Feature Story

The Last Class: Journalistic Dream and Compromise

Walking through Darkness. Photo taken by Mona Jiang

Lei Yefei sat in the last class of a journalistic program before graduation. The teacher’s voice was as vibrant as always, but they seemed to all drop on the earth. Tears gushed up in Lei’s eyes although she tried to force them back- she understood that even though she love journalism, she could no longer be a journalist after graduation. With misty eyes, she wrote down, “It kills me to have to walk away from journalism, but I cannot do anything but make a compromise before the harsh reality.”

The phenomenon of journalistic graduates leaving the industry aggravates year by year. Most of those who were once determined to be a journalist have undergone an excruciating struggle at the threshold of graduation. Eventually, some of them succumbed to realistic pressures and walked away from journalism; some refused to contaminate their journalistic value and forced themselves into other industries; some stayed but were continuously exploited and making compromises; some are still scrabbling amid pain and uncertainty.

Walking Away from Their Journalistic Dreams

Li Haoyang’s turn from journalism was abrupt. Since high school, Li has set his goal to be an investigative journalist. Having entered Huebei University, he did an internship at the Southern Weekly and published multiple muck-racking pieces under a senior correspondent’s instruction, including reports on Shanxi police and Hunan officials. “I would come back to be a journalist,” Li wrote at the end of the internship, “since the light has once shed upon me.”

As graduation impended, Li applied for jobs. During an interview at Xinhua News, the interviewers said, “ I have re-posted an article written by you, which is about official’s WeChat Moment.” Therefore, Li smoothly passed the interview and written tests. However, the renowned media eventually refused to take Li. Li couldn’t sleep at night – It’s the first time he had insomnia.

Two month before graduation, Li took an internship at a bank in case he failed to enter the media industry. “At the time I thought, if Xinhua refused me, at least I still could have a place to go…I didn’t expect that I eventually landed at a bank,” Li said, “it takes time and efforts to adapt and walk away from your dream.”

Seven years have passed since his graduation in 2016. When asked Li if he has thought about going back to the journalistic industry, he said, “In the first two years, when I hit bumps on the road at the bank, I always wanted to go back to journalism. Yet, I seldom think about it now, because it’s hard to start everything from scratch again.”

Similar to Li, Lenny He left journalism and enter a publication company. “Upon graduation, I found my ideal media studio, the Arrow Factory affiliated to Jiemian, stopped renewing contents and no longer hire new staff,” He said, “but other studios are less ideal for journalism, so for a while, I sank into complete depression.”

“Gradually, I realized that life is an open field instead of a track,” He said, “and journalism is only a tool to realize our ultimate purposes. In addition to my personal needs, I hope I could distribute quality content to more people and enlighten their minds, so I decided that I would do publication, which lays foundations for people’s worldview.”

Yet, he admitted that journalistic education was indelible. “The teaching of critical thinking, caring about people surrounding us, and strategies to tackle thorny issues forever run in my blood,” He said, “I used to be a president of the university medium as an undergrad. When I inherited the social media account password, my old pals said, ‘it’s dxxmt, which is not only an abbreviation of the medium’s name ‘Da xue xiao yuan mei ti (大学校园媒体)’ but also means ‘learning from woods and thinking about future (多学学木头,多想想明天)’,” He said, “ they were teaching me how to handle the power that aims to muffle journalism- You shouldn’t argue with or succumb to the authorities. Instead, you work like a wood stick, write and publish whatever ought to be seen and hear by the people.”

“I went back to Hong Kong in April”, He reminisced, “it dawned upon me that although my colleagues at the Yilin publishing company were kind, I resonated easier and deeply with my classmates in Hong Kong, since we shared similar journalistic values and dream.”

Compromise within the Journalistic Industry

For graduates who entered the journalistic industry, “making compromise” is the most frequent phrase they used. Bai Yingzi, a journalistic student who has worked for two years in CCTV social media department said, “My journalist dream was ignited by the renowned Chinese journalist Chai Jing (柴静), whose work Kan Jian (看见) and Under the Dome (穹顶之下) touched me deeply and made me want to be a journalist to seek truth and bring positive changes in the world.

“When I entered the CCTV, I thought I would create sensational stories as the role models,” Bai said, “but the space is narrower than before. The topics picked by Chai Jing were mostly hard-core investigative pieces, but now these topics can no longer be discussed. Additionally, when people seek help in comments under our official Weibo account, such as reporting companies refusing to pay salaries, these ailments are largely ignored. Even if you choose it as a topic, the administration would stop it.”

“Yet, one of my colleagues fit well into this job. She once told me that ‘you should put your emotion into your work, no matter what you are doing. As long as you can manipulate people’s feeling much better than others with similar materials, you win.’,” Bai said, “It sounds like making lemonade with bitter lemons in your hands.”

Bai mentioned a few moments making her feel worthwhile to work in the journalistic industry. “We once made a video about growing rice in Hunan. After the video was posted, we received a package of rice from the farmers. Then we cooked the rice into porridge. When we tasted the sweet congee, we temporarily felt the meaning of this job,” she said and sighed, “Possibly, human beings live only for these limited moments.”

A Sichuan girl Roxane who works for a Hong Kong medium share a similar feeling of “making compromises” with Bai. Roxane said, “From early on, I have lost the feeling of shouldering social responsibility (铁肩担道义) through doing journalism. Having followed so many events such as the Xuzhou chained woman, I realized that news is only a microphone for the power and the journalistic ideal is only a constructed pipe dream.”

She continue to say that, “Journalism is set on the altar, but journalists are doing different things. For instance, although media ethic professors in university emphasized that journalists should refuse gifts at work, many journalists give and accept gifts, or they won’t be able to build up connections with news sources. The only thing they need to be aware of is the size of the gift.”

In addition, Roxane repudiated the journalistic ideals such as balance reporting and objectivity. “When I seek news sources, if the source is an introvert, it would be hard to quote or depict them in my writing. However, if the source is an extrovert person, their opinions and stories can be easily communicated and recorded. Consequently, extroverts largely shaped stories. This phenomenon is inevitable.”

Journalists Riding Winds and Waves

Despite disgruntlement in reality, some journalistic students still ride winds and waves to create meaningful pieces. “It’s the heart-warming moments that support me to continue to be a journalist,” Xiao Hai, a journalist working at the Hong Kong Economic Times said, “When I was writing a report on artificial insemination, a woman gave me her 40-page diary during the operation. The trust and hope she put in me made me feel worthwhile to be a journalist.”

Xiao also mentioned the inspiration she got from movies such as “She said”. “The way New York Times journalists investigated and exposed covered sexual harassment issues enhanced my belief in the value of journalism,” Xiao murmured, “Indeed, it’s hard to do journalism in China, but I still feel maybe I can do something.”

“Bewilderment and uncertainty plague journalists forever (迷茫是贯穿新闻人始终的),” He Lenny concluded. “Having wrote so many pieces, I’m always uncertain on whether what I’m facing is an immovable mountain, to which I cannot do anything, bring about any change, or seek any response,” Xiao confessed with a faint smile, “ but I’m still trying to keep the hope alive.”

“Dreaming boldly is the first step towards achieving one’s ideals,” yelling a motto on a notebook from a journalistic class. Following the flag, young journalist students strut proudly, but when they arrive at the cliff of reality, they often have to make different choices.

(All names used are pseudonyms)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *