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In era of gadgets, old ways are still best
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08:52, March 17, 2008

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The simpler, the better.

In preparing to cover this year's two-week legislative meeting, the newspaper I work for asked Wang Wenlan, a veteran photographer, to give writers a crash course on how to snap pictures for those occasions when our photographers are not immediately available.

"All you need is a foolproof camera, which allows you to do your work conveniently, without distracting or offending the subject," Wang said.

The simple solution offered by the award-winning vice-chairman of the China Photographers Association echoed in my mind, as I believe the same simplicity could be applied to journalism in the digital era, when the profession has been complicated and journalists are sometimes bewildered by new must-have gadgets.

I am referring to the all of the high-tech "weaponry" available - the Internet surfing PDAs, digital recorders and video cameras that some of the people covering the session are carrying.

A humble pen and notepad, plus some curiosity and observant eyes and ears are all that reporters really need to do their job.

I have covered the annual legislative sessions for seven years in a row. In 2001, I went to the conference carrying nothing more than a notebook, a ball-point pen and a tape recorder. This year, my only change was to switch to a digital audio recorder.

While the recorder has helped reduce the odds of misquoting someone, I find relying on it for interviews leads not only to time-consuming transcribing afterwards, but also makes some speakers shy or more careful.

The popularity of the Internet increased in China, offering reporters a new tool to use when looking for clues and doing research. But I found an obsession with the Web could lead to a very dull experience for reporters.

While the Internet speeds up the flow of information, some go to extremes. At a press conference on agriculture last week, a few reporters walked out midway through because on-the-spot stenographers were helping designated websites broadcast the meeting online, offering full texts of the questions and answers in "real-time".

Even if one is toiling for new media, the traditional approach to journalism is still essential when it comes to telling a story.

For example, this year our newspaper for the first time invited senior lawmakers and policy advisors to our website for online chat sessions with Internet users.

Even with digital recordings, video streaming being the "infrastructure", I find that good moderators will employ those time-tested journalism skills - asking questions and stimulating the guests to respond.

Our guest last Tuesday was lawmaker Zhou Qiang, who is also governor of Hunan province, who came to our chat room and talked to netizens about topics ranging from snowstorm relief to investment. I did not miss the points like "How has your law education influenced your career as one of the youngest provincial chiefs in China at 47?"

Perhaps what Wang Wenlan really wanted to convey was this: For reporters, it is not the tool that matters so much as the way it is used.

Source: China Daily



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