Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Chinese media

So I got a job with a Chinese TV company

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It turned out easier than I thought. Let me tell you exactly how it happened. In August I connected to a HR person of a TV company, over LinkedIn. I dashed off a quick message inquiring if they had any opportunities. She replied that they in fact did, that they were developing new programmes and hiring for reporters.

I sent off a CV to her – at this time I was in England, the company in Beijing – so she replied that when I returned we should meet.

Skip forward to October, and I arrived at their offices keen of face desperate of spirit (for I really needed some regular income) for an interview with this Chinese TV company in Beijing.

And that was that. It is interesting working for a Chinese broadcaster. They have programmes in English so language is not a big problem. Bureaucracy, endless meetings and a sense of inertia are, but these are not Chinese problems I’d hazard but endemic to TV across the world.

The Chinese way of thinking about how to best present China to foreigners however is unique. There’s a lot of talk and much consultation with the ‘foreign experts’ (really simply foreigners) over how foreigners think and how they perceive this or that.

I can hardly imagine a BBC meeting going like that. It’s quite alien to me – this intertwining of nationalism and entertainment.

But anyways, it’s a job. I get on with it – I write scripts and help with their programme development, specifically on pilots for a Beijing news show. My pay is fairly generous and I really needed the regular income. Having a day job is also healthy I think – endless freelancing, which mainly consists of me sitting alone in cafes browsing the internet can get lonely and it’s tiring always living inside your own head.

I will continue freelancing on the side, and will negotiate a part-time work schedule early in the new year. I’ve told them already. Getting some more TV experience always helps of course, and working in Chinese media always generates great experiences and insights.

Working in the media in China is not very difficult. Magazines, newspapers, websites, radio and TV – all have positions available. Just don’t expect to be earning big bucks. It helps, as always, if you have an IN – know the right people, do a bit of hustling and have experience bouncing around various local media.

Nyima Pratten became managing editor, at the age of 25, at a popular magazine in Shanghai after six months of smart decisions. Look out for a future guest post from her about how she did it.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

December 16, 2013 at 6:35 am

Life in Beijing as a Journalist – Retrospective

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Over the course of seven months (from October 2012 to May 2013), I met quite a few journalists and media types in Beijing. Working for a listings magazine meant I had the opportunity to attend events (although not nearly as many as you may think).

I got to know Jonathan Kaiman, a tall young American who writes about China for The Guardian. His route into journalism is fortuitous. First visiting China as a Mandarin student he moved to Beijing in 2009 for a research project, making field recordings of traditional folk music in southern China.

He was at a concert in Beijing when he met Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. After a few meetings over coffee, Johnson suggested Kaiman should try journalism and hooked him up with an internship at the New York Times. After six months he proceeded to do another internship, this time at the LA Times. There, he worked under the tutelage of none other than Barbara Demick, who wrote a great book about North Korea. “He’s one I’m really proud of”, Demick said to me once, at a talk she gave in a bookstore. “When he came in, he knew nothing and now he’s doing really well”.

Kaiman says he learnt a lot about writing from her. He started freelancing for various newspapers after the internship finished, and then a chance came in from The Guardian as their China correspondent Jonathan Watts was departing for Brazil. So Watt’s press accreditation was handed over to Kaiman.

Kaiman is talented and a hard worker with a gift for writing flowing paragraphs filled with information. And his success is also down to a series of lucky breaks. But equally he could not have realized the full potential of every step if he had not 1. Taken the time and investment to learn Mandarin properly. 2. Worked his socks off, and taken serious hits to his bank balance (internships are low-paid). 3. Did not come up with great ideas and write great stories.

There’s no great lesson to be gleaned from that (no one example should be a great lesson).

Chinese media

I also met a fair number of expats who worked for Chinese media. For the most part, although it was relatively well-paid and secure job, they were not completely happy with their lot. They complained about their treatment by their bosses, at their lack of control, and at the amateurishness of it all. There were two young Brits who worked for the national Chinese TV network, in the English-language division. Their professional life was comfortable, but I always got the sense they knew deep down they were treated like puppets.

Not that I was in any better position.  I was an intern at The Beijinger (to begin with anyway). True Run Media is the company who owns The Beijinger. It was founded by an American who looks like a much lankier version of Steve Jobs.

I met a lot of interesting expats, ones who research nano-biotechnology, in which China is the world leader apparently, and entrepreneurs and European TV guys. The community of expats, and the places they frequent, is small. And the circle of journalists and writers – and the places they go – is even smaller. I look forward to joining that circle again.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 14, 2013 at 5:00 am