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November 26, 2009

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Ex-China news hand upbeat

IF Michael Parks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former editor of the Los Angles Times, were editing a Shanghai newspaper today, he reckons he would have six to eight reporters overseas in cities that matter to Shanghai.

He rattles off a list - London, New York, Tokyo and Seoul (in addition to the territory of Hong Kong) - to cover trade, finance and economics. For urban growth coverage, he considers Mumbai, Calcutta or Delhi for his fantasy foreign correspondents.

And Parks reckons he could do it all for US$1 million, probably using enthusiastic young Chinese journalists.

Parks, a former Beijing correspondent for the Baltimore Sun and Los Angeles Times, is a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California. He recently visited Fudan University, known for its journalism studies.

Parks is a big advocate of journalists seeing the world through their own countries' eyes - how issues matter to their people and how to solve social problems at home by looking at how other countries are handling the same problems. He was editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1997 to 2000.

He says adopting solutions-based reporting, which gives readers ideas about solutions, rather than focusing solely on problems is a way for journalists to tackle social issues without waiting for the government to address them.

He says this method may not feel comfortable all the time, but when used it contributes to rapid civic progress and more support for government.

Parks has seen China through an American's eyes - he was based in Beijing for six years during the 1970s and visited almost every province. He could speak Chinese well and read about 4,000 characters, but he would still use a translator to ensure nothing was lost in translation.

Parks won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1987 for his balanced reporting on the end of apartheid in South Africa.

He spoke with Shanghai Daily about the future of media and the changes he has seen in Chinese journalism. Q: What's the key message about journalism? What do you tell your students?

A: To have a commitment to news in the public interest, integrity and passion. To make sure they are factual, accurate, truthful, fair and compassionate. And if they have satisfied all those requirements, push the button and send the story.

Q: How does the digital age affect newspapers?

A: It has destroyed the business model of a number of newspapers and threatened that of others because classified advertising went away. We now go online to eBay etc to find a car, house, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Classified advertising was by far the most profitable. It's also affected display advertising, and advertisers are now very fond of the Website, which is more effective on the cost-per-thousand basis. For American newspapers, circulation is only part of the equation, we have all gone to the Web for news, advertisers have noticed.

Q: How has quality been affected?

A: As profits decline, publishers cut back - reduce staff, reduce the space for news, cut specialized sections. Does this affect quality? Yes.

Q: What are job prospects for J-school grads?

A: They find jobs relatively quickly - broadcast producers are hired going out the door.

Online journalists find jobs at new Websites. If they want to work at small newspapers they find jobs.

Q: How do you see journalism in China?

A: I have seen the expansion of journalism in China over 30 years. I tend to see the expansion of journalism rather than constraints - you sitting here today doing an interview is an example of that.

Chinese journalists are trained at schools to understand the world through China's eyes - an amazing development, when you think back to the 1970s when I first visited.

Q: Can journalists help promote accountability?

A: The government is increasingly responsive to public opinion. For example, the self-criticism after the SARS outbreak.

It's not our system. China will grow and develop in its own way. I am optimistic about the future in China, including the expansion and development of China's journalism, because the country is going to need it.

We are now in a globalized economy - global has become local and local has become global - that's going to require us to understand issues in new ways.


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