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China: Zuola on how citizen media should work

A fist-chop in the throat and surveillance by secret police seems to have put a swift end to the career of China's most popular investigative blogger Zhou “Zuola” Shuguang, but judging from his post earlier this month ‘Zhou Shuguang's understanding of citizen reporters and citizen media’, if you were to ask him: “is citizen journalism dead?”, you'd stand a very good chance of being told that bloggers like him can and must “do journalism”, and why. Throw in the way he coldly describes personal accounts as sample specimens below, in addition to making a few criticisms and judgments, and you might just leave seeing citizen media as both an art and a science:


As I see it, I'm the most suited to be speaking about citizen journalism and citizen media, as I have, with my simple motives, put into practice what I understand personal media to be. I record things that I think are original and interesting, or things that I think are wrong or need improving upon. As for why I don't focus more on “the finer things,” I always answer as such: “the value of information (advertisements, news or tip-offs) is in its constantly-shifting and novel nature. For example, you know that Zhou Shuguang is a man, or that dogs will bite people; if the information you're giving me are things I already know, is your information of any value to me?” This is why I don't talk nonsense, and only talk things of (eye-catching) value, things I'm willing to take responsibility for.


A week ago, a media scholar from Singapore interviewed me over the telephone, part of research she's doing on me. After we'd talked for a bit, something I said made her start screaming; what shocked her was my deconstruction of the word “news” [新闻+]. Before I explain my deconstruction of “news”, I ought to start with recent criticisms people have made of me.


你在故意把老百姓的态度向政府头上引导。你说”我觉得政府也得负责”、”赵本山也得负责”这些话,就是非常不中立的态度,这样做 新闻是很失败的。



In the comments on the short videoShenyang residents discuss Yilishen“, someone wrote:

Your eye for news is pretty childish.
You're deliberately directing people to take positions against the government. When you say things like, “I think government should also take responsibility”, “Zhao Benshan should take responsibility too”, this is an extremely un-neutral position. News done like this is quite a failure.
Zhao Benshan deserves to be cussed out, but that cussing cannot come from the mouth of a reporter; it's when one's reports contain no emotion or coloring that one can truly be called a media worker.

Fortunately, I haven't confessed to being a “reporter”, and so I'm under no obligation to abide by the journalist's code of conduct. I'm just a blogger, who traveled to Liaoning as a tourist. I replied to this commenter with just one question: “does what the concerned parties have to say count as news or not?”

So, I might as well spit it out, the other day it was that exact same line that made the scholar from Singapore scream.


1. 报道中的观点要平衡;
2. 观点要客观,有观点要引用他人观点,借被采访者之口说出来,然后对观点进行取舍,从而体现媒体的观点,媒体从来都是这样么做的,根本未曾客观,没有哪个媒体能得罪广告大客户和所属政党;
3. 报道要真实,不能像纽约时报的那个总是用”据不愿意透露姓名的官员透露”的手法来制造假新闻的贾森·布莱尔一样造假;

It's like this. Talking with her about the characteristics of “professional media” and “professional media workers” really impressed upon me the difference between “personal media” and citizen reporter”. She told that professional media workers:

1. Keep a balance views in reporting;
2. Keep views objective: those with views must cite others’ views, speaking through what interviewees say, and then from there take or leave said point of view, thus forming the media's view, as media has all along done. If there were no objectivity, then there would also never be any media offending larger advertising clients or political parties;
3. Keep reporting truthful, not using “according to officials who wish to remain unnamed” to tell lies like the New York Times and their Jayson Blair.


