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Technology, social change shaped post-reform journalism

By Yang Baojun | 2016-06-23 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A foreign woman reads a Chinese newspaper posted on a billboard at a park in Beijing. In the more than three decades that have passed since reform and opening up, Chinese journalism has shifted its focus to information dissemination from government-led public relations. As a consequence, Chinese newspapers have become more open and diverse.


Since reform and opening up began in 1978, journalism in China has undergone tremendous changes as forms of media, institutional frameworks and value systems continue to evolve.


government-led public relations to news
From 1978 to 1982, the focus of Chinese journalism shifted from government-led public relations to news. During that period, people became more aware that the main purpose of newspapers is to spread news and began to regard various means of communications as mass media. The news-orientated paradigm marked a new era for Chinese journalism.

In this stage, the press paid attention to the basic concepts of journalism, including newsworthiness, accuracy, journalistic integrity and the relationship between news and government-led public relations.

People gained a better understanding of the diverse roles journalism can play from 1983 to 1988. During that time, multidimensional perspectives were introduced in related studies, including feedback, two-way communication and the entire process of news transmission. Though in their infancy, these ideas laid a foundation for future innovations in Chinese journalism.

The reform and opening up provided an opportunity for the introduction of new disciplines and related knowledge, ideas and achievements into humanities and social sciences research in China. In particular, the introduction of the concept of “information” further solidified the idea that the basic function of news is to spread information.


Reflection, criticism
From 1989 to 1991, Chinese journalists criticized old ideas—particularly bourgeois liberalism. Through reflection, the press adopted dialectical attitudes toward press freedom and established the ideas of rule of law and professional ethics in the field.

An overall perspective developed during this time to guide the press in serving as a tool of government-led public relations. On the whole, the press became aware of the importance of adhering to the leadership of the Communist Party of China and that all work should abide by the discipline of the Party while serving the development of China’s socialist cause.


Marketization of industry
Journalism began to take on a dual character from 1992 to 2001. In addition to its ideological function, journalism was increasingly looked upon as an industry, paving the way for marketization. From then on, news outlets became increasingly independent and people began to think of journalism as being like any other occupation. Audiences, once considered passive receivers of education, became consumers of a service. This shift to an emphasis on the commercial function of journalism led to breakthroughs in media studies.


Global communication
Since 2002, Chinese journalism has become more open and diversified. With its accession to the World Trade Organization at the beginning of 2001, China entered a new era in its reform and opening up, bringing with it numerous new ideas, the foremost among them being the concept of global communication.

And it is important to promote global exchanges and enhance the international influence and competitiveness of Chinese journalism. In addition, institutional guarantees of information disclosure have been implemented, and there is a growing awareness of the public’s right to know.

Furthermore, the applications of Internet, digital, wireless and satellite technologies have ushered in an era of new media or a post-journalistic industry era that is accompanied by the transformation of traditional ideas and the generation of a series of new ideas. The most typical and most influential are the ideas of “convergent journalism” and “citizen journalism.”


Driving forces
On the whole, transformations in Chinese society, especially in economy and politics, have provided the fundamental force in driving the evolution of journalism. At present, we should examine the influence of the market economy on the media sector and journalistic concepts. And it is also an important research project in the long term.

From a historical perspective, the evolution of journalistic concepts is a process of getting to know the rules and drawing closer to the essence of journalism. It is also a process of adapting to different characteristics of media and communication in different times. Therefore, we should respect the objective law of journalism and conform to the basic values of media to make rational decisions and ensure the sustainable development of the industry.

The evolution of journalism is characterized by steady growth, which China aims to achieve throughout the reform and opening up. It should be noted that any innovative idea divorced from Chinese realities may hinder the smooth development of journalism and Chinese society. We should make progress in innovating journalism while summarizing experiences and learning lessons. Also, a balance needs to be struck between tradition and development.

Moreover, the advancement of information communication technologies has played a special role in the renewal of journalistic ideas by creating new problems and broadening research realms. These technologies have brought revolutionary changes to communication tools, prompting the transformation of perception.

In particular, in the early decades of the 21st century, new network communication technologies have changed how people live, work and think, which creates different requirements for Chinese journalism.

In this context, the Chinese press should prioritize the task of responding to the changes in the structure of the media sector and enhancing the status and image of the nation in international communication.

Conceptual changes advance the progress of Chinese journalism and social development. This highlights the importance of further innovation and criticism.

For the past three decades, great achievement has been made in criticizing old ideas and learning from Western concepts. However, there is still a need to look into the future while engaging in honest reflection on the past. The innovation of journalistic perspectives should be based on theories in line with facts to really make a difference in the field.


Yang Baojun is a professor from the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University of China.