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Journalist Fellows' Papers

The Power of the Chinese Netizen? How Microblogging is Changing Chinese Journalism

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Zhou Kangliang is a Chinese journalist who has worked at Yunnan Satellite TV Station and China Central Television (CCTV) as an investigative journalist and correspondent.

During his time as a Thomson Reuters fellow for six months in 2011, Zhou wrote a fascinating study on microblogging in China and its relationship with mainstream journalism entitled The Power of the Chinese Netizen? How Microblogging is Changing Chinese Journalism.

The number of internet users in China is estimated to be around 500m and 14% of them already are using the Chinese equivalent of microblogging. The number should rise to more than 200 million by 2013, so it is obvious why this is such an important topic to research.  

In his study, Zhou charts the background to the boom of ‘Weibo’ as it is known in China (pronounced 'way-bore’ - in Chinese, 'Wei' means 'Micro' and 'bo' means 'blog').  He shows how microblogging sites avoid official censorship by being careful not to ‘cross the line’ or threaten political power in the country. He includes an analysis of how microblogging is used by Chinese journalists and editors, not only as a social media, but also as a new tool for their jobs.

Zhou analyses tweets over a short period and separates them into several categories, including pointless babble, conversation representing gossip, complaints and satire, serious news and comments, self-promotion and protection, and activities benefitting the public.  

The study also includes detailed case studies where Chinese journalists or the media have used microblogging to provide a mouthpiece, research grassroots opinion, and support watchdog activities.  It also shows how some users have fallen into the trap of rumour-mongering via microblogging, sometimes with serious consequences.

Finally, Zhou addresses the potential influence of ‘Weibo’ on the future of Chinese journalism.  He concludes that ‘as Chinese online microblogging services grow and traditional journalism grows with them, it is learning from lessons and experience. However, censorship, sensitive word filtering and media restrictions limit the scope of online topics, and the growth of Chinese microblogging could be curtailed.

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.