1. 放到BLOG上的照片有自己的脸,在重庆发布了有自己的脸的自拍照片,在厦门也发布了在事件现场的自拍照片,在沈阳也在视频中露脸,甚至在视频中添加了音乐,让记者们觉得我很荒诞,不像一个严肃的记者;
2. 不客观,我总是只报道我能接触到的人和事,我不去报道那些我接触不到的官员,我的角度只能从平民老百姓的角度去了解事件,没有刻意去平衡观点,这世界的观点冲突不是我能平衡的,比如,党员和傻逼就是多,社会本来就黑暗,我能在报道中”平衡”地说聪明人和傻瓜一样多吗?显然刻意平衡是愚蠢的作法;
3. 明目张胆地收受当事人提供的路费,胆大妄为地接受当事人提供的食宿;

But although my blog might also count as news, I do often do a few things that aren't allowed of professional media:

1. I put photos of my own face on my blog; I did that with pictures from Chongqing, as well as from the scene in Xiamen, as well in video I shot in Shenyang, to which I even added music, leaving readers feeling I'm quite absurd;
2. I'm not objective; I always only report on the people and stories I encounter, and I don't report on officials whom I'm unable to be in contact with. My angle as I come to understand events can only be an angle as that of ordinary, common citizens, and I don't go to painstaking lengths to keep reports balanced. The clashes between points of view in this world are not ones that I am able to bring balance to. For example, there are just as many officials as there are stupid c***s, and society has always been a shady place. Am I able to say with “balance” in my reports that there are just smart people as there are idiots? Obviously, going to lengths for balance is a foolish approach;
3. I brazenly accept travel reimbursement offered by those directly involved, as well as recklessly accept the food and accommodation they provide;





By news standards for all professional media, the multimedia materials (text, photos, video, audio) in my blog posts only satisfy standards of authenticity and timeliness. I don't satisfy any of the other requirements.

So in my opinion, personal media reporting doesn't need to strive for balanced viewpoints, and doesn't need to be objective, or independent. It only need be accurate, with the reporter stating his or her role in the reporting of any event, and taking responsibility for his or her own words.

Back to the topic above, does what the people directly involved have to say count as news? Of course, I'd say it counts. While this kind of news doesn't meet requirements for objectivity or balance, I do personally feel that it definitely is news, or at least, we don't need to consider whether or it it is news, but instead whether or not those involved can serve as sources of information or news tips.

From the Sun Zhigang incident a few years back to the Chongqing Nailhouse to Xiamen's opposition even on to Zhou Zhenglong and his tiger photos, these being incidents where netizens took part in pushing society further down the course to democracy, in addition to what I discussed in ‘Should citizen reporters charge the people they report on?’, my conclusion is:



当然,如果某个个人媒体一枝独秀,也可能形成意见领袖,但由于BLOGGER的多样性,绝对不会被某个BLOGGER形成话语霸权。每个 BLOGGER都是可能成为某个公众事件中新闻提供者,所以每个BLOGGER都可能成为”公民记者”,正如每一个人都可能成为新闻当事人,只是新闻当事人不一定能像BLOGGER有一个传播平台。新闻当事人和公民记者的区别就在于,公民记者是拥有BLOG这个信息传播平台的新闻当事人。


Under the old common sense, news workers and their audience, in political and social movements, need only play the role of observer. Since the appearance of personal media (blogs), citizen media and citizen reporters, personal media and its readers have become directly in the course of politics and society. This is an extremely important change, and ought to become a new kind of common sense.

As for what a citizen reporter is, I don't think the professionalism of a journalist applies. Just as long as his news reports aren't done in a professional capacity, as long he is willing to vouch for the information he provides, no matter how novel or far-out his news is, it's all still reliable news and leads.

Of course, if one person's personal media stands out from the rest, there is the possibility for it to become an opinion leader. But with the diversity among bloggers, there is no possibility for any one blogger's hegemony over discourse. Every blogger stands the chance to become a news provider for any public incident, and that's why all bloggers are potential “citizen bloggers.” The same way anyone could become the subject of news itself, only that those in the news aren't necessarily in possession of their own broadcast platform, as bloggers are. The difference between those in the news and citizen reporters is that citizen reporters are people in the news who also have their own information dissemination platform: a blog.

If you don't like this term citizen reporter, [then make up your own...civilian recorder, city beat note-taker, grassroots, muckraker, etc.]




