Business Editor Says Social Media are Westernizing China

Mar 292012

Zhang Hong, deputy editor-in-chief of the Economic Observer, told students in Advanced Business Writing how the weekly newspaper uses social media in news gathering and distribution. He visited Professor James Breiner's class on March 29.

The newspaper, with print distribution of about 100,000, gets about 10-15 percent of its web traffic from Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Zhang said.

He and the other journalists use social media to collect information on breaking news, to identify possible interviewees, to scan for news ideas and to track reader comment about their stories. Eventually, he believes, social media will displace print media. They are already changing people's attitudes. "Social media are westernizing Chinese society."

Students asked about how the newspaper verifies information on the microblogs and how reliable it is. Zhang said his reporters use several methods, such as contacting the original source of a piece of information to verify it. "We don't spread rumors, but sometimes we report on them."

In his blog about the talk, student Yang Xiaoyu wrote: "Journalism can change the world. Even with the fast pace changes in the industry, I still believe it. Many Tsinghua students have given up on a bigger paycheck for a chance to better the world. For those journalists who want to write to change the world, today’s lesson offers clues on how. If you can gain a following [in social media], you can change the world."