Censorship and Journalist Blogs in China
Gong-Cheng, Lin and Ying, Li
City University of Hong Kong China
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It is a growing phenomenon that journalists in China are blogging. Some journalists blog within the media outlet’s website, while some blogs in the public sites. This paper mainly discusses the limitation of blogs by analyzing the difference between newspaper blogs and writings on public blog platforms. We argue that the content of public blogs is markedly different from those published on newspaper blogs. This is because newspaper blogs are less individualistic and journalistic blogging on newspaper platforms is more strongly influenced by the organization to which they belong.
Blog, newspaper blog, public blog, China
Journalists made up an important part in the first generation of bloggers. Robinson (2006)
characterizes journalistic blogs in following ways: a reporter’s notebook of news tidbits and
incidentals; a straight column of opinion; a question-and-answer format by editors; a
readership forum; a confessional diary written by the reporter about his or her beat; a round-up
of news summaries that promote the print publication; and a rumor-mill that reporter uses
as an off-the-record account. Robinson does not provide quantitative data to support his
arguments. The categorization, however, indicates how blogs serve journalism in various
Several studies have focused on how blogs change journalists’ life and work practices.
Carison (2007) notes that blogging presents journalists an opportunity to make journalism more transparent. Lowrey and Mackay (2008) pointed out that blogs affect the ways
journalists practice their profession, such as reporting, using blogs as news sources and
decision making regarding the newsworthiness of events. In the literature, there is much
speculation that journalistic blogs may create opportunities to increase reader engagement
with mainstream news outlets and heighten community participation in the public discourse.
Therefore, we are interested to know if the same process takes place in China. In this study,
we explore the journalistic narratives on newspaper blogs and independent public blogs that
are advanced in different ways related to their occupations. By discussing these areas, we
can develop a better understanding of the evolving landscape of Chinese journalism and how
blogging has introduced new elements into journalism.
A growing number of journalists in China are now blogging. Although there has been little
research into Chinese journalist bloggers, it appears to be a growing phenomenon. Many
traditional media websites in China host blogs, with reporters and editors serving as bloggers.
This indicates that journalists use blogs much more extensively than the general public.
Journalists are part of the first generation to publicly exchange views with readers and
viewers through blogging.
Blogging by journalists in China compares in some ways to the Western countries. For
example, blogs are used by Chinese newspapers to maintain or increase readership. Blogs
also make journalism more transparent when journalists update news stories. However,
except for the similarities, journalism in China differs greatly in terms of social, political, and
cultural structures compared to the Western countries. Therefore, we must note that
journalistic blogs in China also differ greatly in many aspects with their counterparts.
Media Structure in China
The media structure in China is unique. Since the 1980s, Chinese media have undergone
profound reforms. In the old times, Party journalism has dominated Chinese journalism for a
long period; journalists acted like semi-government officials, creating the link between the
government, the Communist Party, and the people. As a result, journalists became the
mouthpiece of the Party and were portrayed as lacking professional controls for a long time.
In the absence of a formal professional structure or rigidly enforced codes of ethics in China, blogs have become increasingly important.
In the US, there exists the American Journalism Review, Columbia Journalism Review,
Broadcast and Cable, and Quill. Those writing for such trade journals are typically working
journalists, media managers from the news industry, and journalism educators and scholars.
The journalistic community is constituted through trade publications, with other institutional
practices, such as membership of professional associations and awards for excellence. The
news industry’s trade publications serve as important historical markers of modern
journalism’s efforts to position itself as a bona fide profession (Parameswaran, 2006).
However, in China, there are greater limits on freedom of expression. In the Chinese media
context, professional associations, awards for excellence, etc, do not carry the same weight
or symbolism to support education in journalism. Under government restrictions, trade
publications in China have limited ability to reflect the complexity of newsroom operations.