As for what citizen news is, that would be unfiltered, independent, non-objective and diverse news recorded and distributed by citizens themselves; only with a variety of viewpoints can objectivity be most closely approached.

Speaking of personal media and citizen reporters, people often see me, Tiger Temple and Zhai Minglei in the same light, and tend to give the two of them more praise. To be sure, they're both better writers than I am, and have more passion than I do, a much stronger sense of purpose; they're also much stricter and more serious in their work. Whereas I use more of an entertainment style approach in doing the same thing they do. It almost doesn't need to be said, that Zhai Minglei used to be a reporter for Southern Weekly, so of course he's more professional than I am, and his writing definitely bears “objectivity”, “neutrality” and “balanced views”. Tiger Temple is a writer by trade, and his writing style is great, very moving. Yet I'm not that interested in reading what they write. Why is that? I get no surprise from reading their work, no fresh feeling. I see enough of their writing style in the newspapers. There is no real difference between what's now on Zhai Minglei's blog and what he used to write at Southern Weekly; he still adheres to a newspaper's standards and style when he writes, seeking for objectivity in his work, independence, representation of what the masses believe, seeking to prevent any shadow of himself or his points of view from appearing in his writings.

Every time I read Zhai Minglei's 1bao [zh], I get annoyed. What is “firm and unyielding, myself and independent, eager opposition, crying out public opinion”…this guy thinks too much of himself, no? He even represents public opinion, but so didn't Jiang Zemin? This thing, public opinion, since time immemorial hasn't been represented by anyone; rather, public opinion has been screwed by countless people. I believe that only with sufficient sampling can public opinion be calculated, just as I believe that everyone unable to affirm that can only thus represent themselves. Zhai Minglei helped the Longquan peasants in their land struggle, and obtained their utmost authorization, as so was able to represent at most the peasants of Longquan, but not the government officials of Longquan, and he definitely does not represent me.


So I'm not a big fan of Zhai Minglei and Tiger Temples’ writings. They're too sentimental and moving, all “unforgettable” and “sorrowful”, fond of exclamation and emphasis. I'm the kind of person who likes to scan and only looks quickly for six things: who, what, where, when, why and the conclusion. The best kind of judgment as to the significance of any event is the one a reader comes to his or herself. When writers use dialectic to try and represent everyone and turn everything into air-tight logic, readers’ enthusiasm for participation and interaction gets lost. Now, whenever I look at his new blog, all I see is “dog” this, “cat” that, my eyes just skip right over it. We are all beasts, after all, and to a cat or dog we don't look so special either, so what meaning are we supposed to pull out from this?

他们的读者大都是熟悉的媒体圈的朋友,我的读者大都是陌生的同龄人。虽然我的文章写得没他们好,但我的BLOG比他们的BLOG弄得好,留言比他们的BLOG多,各种硬件技术和网络技术的运用比他们熟练,我被采访报道比他们多,批评者和赞赏者都很多,这就证明,我的文章的传播效果比翟明磊和张世和的文章好得多。也证明,客观和观点平衡是不必要的,还证明,数字时代的民主社会需要人们了解新闻行业和技术(A democratic society in the digital age needs people who understand both journalism and technology)--Rich Gordon。

Most of their readers are old media friends, whereas most of my readers are strangers around my own age. Though my writing isn't as good as theirs, my blog is better put together, and gets more comments than their blogs do; I'm more familiar with hardware and internet functions than they are, I get interviewed more than they do, and I have a lot more critics and admirers too. This just proves that the dissemination of my posts is more effective than that of Zhai Minglei and Tiger Temple's. It also proves that objectivity and balance of viewpoints is also not essential. Even more, it proves that “[a] democratic society in the digital age needs people who understand both journalism and technology.” (Rich Gordon)



