December 19, 2012

I was honored to represent the U.S., the Poynter Institute and KING Broadcasting Co. at the Colloquium on Future Global Communication and Journalism Education held Dec. 15-16 at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The first session featured five international speakers — including me — who presented in English.

Here are four key takeaways from the conference and from my conversations with professors and students there.

Journalism education is flourishing in China

Professor Shi Anbin, who invited me to speak at the conference, told me there are 1,000 journalism schools in China. While the government continues to control the news media there, state-run news agencies are growing fast (much like the country’s economy for the past 20 years). There is also an increasing presence of foreign media in China to report out to the rest of the world.

All of this new opportunity means an increased need for education and training. Schools across the country are moving to meet the professional and academic need to understand the impact of Chinese media on, and its place in, the rest of the world.

A flyer at Tsinghua University advertised the talk by author Mark Briggs, who is standing beside it.

In my public lecture to graduate students at Tsinghua the day before the conference, I was impressed with the overall awareness of global media trends the students showed. In fact, their multiple-point questions during the Q&A were more challenging than many I have faced in college classrooms in the U.S.

It’s still early for entrepreneurial journalism in China

As you already know, the Chinese economy has exploded in the past decade. News startups, however, have not been part of that explosion. Yet.

About 60 students packed into a lecture room at the Tsignhua School of Communication for my “public lecture” on Friday. I was told there was unusually high interest in my topic — entrepreneurial journalism — because many students are looking for options upon graduation besides working for state-run news agencies.

A professor told me that one of his former students just left an agency job to take a post with Bloomberg in China and will earn 3-4 times more in salary than what he was previously being paid.

All that interest does not mean activity. When asked if anyone could name an example of entrepreneurial journalism in China, the room was silent.

In talking with professors at Tsinghua, it seems it’s only a matter of time. A handful of fast-growing social networking platforms has loosened the grip of government censors on the flow of information in the past couple of years, creating new opportunities for news and journalism startups. The fear of government shutdown has dampened news startup activity so far, but given the capitalistic momentum in China these days, that is likely to wane.

Other high-tech entrepreneurialism, especially social networking, is exploding

The Chinese government has barred Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google (these sites are available on laptops and PCs by paying additionally for a VPN, but not on smartphones). The move apparently had as much to do with business as politics.

Rather than helping grow the fortunes of U.S. tech titans, China created a huge opportunity for Chinese companies. Sina’s Weibo, Tencent’s WeChat, Renren, Baidu and other fast-growing tools and websites are very similar to Facebook, Twitter, Google and the like with one important distinction: they are domestic companies serving Chinese audiences.

Weibo has more than 400 million users who share news, photos, jokes and other Twitter-like musings. But the momentum has shifted to WeChat, an MMS platform that launched in late 2011 and already has 200 million users.

That kind of rapid growth means fertile ground for experimentation among news-related tech startups.

Aggregation and curation of news and social media has yet to arrive in China. Entrepreneurs who are hesitant to create content businesses for fear of government censors should look to platform plays. Building tools for these emerging social networks and using their activity to curate content appear to be plausible next steps in the digital evolution there.

Chinese media will play a key role in global news

CCTV, the state-run media behemoth in China, has ambitious global expansion plans. It is reportedly spending $6 billion on external programming and already has bureaus around the globe, including several in the U.S. Just as the BBC, Al Jazeera and CNN have pushed far beyond their domestic borders, CCTV is primed to follow suit.

Mark Briggs (@markbriggs) is a former Ford Fellow for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Poynter Institute and current director of digital media at KING Broadcasting in Seattle. He is the author of “Journalism Next” (2nd edition was published last month), “Entrepreneurial Journalism,” and “Journalism 2.0.”

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