Therefore, blogs become key public forum for journalists to exchange ideas about norms,
controversial issues, ethical boundaries and trends in their field. Journalists in China occupy a
special place in the blogosphere and its influence is possibly greater than in the Western
However, although blogs have enhanced the development of journalism, there are many
factors that may limit the degree to which blogging can bring to enhance journalistic
autonomy. One of these factors concerns with certain organizational influence and
censorship. For example, in a survey of 153 reporters in the U.S., Sheffer & Schultz (2008)
found that those that were “other-motivated”, including journalists required to blog by
management, accounted for 73 percent of respondents, while “self-motivated” blogger
reporters made up only 27 percent of those surveyed. This research also suggests that there
are high levels of resistance to blogging by journalists, as well as poor management
communication strategy from the media company to overcome that resistance. Managers
encourage journalists to blog, but fail to take the necessary steps to support successful
blogging. Cohen’s (2002) study of CNN.com also indicates how blogs sit firmly within the
CNN corporate structure. In his study, blogs may have the potential to spur open journalism
and greater pluralism, as well as challenge authority, but this does not seem to be the reality in practice. Singer (2005) noticed that while some journalistic blogs are more opinionated than
others, they provide readers with a more personal account of the news and blogs tend to
extend traditional norms to an online format rather than representing a radical shift in
In China, the impact of blogs also meets many barriers. As noted, the Chinese government
has developed a range of mechanisms to control media based on its communist press
system. A set of practices has long been accepted as journalistic routines. These practices,
as Pan (2000) notes, include: the state subsidizes the media; party committees at various
levels of the communist hierarchy oversee the media at their respective levels by appointing
key personnel, deciding major topics for new coverage, and censoring journalists’ work; the
party’s propaganda ministry controls media content; journalism education trains “party
propagandists”; all work units subscribe to party newspapers; and all media reprint the
editorials and other important materials from The People’s Daily, or from the official Xinhua
News Agency. Under China’s party-press system, the media become an instrument by which
the party propagates its policy and ideology. Therefore, based on the large environment,
blogging in China is largely compromised by certain organizational factors and hampered by
censorship. Chinese media outlets now incorporate blogs in websites as part of their internet
content by encouraging journalists to blog; however, these blogs are not motivated by
journalists themselves. Instead, blogs are used differently according to outlets but most aim to
maintain or increase readership. Most news organizations are not yet ready for the greater
range of opinion and stronger criticism that the blogosphere brings. As a result, some press
spread blogs more widely, assuming it as the selling points, while some other press have
suspended their blogs or shut down comments on blogs. Blogs sometimes are transformed
into governable space because censorship exists. This may lead to a more realistic view and
somewhat undermines their impact.
In this paper, we tried to contrast journalism on official press platforms with journalism on
independent public platforms. Based on literature review, this study raised three research
RQ1: To what extent do blog sites practice censorship in the users’ blogs when
public blog sites and newspaper blog sites are compared?
RQ2: To what extent do journalists practice self-censorship in their blogs when
public blog sites and newspaper blog sites are compared?
RQ3: To what extent are sensitive topics able to survive in blogs when public blog
sites and newspaper blog sites are compared?
Two different types of blog sites were delineated. One is public blog sites, the other is
platform built and guided by existing media outlets. Therefore, two newspaper blog sites, Xinmin Evening News and Shanghai Morning Post, and two public blogs sites, SINA and SOHU (the largest Chinese public blog sites), provided data for this study.
