Earlier this week, Jim Fallows – via his blog – broke the story of the Chinese government’s block of the New York Times website in China. It’s an important story, and a really nifty piece of blogged reporting: Fallows asked his China-based readers to email whether or not they could access the NYT’s site, and by the end of the day, he had his scoop. Who says you can’t report from a desktop?
Anyway, in addition to sending in a Shanghai-based connectivity report to Fallows, I also sent along (a day later) some thoughts on the relative importance of the NYT block in 2008, as compared to the impact of such a block in 2002, when I first moved here. At his suggestion, I’m posting 99% of that email, below (with some hyperlinks and two end notes added):
[UPDATE: The NYT's site was un-blocked on Monday, Dec. 22. However, I think this post remains relevant, regardless of the NYT's connectivity status.]
But I have to admit, I can’t help but stand back and compare the relatively minor impact – on me, at least – of a NYT block in 2008, to the ones that regularly occured when I first moved here in 2002. Back then, I can recall being frustrated to the point of anger at regular blocks on the NYT, LAT, and the WP – they were my primary sources of China news. Knock them out, and my knowledge of China was much less. Flash forward to 2008, and I can tell you that I still read those papers (although, I think the WSJ’s China coverage is, by far, the best of the major American papers), but they are no longer my primary sources of China news. Instead, I start the day with a scan of danwei‘s “from the web”, ESWN, China Environmental Law, and occasionally, Shanghaiist (all of which are reported – as opposed to – opinion blogs). And only then do I move to the traditional media, starting with the SCMP. In fact, at this point, I rarely look at the NYT’s coverage (compare Yardley’s 30 years piece to the SCMP’s much tougher month-long series) due to the fact that it rarely breaks anything that wasn’t on the blogs or in the Hong Kong papers, first. And I’m guessing that I’m not the only one – more and more I’ve noticed major Western papers, and the AP and Reuters, in particular, picking up stories that – in some form – were originally broken on English-language China blogs (ie, the Fallows blog scooped the NYT on news related to their website!). I guess, in a sense, this is no different than what’s happening with political blogs in the US, though the China blogs are a bit different in that they’re often written by people with a specific kind of expertise, and typically involve more reporting than opinionating. Continue reading