1. 每一个”公民记者”都只是这个世界上的统计过程中的一个采样标本。
2. 推动公民新闻就是推动人们拿尽可能多的采样标本来还原世界真实面貌的统计过程。
3. 采样标本只需要做到真实,不需要客观和平衡。
4. 社会不是一两个媒体就能改良的,需要无数的采样标本来普及常识–只有自己代表自己和只有自己才能救自己的常识。
5. 如果你也想像我一样天马行空,那么,有空就写BLOG表达你的想法吧,你能找到朋友的。

So what is it I'm criticizing of them? My criticism is that nobody can speak on behalf of other people without their permission (the process of which does imply the casting of votes..). Tiger Temple's blogging tour through all the western provinces only represents the views of those people he came across as well as his own views, but for me and the statistical process through which I form my view of the world, this is but just one sample specimen. And the more specimens I'm able to obtain, the closer my view of the world comes to reality and objectivity. This is why I criticize their approach of attempting to speak on people's behalves and doing so “a given right to represent”.

My conclusions on the main topic of this post are:

1. Every “citizen reporter” is only just a sample specimen within a worldwide statistical process.
2. Furthering the cause of citizen media is to further people in taking as many sample specimens as possible in the statistical process of restoring the appearance of what's true in this world.
3. Sample specimens only need be true, and not objective or balanced.
4. Society is not something that a blog or two can change for the better; this requires countless sample specimens serving to popularize common sense—only by speaking for one's self can one save one's own common sense.
5. If like me you have your own unconstrained style, well, then, if you have the time, get a blog and express yourself. You'll find your friends.

  • Chris Salzberg

    I’ve bookmarked this article, really interesting. I liked this line especially:

    “When writers use dialectic to try and represent everyone and turn everything into air-tight logic, readers’ enthusiasm for participation and interaction gets lost.”

    I’m not sure how the original sounded, but the translation is a very powerful statement. I wish more journalists writing in the “objective” style would understand this point.

  • Steve Boriss

    John, You included a link to my blog article re: whether Citizen Journalism is dead. I’d like to clarify that I was referencing the way the phrase “Citizen Journalism” is mostly used today — as mainstream journalists directing the work of unpaid amateurs. In my view, that is a flawed, unworkable business model. I was not suggesting that non-journalists would not become big players in news. However, I don’t care for the term “citizens” either because it is such a small subset of what news will be about. The key news creators of the future will be experts in a wide variety of topic areas. If the topic area happens to be politics, and the expert happens to be a citizen like Zhou “Zuola” Shuguang, then this might be a model that works. Good luck with your efforts (Steve Boriss,

  • Civic China (Peter Marolt)

    As the late Norman Mailer wrote:

    “[...] the best investigative reporting of new journalism tends to rest on too narrow an ideological base — the rational, ironic, fact-oriented world of the media liberal. So we have a situation, call it a cultural malady, of the most basic sort: a failure of sufficient information (that is, good literary information) to put into those centers of our mind we use for assessment. [...] The men who do the real work offer us no real writing, and the writers who explore the minds of such men approach from an intellectual stance that distorts their vision. [...] All too many saints, monsters, maniacs, mystics, and rock performers are being written about these days, however, by practitioners of journalism whose inner vision is usually graphed by routine parameters. Our continuing inability to comprehend the world is likely to continue.”

    I could not agree more.

  • Civic China (Peter Marolt)

    To clarify my comment, I’d like to mention that, unlike Zoula, I am actually very interested in what bloggers such as Zhai Minglei and Tiger Temple have to say. Unlike Zoula, these people have an inner vision that goes beyond the routine parameters of “who, what, where, when, why and the conclusion” that Zoula emphasizes. And unlike Zoula, they seem to be able to transcend what he concludes to be the important “sample specimen / statistical process” (采样标本) that is so representative of the “cultural malady” bloggerism/journalism are suffering.

    Zoula’s main criticism of bloggers such as Zhai Minglei and Tiger Temple seems to be that “nobody can speak on behalf of other people without their permission”. But Zoula seems to have forgotten this when he wrote his blog post.