Established in 1929, the Xinmin Evening News is a typical example of party-led evening
newspaper in China. Among top newspapers in China, it is seen as a successful and popular
human-interest tabloid, with its “short, shorter and soft, softer” stories. Pan and Chan (2003)
conclude that its style of writing emphasizes its service targeting local Shanghai residents and
this involves soft news, practical information, using a personable, intimate, short, and highly
readable style of writing. At the same time, the paper carefully toes the party line in its
content. Its content is “softer” than party organs but “harder” than citizen tabloids (the Party
exercises less stringent control over metro papers than flagship Party organs) and it has
spawned many imitators to create a different breed of “party papers” without the official
designation of “party organs”. On the contrary, Shanghai Morning Post, founded on Jan 1,
1999, is a widely recognized exemplar of successful service-oriented metropolitan
newspapers. Reporters from this outlet are much younger than from other newspapers
because the paper is relatively new on the market. Regarding the circulation of the press, Shanghai Morning Post and Xinmin Evening News are the top two papers in Shanghai in
2005. Together they held about 50 % of Shanghai’s metropolitan newspaper market
(Martinsen, 2006). This shows that Shanghai Morning Post and Xinmin Evening News had strong positions in the retail circulation market for Shanghai’s metropolitan newspapers, with
intense competition between them.
The best known public blog sites are SINA and SOHU. They are the main “web portals” in
China. In the early days, they tried to integrate all possible functions on a single site. This
involved free e-mail, chat rooms and news. Later, these services expanded to include online
auctions, shopping, free homepages, financial information and transactions. These web
portals act like large “supermarkets” providing access to a vast array of services, aiming to
attract more eyeballs on their advertisements. SINA and SOHU were the first to develop
blogs. Although they were behind the professional blog service sites like blogchina and
blogcn, SINA and SOHU recruited Chinese celebrities to blog for them. The celebrity
strategies made them the most popular blog sites in China. Many famous journalists were
also invited to blog on them.
In this study, fifty journalistic blogs were selected on four blog sites. The sitemap of both
public and newspaper blog sites links various content categories, such as “entertainment
blogs”, “teen blogs” and “journalistic blogs”. This directory allows us to track favorite
journalists’ blogs. Therefore, all the blogs used in this study were chosen from the directory of
journalistic blogs on the websites balancing gender, age, and professional level of the
journalists concerned. In this study, age of the bloggers ranges from 20 to 48, according to
the websites. Male journalistic bloggers make up 56% of the survey while females make up
44%. Twenty-five reporters surveyed used the public service, and we selected twenty-five
blogs on media outlets to compare the level of censorship between two platforms.
The interview method was also used to supplement our findings, and to gather first-hand data
from our subjects. Based on the analysis of fifty blogs, in-depth interviews were conducted
with ten journalists at 2008. Of these ten participants, five maintained blogs on the public blog
sites and five blogs on newspaper blog sites. Five of the ten interviewees were male, the
other five were female. They all attended college and received university degrees. Two of
them had master’s degree or above. All of them had maintained blogs for more than three
years. Among those with their own blogs, two claimed that they would usually update their
blogs every one to three days; two updated every four to seven days; three updated every week to a month; three updated less than once a month. As we are both fluent speakers of
both English and Chinese, we first conducted the interviews in Chinese and then we
translated them into English.
Analysis and Results
In this section, we will present the research results as well as a sketch of journalist bloggers in
China. The overall findings are divided into three parts: the first part is concerned with the
organizational structure which influences journalists’ blogging in newspaper blog platform,
while the other two deal with the different characteristics of newspaper blogs sites and public
Xinmin Evening News was the earliest newspaper adopter of the internet in China. It created
its blogging platform on May 7, 2005. At the beginning, there were no requirements that
members in the newspaper must blog. Reporters were given a password and user account
and blogging was on a voluntary basis. Six months after Xinmin started its blogging service, Shanghai Morning Post launched journalistic blogs on its online platform, highai.com. Unlike
its rival, Shanghai Morning Post launched an aggressive advertisement campaign. A
program named “A hundred reporters’ blog show” (baiming jizhe boke xiu) was launched in
August 2006, featuring selected blog entries reproduced in the newspaper every Tuesday and
Thursday. Therefore, unlike Xinmin News, blogging on the platform of the Morning Post is not
entirely individualistic work but actually organized by the press as a group activity.
