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Beijing Diary: Speech about Media Reforms Print E-mail
by Tom McGregor    Sun, Jul 15, 2012, 05:51 PM
The Dallas Blog's Tom Mcgregor was given the opportunity to give a speech about media reforms in China at Elite (English language school) of Xizhimen. I met some enthusiastic aspiring journalists who asked intruiging questions. They provided their perspectives on the current situation of the Chinese media, both good and bad. They were highly-analytical and honest with their assessment of journalism in China, which is refreshing. 

Below is the text of the speech

New Vision of the Chinese Media

Good Afternoon! I would like to first begin by thanking the Elite School of Xizhimen for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. I’ve been told that many people in the audience are here to learn more about a career in journalism, public relations or with governmental affairs. Well, that’s great; our world needs more people like you to get more involved with politics and publicity for the greater good

Whatever your current job may be or whatever career you seek to pursue, it’s very, very important. Hence, I consider it a tremendous honor to speak to you about what I believe is the future of the Chinese media, and possibly what lies ahead for the global media as well.

I’m more than happy to answer your questions or concerns after my lecture and hope to continue our dialogue in the days, and weeks and months ahead.

It’s my opinion that the newspaper industry as a whole, which includes the China Daily may soon move away from the “print world” and towards the World Wide Web. The Website of the China Daily will definitely play a greater role in delivering more comprehensive news and business coverage, as well as becoming an essential tool to generate more advertising revenues.

It is my a privilege to help China Daily play a greater role on its Website Special Reports Supplements Team, since I could do more sales and marketing, along with writing special reports for our major clients.

Some may claim that these ‘Special Reports’ articles are nothing more than paid advertising, but let’s be honest; the China Daily should become more of a business and place less of an emphasis on waiting for government handouts.

The China Daily holds a golden opportunity to boost its operating expenditures to conduct more in-depth reporting on the major global issues of the day.

Yet, some doubters may worry that the China Daily and the rest of the Chinese media may soon get too greedy and worry more about pleasing advertisers than with covering more hard news.

But guess what, I’ve been working for the Chinese media for nearly two years and my biggest complaint so far is that the media here fails to act hard-hitting enough, even though these same state-owned media outlets claim they don’t let corporate sponsorships affect their journalism activities.

Major corporations are more likely to pay big money cash to media outlets with higher readership levels than to media outlets that have a smaller audience, but still friendlier to its advertising clients.

Just take a look at the New York Times. Most of their reporters and columnists are Left-wing Democrats, who attack capitalism and big business as if it was their lifelong obsessions, but still the New York Times continues to capture a large audience of readers, Accordingly, PR firms pay hefty fees for NY Times advertising deals.

Of course, the China Daily wishes to avoid certain sensitive political topics, but that still leaves plenty of room for hard news reporting on corruption, scandals, disasters and diplomacy problems for China and the rest of the world.

By generating more ad cash, the China Daily can turn itself into the New York Times of Asia, but hopefully they will let conservative Republicans, such as myself, do some top-notch reporting for the newspaper in the years ahead.

However, the China Daily must adjust to the concept that the newspaper is a business and there would be some growing pains in the near future and mistakes would be inevitable, but this transition is necessary for the very survival of the newspaper business as a whole.

The China Daily could and should become the media tool for companies, advertisers and public relations agencies seeking to promote their businesses in Asia. China is already the second largest economy in the world and will soon become number one in a decade or two. It can help companies sell their goods and services in Asia and elsewhere.

I’m proud to play a greater role in the sales and marketing of the China Daily Website. Yet, some of my reporter friends in Texas and in South Korea remain skeptical about my new passion for public relations in China.

When talking to them, I get asked similar questions. “Aren’t you the same Tom McGregor, who got punched by a South Korean Trade Minister for asking him a tough question at a diplomatic luncheon?

Tom McGregor didn’t the former leader of the island of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian call the Korea Herald to denounce you as a belligerent critic? Tom, do you remember when Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins told an AP reporter that he has trouble sleeping at night because he worries about what “terrible” article you would write about him the next day?

So why would Tom McGregor suddenly feel a new zest for public relations, when many local politicians in Dallas called me a “menace to public relations in the Big D.”

My friends have good reasons to hold doubts about my new enthusiasm for a career that seeks positive media coverage and shuns the negativity. Hence, I will tell you a brief story about how I changed my attitude and perhaps it may inspire a few of you to feel more comfortable with public relations.

Nevertheless, I still hold a certain fondness for investigative journalism and writing hard-hitting political commentaries. That passion will never change, but I’ve come to realize there’s more to life than reporting on mayhem and madness, since I want to do my part to benefit the world in a better way.

Meanwhile, I continue to write hard-hitting articles with screaming headlines on the www.dallasblog.com and I will continue to do so no matter what, since it’s my nature to write negative stories, and I find it as a good emotional outlet to relieve stress.

Yet the media is changing and everyone must adapt, or risk becoming out-dated or face bankruptcy. Although I love to launch negative attacks, I learned from past experience and by witnessing massive layoffs at major media outlets that journalism is a business first and foremost and its very survival depend on funding from either advertisers or governments.

