru Measure, a division of The McClatchy Company

I have always believed that the work of journalists really matters, that journalism is needed to support democracy. The research I undertook to prepare for my session truly drove home in a painful manner the brutal financial realities that affected newsrooms in the past few years. The data around the future could also be perceived as bleak. The facts around the loss of revenue are enough to jade even the heartiest optimist.

Yet, through the days of training, as I listened and learned from the participants, my optimism returned, fed by the passion from the students and my colleagues. I plan on using the powerful combination of passion and optimism to double down on working to drive revenue in support of great journalism because my belief in the work continues to thrive.


Vidisha Priyanka, left, and Howard Finberg, middle, listen to a Kochi workshop participant.

Casey Frechette, visiting assistant professor, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

As our time in India draws to a close, I know I’ll look back on these workshops with great gratitude and fondness. In each city we’ve visited, we’ve received a warm welcome from journalists committed to improving their craft. In some cases, attendees traveled great distances to be with us. Participation in our sessions has been outstanding, creating a rich dialog and a chance to begin learning about the complexities of Indian media and society. The chance to discover India and learn from participants alongside gifted, generous colleagues and friends has made this a truly special experience.

Tom Huang, Sunday and enterprise editor, Dallas Morning News and Poynter Diversity Fellow

One of the most powerful moments for me came during the Kochi workshop. During one of our first sessions, a veteran journalist decided to play the role of embittered cynic. Several times during a presentation on brainstorming, he reacted dismissively, saying that there was no way to come up with new story ideas or new approaches to storytelling. Now, I like tough questions, but I grew frustrated, because I felt that he was trying to encourage a certain closed-mindedness.

But over the course of three days, something seemed to click with him. I think he began to understand that, even though we may fail as we try new approaches, it’s important to at least try, because that is how you learn. At the end of our final session, to all of our surprise, the journalist stood up and publicly thanked Poynter. Later, he walked up to me, looked me in the eye and thanked me for my teaching.

I was struck, then and there, by how much we share as journalists, whether from the U.S. or from India. We all face the fear of change. We are all going through profound change in our newsrooms because of the digital disruption. I realized that Poynter’s journey to India was not only about teaching and learning, but also about reassuring one another that we can figure this out together.

Vidisha Priyanka, interactive learning producer at Poynter and a native of India

In my head, I knew the Poynter training would be well-received in India. After all, we are a people who pay a lot of attention to good education and training. In my heart, I had a little bit of trepidation about how many people would finally be able to make it to the training. The reality is, that ongoing, onsite training in journalism is hard to come by here. As people streamed in for more every day of the three-day workshop, I was overwhelmed by their eagerness and enthusiasm. The passion for journalism in the room was clearly palpable and in turn we gained energy from the people in the room. It was a good feeling to give back something of what I had learned over the years to my own people.

Just as important as the faculty’s reflections are the thoughts of the participants. At the end of each workshop, we ask for their thoughts about what they have learned. Here are a couple of reflections recorded on the project Web site that touches our hearts, which is a Poynter experience, no matter where you are in the world.

From the Chennai workshop:

 “Poynter has broken communication barriers and brought together all types of journalists offering a bright future for them. It’s a pointer to professional excellence in journalism.”

From the Kochi workshop:

“The training was mesmerizing. With three days touched all the subjects comprehensively .And switched a synergy of change process to equip Indian journalists to meet the future challenges and to change the perception of luddites in newsrooms. The windows of mind were opened, filled with the fresh air of knowledge .And refueled with spirit of integrity and commitment. We were flying to cope with the enthusiastic team of Poynter.”

That’s a good way to end this letter from India. Read more


Journalists to follow on Twitter as Ukraine military moves escalate

Russian soldiers and Kremlin-backed armed forces assumed control in the Crimean peninsula and other sections of Ukraine Saturday, according to major media reports, prompting stern comments from President Obama and heightening concerns for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Here are journalists and other news sources to track on Twitter as events develop. Suggest others to follow in the comments box below.

• Shaun Walker, The Guardian, @shaunwalker7


• Mark MacKinnon, The Globe and Mail, @MarkMacKinnon


• Alexander Marquardt, ABC News, @MarquardtA

• Daniel Sandford, BBC News, @BBCDanielS

  • James Mates, ITV News, @jamesmatesitv

  • Elizabeth Palmer, CBS News, @elizapalmer

  • Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News (London), @lindseyhilsum

• William Booth, Washington Post, @BoothWilliam

  • Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times, @slmmoscow

Putin informs the upper house of parliament that he will use military force in Ukraine “until the normalization of the situation” there! — Steven Lee Myers (@slmmoscow) March 1, 2014

Simon Shuster, TIME, @shustry

Ukrainian Updates, @Ukroblogger

• Christopher Miller, KyivPost, @ChristopherJM

Paul Sonne, The Wall Street Journal, @paulsonne

James Marson, The Wall Street Journal, @marson_jr

Maxim Eristavi, freelancer covering Ukraine, @MaximEristavi

Maria Daniloa, Associated Press, @mashadanilova

Max Seddon, BuzzFeed, @maxseddon

Roland Oliphant, The Telegraph, @RolandOliphant

Storyful list of journalists in Ukraine and other Ukraine sources Read more

Lebanese journalists and activists use tape to cover their mouths as they hold placards to show their solidarity with detained journalists by Egyptian authorities during a sit-in protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. In January, Egypt's chief prosecutor referred 20 journalists, including four foreigners from the Al Jazeera TV network, to trial on charges of allegedly joining or assisting a terrorist group and spreading false news that endangers national security. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Journalists in Egypt plead not guilty to terrorist charges, trial postponed

Bloomberg | Al-Jazeera | BBC

A Cairo court on Thursday postponed the trial of Al-Jazeera journalists who are facing accusations of aiding Egyptians belonging to “a terrorist organization.”