As both Xinmin and Shanghai Morning Post are leading metropolitan newspapers in
Shanghai, there is intense competition between two newspapers. The blog site of Shanghai
Morning Post was launched to compete with Xinmin. Responding to the Morning Post, Xinmin once published an article insinuating that aggressive blogging at the Shanghai Morning Post
betrayed news principles.
“One press [Morning Post] uses a full-page advertisement to promote their
journalistic blogs. A female reporter at this press writes posts discussing
who will accompany her to sleep at night in vague language. Does that
press want to build an image through this kind of blog, or is it simply to
attract eyeballs?” (Sun, Y., Sept. 12, 2006)
In response, many reporters at Shanghai Morning Post, criticized Xinmin News for quoting
words out of context and misleading people. Therefore, we can see that competition between
the rival newspapers is fierce extending onto the blogosphere and the internet.
There are some similarities between the two newspaper blog sites. For example, the
relationship between journalist bloggers and readers is limited by many external factors. Both
official press platforms adopt the real-name system. Current reporters can register with their
real name and work ID to write blogs. Journalistic blogs are the domain of verified journalists.
Other netizens can still register but cannot write columns.
The page layout of both the websites was also revised for many times. Taking Xinmin
Evening News as an example. Previously, readers could “send flowers” or “toss stones” to
express their opinions. The greater the number of flowers, the more popular the blog posting
was deemed and vice versa. However, this feature was finally suspended in the mid of 2007
and some restrictions were put on comments. Till now, comments on Xinmin blogs are not
strongly mediated; readers can only leave comments if they register with the site. This
indicates that newspaper websites are more willing to maintain administrative control over
postings than to allow participants to get involved in judging the merits of messages. Both Xinmin and Shanghai Morning Post blogs are institutionalized products and constrained by
journalistic conventions. They are not typically democratized blog systems. Without an
account, there are few opportunities to participate. These platforms offer interactivity limited in
scope and there is careful control of blogging and commenting.
However, it is important to note, compared with Chinese political structure, that the level of
censorship is actually low in newspaper blogs because most of them are currently organized
by the technical staff who know little about journalism. This is a widely spread phenomenon.
In some small newspapers, only two or three people are assigned to work on online editions,
whereas some large newspapers employ up to 40 people on the online edition (He and Zhu,
2002). In Shanghai, 150 print media sources have formed an alliance, including some large
state-owned media enterprises. However, the online department of this big company is only
maintained on a very small scale, with only 16 full-time editors and 50 part-time reporters
employed in its first year (Xie, 2000). Although senior staff of the online operation is made up of former news reporters who perform managerial or editorial duties, the site is actually
managed by the technical staff who know little about journalism.
In our study, both newspaper blog sites are attached to the newspaper’s information centre,
but the person in charge of the paper’s online version does not hold a position and has no
formal, signed contract with the newspaper. The editing department and the online news
department have been divided and are governed separately. The editing department seldom
directly overrules the online news department. It publishes most of the editorial content of the
print edition online, and the online version has no unique content. Therefore, the online
operation does not need to recruit journalists but does hire technicians. To most of the
management, the online site is only part of efforts to computerize the press. Their motivation
may be keeping up with competitors to avoid being left behind.
Another example is from Beijing Youth Daily, which set up its new online version on June 28,
2000. The newspaper also launched a new website address at www.ynet.com and transferred
its operations from the editing department to the Beijing Youth Internet Communication
Company. In an interview for this study, Shanshan (from Beijing Youth Daily) described the
lack of relationship between the web site and newspaper itself.
“I only know they are not recruited by the press. I don’t know who they are,
or how much they earn per month. By the way, I do not care about it. We do
not distinguish newspaper sites from any other internet services, like
China.com and sohu.com. The only similarity is that we both belong to the
Beijing Newspaper Group. Apart from this, there is no cooperation between
the two departments.” (Shanshan, December 17, 2008, interview)
In Shan’s eyes, online newspapers are not assumed to be news organizations. Instead, they
are simply firms selling products in the market.