I’ve become more enlightened on the business side of journalism after I attended a seminar a few years ago on public relations sponsored by the Texas Lawyers’ Association. One of the top PR guys in Texas gave a speech. I don’t recall his name but I will always remember his introduction.

He said, “hello my fellow hard-nosed reporters. I remember ten years ago, I was the same as you. I loved to turn the world upside down as an investigative journalist in Houston. When it came to attacking corrupt Houston-area government officials and businessmen, no reporter was more ruthless than me. But then I grew up when I got married and had a growing family to support.”

He spoke about how his salary was really low despite being recognized as a famous TV reporter in Houston. He asked his best friend, how he could earn more money, where his skills can best be utilized. His friend told him that reporters looking to make more money either become lawyers or get into public relations.

Reporters who love to ask tough questions or fight for the sake of fighting can turn into lawyers where they get paid to argue all day long. Meanwhile, PR companies love former reporters and the tougher the better, because who can better answer or prepare their clients for unfriendly press conferences than a reporter who asked tough questions before.

On occasion, certain individuals, who shall remain nameless, seek my advice for getting better media coverage and how to answer tough questions. I explain that they should learn how to answer tough questions so they can tell their side of the story. They should anticipate tough questions before a reporter asks them, so they’re ready to give a good answer, however that involves some preparation work.

 I remind those seeking my advice that they should appear confident, tell a straight story, give reasonable explanations to make the impression that they feel comfortable facing a skeptical public.

This can accomplish much more than going into hiding and expecting the public to forget about the latest crisis related to the company or government agency that they are speaking on behalf of. It’s better to appear strong than a coward when problems occur.

Good one-liners in front of TV cameras and reporters can help public relations people look and sound better.

Yet, why should reporters, who are idealists such as me, go into more public relations oriented marketing for the media? Well, let me tell you another story how PR and journalism can co-exist in greater harmony.

When I was working in South Korea as a columnist writing on the geo-politics of the Asia-Pacific region for the Seoul Times, I heard a politician from Texas tell me, “Tom, you’re great at research and criticizing others, but you should provide some solutions as well. Any fool can criticize, but not everyone can give solutions to make the world a better place.”

Therefore, when I moved to Beijing and was offered an opportunity to write a daily China-World Affairs column for China Radio International, I focused on this very theme when writing about pivotal events in China.

Sadly, my career at CRI didn’t go as planned, but I learned some valuable lessons from the experience. So it’s essential to remember that when something in life doesn’t go as planned, perhaps a better door of opportunity will soon open.

Maybe, I learned the hard way that if a Westerner wishes to succeed in China then he must appreciate the so-called “harmonious society” and “win-win situation” concepts or risk getting ignored or worse, becoming jobless.

Of course, transforming from a grouchy reporter into “Mr. Charming” was not easy. And quite often, I prefer to be a political columnist who writes alone, but there’s more to life than just being a reporter.

Lest one forget, a reporter’s job is simply to announce the message, while PR folks can control the message. I remember reading a book, but I can’t recall the name of the book or the author’s name, but the book quoted an old-school Chicago Tribune reporter who described his work.

He said, “my job is to report on war, pestilence and famine and without these natural and man-made disasters, I would be out of a job.”

Sounds vulgar, but let’s face it, the public prefers reading negative stories over positive ones any day. You say I’m wrong, then ask yourself this question: what headline draws your interest more: ‘Obama greets children at an elementary school?’ of ‘Obama refuses to answer children’s questions without teleprompter?’

This would explain the vital necessity to separate a news team from the advertising team in media outlets. The news team should lure in more readers with fascinating stories, while the ad team should generate sponsorship deals. By dividing these two groups both can work together for the greater good of the company.

It’s my opinion that the China Daily deserves greater respect and we should be considered an outstanding newspaper that serves as the window of China to the world. And this window can open doors for businesses and global diplomats seeking to increase their influence in the nation.

The China Daily Website holds a multi-media platform to boost the interests of the public. Our Website can post Web videos, links to corporate Websites, top-notch ‘Special Reports’ articles that can be translated into many languages; we can even link audio reports, in which a narrator can read the story out loud in English and Chinese. We even design Websites and offer so much more.

So it should go without saying that the Website not print, represents the wave of the future for the Chinese media. I’m happy to help the China Daily make the all-important transition and I hope you can ask me a few questions about how we can work together to transform the media.

Certainly, the audience might want to ask me right now, “Tom McGregor, how can I get more involved? How can I work for the China Daily? How can I find a career in public relations? How can I answer tough questions from a hard-nosed reporter?

Well, these questions are not easy to answer, but I can say this. Networking, or shall we say, “guangxi” is very important in China and for the rest of the world. Keep maintaining your friendships, especially those who can really help you. Help them when they need your help and they will help you when you need their help.

This sounds like basic common sense, but it really is the only path to a successful career in any field you choose. Yet, it’s time for you in the audience to ask me more specific questions.

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