Eight journalists including, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charges that include aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and endangering national security. Read more

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Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, in Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Thousands of angry anti-government protesters clashed with police in a new eruption of violence following new maneuvering by Russia and the European Union to gain influence over this former Soviet republic. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

1 journalist dead, many injured in Ukraine violence

Reporters Without Borders | Agence France-Presse | Vesti

Vyacheslav Veremyi was “dragged out of his taxi by unknown assailants” in Kiev early Wednesday morning, Reporters Without Borders reports. The reporter for Ukrainian newspaper Vesti “was violently beaten up, and according to witness accounts, he was shot in the stomach after he showed his press card.”

At least 27 other journalists were injured in the escalating violence, RWB writes. More than 167 journalists have been injured in Ukraine since November.

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square on Wednesday (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Vesti has set up a Russian-language page for anyone who wants to help out Veremyi’s family.

Previously: Dozens of journalists injured in Kiev during protests, five people killed Read more

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Creators of documentary that highlights photojournalism in Afghanistan raises more than $70,000

Kickstarter | Medium

Frame By Frame, a documentary that originated as a Kickstarter project, aimed to raise $40,000 by Aug. 28. As of today, it has raised $70,301.

The documentary, which started production last year, follows four Afghans who talk about how photojournalism in Afghanistan has changed throughout the years, and where it’s headed. The Frame by Frame Kickstarter page explains:

In 1996, the Taliban banned photography in Afghanistan. Taking a photo was considered a crime. When the regime was removed from Kabul in 2001, their suppression of free speech and press disappeared. Since then, photography has become an outlet for Afghans determined to show the hidden stories of their country.

The money will enable creators Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach to return to Kabul this fall and finish producing the documentary.

On Medium, Emily Holdman talked with Scarpelli about the documentary and how Afghans have become more open to photojournalism in recent years: Read more


Report: HuffPost Live lays off L.A. staffers, moves operations to New York

The Verge

HuffPost Live will “essentially shutter” its Los Angeles studio, Ben Popper reports. “Some of those losing their positions on the West Coast will be offered the opportunity to move east and join the HuffPost Live team in New York,” Popper writes.

The Huffington Post launched HuffPost Live, an online TV channel, last August. At the time, Brian Stelter called it “one of the most ambitious attempts yet to rethink what television should look and feel like when streamed over the Internet.” The initiative also has a studio in Washington, Stelter wrote.

The channel announced Wednesday it would focus on “world coverage, including a daily hour-long look at the stories sparking conversations around the globe — featuring contributions from editors and reporters from HuffPost’s 7 (soon to be 10) international editions,” Kara Swisher wrote.

Related: BuzzFeed announced in May it would build a “social video studio” in Los Angeles Read more


Journalists say they’re staying in Egypt despite attacks

The New York Times | The Atlantic Wire | The Huffington Post | The Root | The New Yorker

Supporters of Egypt’s ruling Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi “have attacked or detained at least a dozen foreign journalists, a vast majority on the same day that an adviser to the president delivered the first diatribe against Western news coverage,” David D. Kirkpatrick writes.

Egypt’s State Information Service complained in a press release about the negative press it received after government forces killed more than 600 people while clearing protester camps last week. At least three journalists were killed in that violence, and Egyptian forces “raided and shut down the Cairo offices of Al-Jazeera Arabic,” the Committee to Protect Journalists noted.

Officials have said “no visiting journalists would be issued press identifications without prior approval from the intelligence services, a break from long-standing practice,” Joshua Hersh writes.

NPR producer Jonathan A. Blakley tells Richard Prince he’s staying: “Don’t know of anyone who has left Cairo,” he said. Kimberly Adams tells Prince: “I do not know of any American journalists that are planning to leave at this stage. There’s a story going on, after all.”

While writing about how the U.S. administration should refer to events in Egypt, New Yorker Editor David Remnick says “There comes a point when a thing demands its proper name. A coup is a coup. A despot is a despot. And a massacre is a massacre.” Read more

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Javier Manzano first freelance photographer to win Pulitzer in 17 years

Javier Manzano was “shocked” when he found out he had won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.

“To be honest, I am still having a bit of trouble processing the magnitude of the recognition,” Manzano, a freelancer for Agence France-Presse, said by email Tuesday morning. “I feel privileged to be [in] the company of my colleagues who also work as freelancers in some of the most challenging environments with little or no outside support.”

Freelancers have won Pulitzer prizes in the past, but not nearly as often as full-time journalists have. Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler told Poynter that it’s been 17 years since a freelance photographer won a Pulitzer. (Two freelance photographers — Charles Porter IV and Stephanie Welsh — won in 1996.)

Manzano won for a photo of two rebel soldiers guarding their sniper’s nest in Aleppo, as light streams through bullet holes in the wall behind them. Karmel Jabl, the neighborhood in which Manzano captured the photo, separates many of the major battlegrounds in Aleppo. Read more

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Syria coverage honored by 2013 duPont Awards

CBS and NPR’s coverage of the Syrian uprising were recognized by the 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, whose winners were announced Wednesday morning by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

CBS reporter Clarissa Ward “bravely reported on what was happening inside Syria’s dangerous and largely inaccessible insurgent strongholds despite government efforts to keep foreign journalists away,” the awards say.

To report this extraordinary series of nine stories, Ward entered Syria posing as a tourist carrying only a small camera. She gave viewers the rare opportunity to meet the people behind the shaky cell phone videos posted on YouTube. With deliberate and straightforward reporting, Ward provided riveting details about activists and regular citizens as their struggle brought Syria to the brink of civil war.

Read more

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