Partly because of a lack of staff in the editing department, censorship is relatively weak at
newspaper blogs. An analysis of SINA, SOHU, Xinmin, and Shanghai Morning Post blogs
reveals the existence of a combination of automated and manual censorship. On independent
public blogs, users are automatically prevented from posting politically sensitive words such as “Falun Gong”, “Tibetan independence” (zangdu). Efforts to post such messages result in
the error message: “This item contains forbidden vocabulary. Please remove them from your
blog”. However, on newspaper blogs such as Xinmin and Shanghai Morning Post, these
sensitive words can still be posted. Sensitive phrases, such as, “June 4” and “Falun Gong”
remained on the system. Therefore, censorship on newspaper blogs is weaker than that used
on independent public blogs.
The newspapers want to use blogs to attract eyeballs. However, not all reporters are
enthusiastic about newspaper blogs. To date, there are 325 reporters and editors registered
on the Xinmin web. Of the 325 blogs, only 30 have been used at least one time; the other 295
blogs are all in empty. Among the 30 active blogs, only nine have been updated in the
previous six months; the others were inactive. The active bloggers and their identities are as
In this case, it is found that five active bloggers are administrators of high rank in the
organization and only four bloggers are ordinary reporters. The frequency of blog updates and
the number of page views are almost the same between the two groups. Ordinary reporters
updated their diaries with an average 3.92 posts per month; the management cadres updated
their blogs with an average 3.94 posts per month. Average total page views for reporter blogs
was 74,516, compared to an average 74.828 page views for management cadres’ blogs.
Let us visit the newspaper site. In the Shanghai Morning Post website, a total of 210 reporters
registered as featured bloggers. Three years later, 91 of them were still active bloggers who
had updated their blogs in the last six months. The survival rate of blogs (43%) is much larger
than that of Xinmin (2%). However, evidence suggests a complex picture. Regarding
Shanghai Morning Post, it indicated that the plan to attract more readers had also ended in
failure. Page views at Shanghai Morning Post have declined over the last two years. Xie
Zhengyi, a young female reporter at the Morning Post has the highest number of page views
for her blog (320,000). However, Xu Xiang, the third highest one, garners only 90,034. Most
blogs on the site have only 20,000 to 50,000 views, indicating a stagnant readership. More
importantly, most blogs in the Morning Post site are about the inner monologues, emotions of
reporters, narrations of daily life, and personal interests like stock price and photography.
Articles containing criticism of newspapers and politics-related content are difficult to find.
While many bloggers vent their anger directed at newspapers on independent public blogs,
we found nothing like that on newspaper blogs. A reporter said in his private blog, “starting a
blog in obedience to the command contradicts the original freedom spirit of blog. Besides,
there are gatekeepers from our press on the content.” (Li, January 1, 2007)
Although blogs are getting increasingly popular as a way to involve readers with the
newspaper, the implementation of newspaper blogs can often be challenging. In our
interviews, Wu Qiang, from Xinmin, told us that at least 10 percent of press reporters had set
up blogs on public platforms. The number of reporters blogging on newspaper sites thus is
only a tiny section of the whole population. Hexin, also from Xinmin, told us that most
reporters in his department would blog at MSN space instead of the newspaper site because
“the press blog cannot be individualized. It is an official platform.” Hexin prefers to see himself as different with other journalist bloggers because he is a photographer.
“They [other reporters] are worried about causing offence to press leaders.
They tried to avoid unwanted consequences of blogging such as firing
extreme public enthusiasm. It makes blogging difficult. Meanwhile,
blogging is not integral to performance evaluations. There is no pay even
you spent a lot of time blogging. Thus, most reporters give up blogging”
(Hexin, December 11, 2008, interview)
These views are widespread. “The blog may be censored by your media organization”. One
female reporter complained on her blog,
“As a journalist for an official media, I have to keep those forbidden
zones in mind whenever I want to say something publically. Blogging
becomes part of work Once I am asked by my superior to blog. It feels
like being watched, peeped, or even raped.” (You, April 9, 2008).