    I wonder whether it ever occured to him that (due to his very young age?) the “statistical process through which [he forms his] view of the world” is necessarily much more simplistic than what experienced bloggers/ journalists do to reach an informed opinion.

    Maybe I’m simply too demanding to settle for a toned-down “entertainment style approach” that Zoula represents?

    Besides, what is Zoula’s reason for talking so negatively about his former teachers anyway? Appeasing the government by demarkating a clear line that he will not cross? Creating a following among more nationalistic voices in China that may endorse some of his simplifications?

  • Civic China (Peter Marolt)

    What I am trying to point out is that in order to transcend the “cultural malady” Norman Mailer mentioned, China needs more bloggers who speak out openly. And those who do, whatever their name, should be more solidaristic and supportive of each other.

  • John Kennedy

    “turn everything into air-tight logic” could have been written as “make what people are [quoted as] saying sound water-tight.” The noun qualified by “water-tight” was “what is written on behalf of other people” and not the word ‘logic’ itself, I stuck that in because air-tight seemed to make more sense in this case, and what good is a vacuum without logic?

    I’m not sure how the original sounded, but the translation is a very powerful statement. I wish more journalists writing in the “objective” style would understand this point.
    I think it’s do-or-desist at this point. For every “quote” a writer warps to fit their own angle, there’s going to be another another blog post sent out to defend it. The same way millions of bloggers working together break stories faster than any NYTimes reporter or AP story stringer could; so in this case, why not start thinking about how to better utilize these networks.

    So I definitely think now that the bar has been partially raised, the onus is on traditional media to pick up the other end and embrace the quality, foster it, even, that the blogsphere offers.

    Back to your point, I really like the way Zuola puts it, that words like objectivity and balance don’t mean much if the end result sees non-truths being represented and not challenged. To pull some Naomi Klein or Glenn Greenwald in on this, how different is corporate journalism from ideological propaganda anyway?

  • John Kennedy

    @Steve Boriss
    Thanks very much for commenting.

    Directing the work of unpaid amateurs might not work in the US, but it’s progressing quite well on its own here. Though, what China lacks in a free media it makes up for—in a steadily growing number of areas—is pervasive internet access and smartphones not tied to any particular telecom carrier, among other things, the most of which is its nearly 200 million internet users. Major stories are broken by China’s army of forward-thinking bloggers on a steady basis, they just don’t often make it into English. Two that have received some foreign but limited or no domestic coverage of late are the collapse of the massive ponzo scheme in northern China’s Shenyang and the campaign against building a huge toxic chemical factory in the Xiamen in the south, carried out mostly online, and driven by bloggers, namely Lian Yue, but which has definitely been a group effort and seen the issue analyzed from every scientific angle possible, with each blogger contributing their own particular expertise.

    Those two are community/direct interest stories, that’s true. But I wish you could see just how much time and effort that tens of thousands of Chinese bloggers spend each night (out of work journalists or chemistry specialists blogging during the day, no doubt) analyzing political stories, solving murder cases, exposing politicians’ lies and fulfilling a whole series of other media roles that Chinese journalists don’t have the time or space or capacity to even come close to. If I could recommend one blog where you can follow all this, it would be EastSouthWestNorth, if you can handle the rate at which he translates these things.

    With the group brain that China’s blogsphere quickly became in 2007, with all the non-amateurs who dedicate so much time to it, I look forward to 2008 with complete enthusiasm. And with everything that’s done for free on the Chinese blogsphere, I’m not convinced at all that a functioning business model is the key to solving this problem, at least in China. How does that help Americans? You should see how much time gets devoted to dissecting/adding to US news stories.

  • Steve Boriss

    John, I’m not sure there is a disagreement between us. The reference point on my blog is the U.S., not China. If it’s not actually a “business” there is no need for a “business model.” And I’d imagine that the most popular blogs that are visited are likely to be the best, with “expertise” defined as superior knowledge, information, or talent. There is a movement in the U.S. to sustain Old Media by having reporters develop pro-am (professional-amateur) relationships. I have been debunking that as a competitive business model.

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