Unlike mainstream media products, which are subject to extensive editorial review and
external political monitoring, bloggers have more autonomy to decide content and there is
free expression. However, in reality, a certain degree of self-censorship works here because
people have information which they are unwilling to reveal on the public web. Some
journalists may only give their blog address to a few friends, family members and colleagues,
but there is always a danger that others may accidentally stumble across it. Those wishing to
publish something sensitive usually do not disclose their personal identity.
Digging deeper, we find that the performance of reporters is influenced by many other
factors. Logically, management prefers employees to follow guidance to perform and want
the public to accept an image established through their work. This also reflects the fact that
the media wants to project a particular positive public image to readers. To accomplish this
target, media outlets build their own websites to attract reporters to transfer their blogs from
public space. With this particular motivation, press websites are distinct from other public
blogs and may not be as democratic as blogging on independent public platforms.
The present study focuses on Xinmin Evening News and the Shanghai Morning Post: how
two newspapers websites provide a picture of the ongoing tensions between blogging and self-censorship in China over recent years. These two blog sites epitomize the situation
throughout China. The findings indicate that the development of newspaper blogs has been
hampered by many factors. For the print edition, reporters operate within the constraints of
communication routines and do things in a given way. All of their work must fall within the
framework of the organization. For the online section, even though control imposed by the
press is loosened, self-censorship and other similar constraining factors hamper the
development of newspaper blogs and make it currently at a stage of low communication:
there is insufficient interactivity, low response rates and low overall usage. Although
censorship on newspaper blogs is weaker, self-censorship persists, becoming the main
mechanism controlling blog content. Journalists in independent public blogs may be more
willing to blog because it provides them a way to express additional meanings above and
beyond career considerations, and they feel less confined. By contrast, bloggers at
newspaper sites seem less enthusiastic, particular as blogging relates to career.
Blogging on public blog sites
SINA and SOHU are the most popular blog sites in China. In 2005, both websites began to
invite famous reporters and chief-editors from newspapers, TV stations, and journals to start
blogging on their sites. For example, two Shanghai journalists were invited to blog at SINA after they became involved in a defamation case brought by Taiwan-funded firm Foxconn.
They are famous because it is the first time when reporters were sued by one company in
China. Their blog attracts millions of readers.
However, even though SINA and SOHU have gained popularity through blogging services
over the past years, both are often accused by netizens of deleting articles which contain
“sensitive words”. Of ten journalists interviewed, half of them reported that their posts along
with comments by visitors had been deleted without notice. Liu Qili, from China Times, found
that the blog she maintained at SOHU had been taken down after she revealed plagiarism in
the press. Liu insisted that the censored posts had not contained material that violated any
law or regulation and that SOHU was therefore violating her user agreement. Apart from at SINA and SOHU, many reporters have also encountered different censorship criteria at various blog hosting services. A post entitled, “Why I will not build my blog on SINA”, wrote,
“If we accept that there must be some controls on internet content, why
can't the government make the list of sensitive words public so that
everyone knows what to look out for when they blog? I think these lists
would be very funny, but no blog host is willing to make their list public. If
they don't publish the lists, it is too troublesome to write because you never
know which words will be considered sensitive.” (Wang, as cited in
As noted, political stability is paramount to the Chinese government, and the government
exercises control over the internet for fear that the internet will be used as a tool to undermine
the Chinese Communist Party. According to the Ministry of Public Security, the goal of internet
control is “to strengthen the security and the protection of computer information networks and
of the internet, and to preserve social order and social stability”. Therefore, the government
has issued a series of comprehensive regulations governing internet use, such as the Interim
Provisions on the Administration of Internet Culture (2003), Provisions for the Administration
of Internet News Information Services (2005), and so on.
Although no details about censorship were exposed, the following is widely accepted as
absolutely banned content on blogs: (1) instigating resistance to and impeding the
enforcement of the Constitution, laws and administrative regulations; (2) promoting
subversion and the overthrow of the communist system; (3) advocating separatism and
secession from the state; (4) promoting racial hatred and discrimination; (5) disrupting social
order through fabrication and spreading rumors; (6) promoting superstition, indecency,
pornography, gambling, violence and terrorism, etc.; (7) insulting or defaming others; (8)
undermining the credibility of state organs; and (9) violating the Constitution, laws and
regulations. By using auto-test software, text containing certain keywords is prevented from
being posted, or the administrator will be notified when sensitive subjects are discussed. As a
result, journalists know that the stories need to be very carefully constructed as they are held
responsible for what they publish. So, most reporters will not express political sensitive
opinions on their blogs.
However, even though censorship of blog sites is believed to be tougher than that of the print
media websites, reporters are relatively tolerant towards external censorship. In the real
world, there are three ways journalists can resist power: 1. they can fight; 2. they can give in
by “altering the news to placate the exerters of pressure”; 3. they can “give in sufficiently and
in advance to avoid being pressured.” (Gans, 1979, p. 249) But in the virtual space,
journalists have more opportunities to deal with censorship and may be less worried about it.
Many bloggers hold the view that even though censorship is an issue, the Chinese
blogosphere is slowly pushing back the boundaries of what defines sensitive because
bloggers can use a number of strategies to deal with censorship. Journalists addressing
sensitive subjects usually exercise caution and carefully choose their words. Therefore, they
can be less affected by pressures related to censorship.
For example, most journalists have adopted more factual narrative forms in their posts.
Reporters are less worried if posts on blogs reflect the truth and no false content. Fu Jianfeng,
a reporter for Southern Weekender, wrote a post entitled “My Professional Attitude under
“In my opinion, a good investigative reporter should know how to use
professional activities to protect himself. He has to employ appropriate
tactics to eliminate the risks, using wile and bravery…If you follow
professional rules of conduct, it will often be your best guarantee against the
risks. For example, professionalism requires you to seek multiple
confirmations for each piece of information and rely as little as possible on
single-sourced information; this practice will increase the authenticity of the
investigation…When I handle certain cases involving legal and political
risks, I usually undertake a large amount of investigative work. In the
published report, I only mention 30% of what I know and I hold the other
70% back. That 70% will come in very useful when someone
complains. Once they see the other 70% I held back, they usually give up
quickly.” (Fu, October 8, 2006)
There are other ways to resist censorship. Journalists can make some articles invisible to strangers. Shanshan, a reporter for Beijing Youth Daily, began blogging in July 2005 and
posted 458 articles to date. However, only 110 of them are visible to the general readership.
The other 348 articles are password protected. The password protected posts are intended
only for an audience of trusted friends or confidants. Some journalists have also tried to use
different blog hosts because maintaining multiple blogs is a way to keep their writings alive on
the web. Some interviewees in our study frequently move blogs, leaving one blog host and
starting a new blog with a new web address hosted by a different provider. Some even stated
that they are willing to buy blog space which is more reliable and has less censorship. For
example, Wang Ganglin, a reporter for Legal Daily, chose to blog in public sites which are
based in the U.S. The set up fee was 8000 RMB, with ongoing charges of 80 RMB per month.
Another reporter, Longzhi from Southern Metro Newspaper, also expressed the same idea on
In this study, we have also observed that some sensitive words were usually replaced by
similar words or abbreviations to escape external censors. Playing around with abbreviations
to make them close to the politically sensitive terms is a witty way to get published. For
example, Gaoshan, a reporter for Beijing Youth Daily, published a post in Pinyin, the most
commonly used Romanization system for Chinese language, with tone marks on her blog:
“chong(2)qing(4)zong(4)huo(3)an(4)作案人xiao(1)yong(3)hua(2)的yi(2)shu(1)” (in English, it
is “the last words of the arsonist in Chongqing”). The numbers 1-4 in the brackets represent
the Chinese tone marks. It records a serious criminal case. According to Xinhua News, a fire
on a bus that killed 27 people in Chongqing was an arson attack by Xiao Yonghua, a former
employee of a public transport company. He had been suspended from his post and angry
about this punishment. However, Xiao had left a letter on the internet detailing his unfair
treatment and corruption in the company, different from news reports. This reporter said: “If
Xiao’s letter was the statement of only one of the parties, who can guarantee the report in Xinhua News represents the facts, and who can provide the public with a comprehensive,
objective story?”(Gao, October 13, 2007). This post was deleted by the net administrator, and
thus this reporter was forced to use Pinyin to replace the title, using “hidden transcripts” as an
alternative. This sort of coding has entered the public sphere through skillful blog posts,
whose meaning is understood by readers who are aware of restrictions.
The result of this study is that in the game of a cat and a mouse between external censors
and China’s increasingly outspoken bloggers, blocking of message content has for the most
part been ineffective. By using the previous strategies, despite censorship, journalists can
accept the system of public blogs and maintain strong control over the blog content as long as
the deviant views and opinions do not directly challenge the Party’s ideology and leadership.
Therefore, we have noted in this study that some journalists change blog hosts due to
unreasonable deletion of posts. However, after a period of time, some of the bloggers would
move back. One interviewee, Gaoshan, told us, “My friends are all at SINA. I tried to change
the blog host but it feels like moving house to get better care but ending up with no friends or
relatives there. I didn’t feel at ease in a strange place, so I moved back” (Gaoshan, December
8, 2008, interview). The sense of “being at home” is very important, and sometimes it can
override fears of censorship.
In this study, we note that both public blogs and newspaper blogs are constructed as a
negotiated space between censorship and bloggers’ private domains. Content control in
China not only occurs through formal regulation of public blogs, but also through informal
means on newspaper blogs. Under stronger external censorship on public blogs compared to
that of newspaper blogs, journalists adopt different strategies to deal with the pressure. Using
satirical, implicit wordings which are comprehensible to readers, reporters can avoid troubles.
Therefore, even though censorship of public blogs is tougher than that at newspaper blogs,
we found reporters can often accept higher levels of external censorship at public blogs. On
the contrary, on newspaper blogs, even though controls imposed by the press are loosened,
self-censorship and other similar constraining factors hamper the development of newspaper
blogs and make it currently at a stage of low communication: there is insufficient interactivity,
low response rates and low overall usage.
In conclusion, the content of public blogs is markedly different from those published on the
newspaper blogs. Independent public blogs feature more behind-the-scenes stories, informal
interviews with news sources, full interviews with sources, in-depth analysis of current issues,
unpublished stories, personal opinion and other stories beyond careers by reporters. On the contrary, newspaper blogs are less individualistic because journalistic blogging on newspaper
platforms is more strongly influenced by the organization to which they belong. Comparing the
two blog platforms and the strategies bloggers employ in writing, we can conclude that
newspaper blogs did not make good use of the freedom provided by the internet to make
qualitative changes to their content.
There are limitations in this study. One major issue is its sample. Due to the difficulty to obtain
a complete sampling frame on the internet, this paper chose to study a total of fifty blogs from
four blog sites and thus they are by no means a “representative sample” of all journalistic
blogs in China. Nonetheless, the study presents a snapshot of how blogging and journalism
are developing in China so as to reveal possible patterns.
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About the Authors
Gong-Cheng, Lin got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Shannxi Normal University,
China. At the time this paper was written, he was a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of
Media and Communication, City University of Hong Kong. He completed his doctorate in July
2010. Ying, Li got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Renmin University, and is
currently a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Media and Communication, City University of
Hong Kong. They can be reached at email@example.com and Yingli9@student.cityu.edu.hk, respectively.