Making a Show of the News?

Netizens take Reporters to Task for Becoming a Part of the Story

In what seemed like a flash on April 20, Chinese netizens dubbed TV reporter Chen Ying “the most beautiful bride” on China’s Internet. It was the day of her wedding but a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Ya’an in Sichuan province and Chen didn’t bother to change her clothes before rushing to cover the scene.

Video of Chen, still in veil and gown, rapidly spread across the web and viewers praised her devotion to her job. By April 25, more than 2.89 million viewers watched the videos about her on Sina, one of China’s major web portals. The Huffington Postlikened Chen to the American journalists running the Boston Marathon who quickly shifted back into work mode when the bombs went off.

But in China, where most reporting must be sanctioned officially and often is censored outright, many distrust reporters whose actions on camera upstage or distract from the news. Posts expressing suspicion of Chen and her motives quickly began to appear on Sina Weibo. “I just want to know what role the ‘beautiful bride’ is playing? Is she a journalist or an actress?” asked novelist @孙浩元(Sūn Hàoyuán). “The responsibility of a journalist is to cover news not create it, let alone make a show! Could you please be more professional? I don't believe you have nothing to wear but a wedding gown!”

Chen’s gown also aroused suspicion from Shanghai-based cultural critic @王晓渔(Wángxiǎoyú), who quipped, sarcastically, on Sina Weibo, “Technically, if the ‘beautiful bride’ quickly changed her clothes, it would improve her safety as well as her ability to do her job,” adding his blunt view of reportorial showboating: “The fewer ‘China Heros’ like this one, the better.”

And in China’s hyperactive blogosphere, critics of critics are quick to chime in, too. Poular Sina Weibo user @五岳散人(Wǔ Yuè Sàn Rén) spoke up for Chen, admonishing more than 850,000 followers about “a bunch of people carping about the ‘beautiful bride’ reporter not taking off her headwear before going on air…Could you at least show some common sense? Do you know how many hair clips there are on a bride’s head? She could take off all the clips quickly by shaving her head, or spend a lot of time on it, like taking shoes off a centipede.”

Another controversial media hero covering the quake was popular TV host Qiu Qiming, who previously gained fame for his outspoken criticism of state-run flagship broadcaster China Central Television when he worked there as a host.  On April 20, from his current post as a newscaster at Hunan Satellite TV, Qiu broadcast news of the earthquake in a voice hoarse from a head cold.

Qiu’s gravelly on-air delivery fueled an online debate on professional ethics and showboating. “Can we have less show, more sincerity please?! ” viewer @向上游的海豚 (Xiàngshàng yóu dì hǎitún) commented below a video of Qiu found on Sina. “There were no other hosts? This is so sensational!” But to prove Qiu really was sick, Sina Weibo user @李康有为 (Li Kāng Yǒu Wéi) posted a pictureand wrote, “Do you know how many times the director asked him to take a break? But he insisted on broadcasting the news. This is the responsibility and endurance of a journalist!”

The stiffest challenge to Chen and Qiu came from Yu Guoming, the Deputy Dean of the School of Journalism and Communications at Renmin University. Without naming the reporters, Yu used Sina Weibo, where he has more than 1.82 million followers, to argue both that Chen should have had enough time to take off her wedding gown—calling her attire out of synch with the disaster she was covering—and that it was unnecessary for Hunan TV to ask Qiu to broadcast when he was so sick, especially when someone could have replaced him at the anchor’s desk. “Who should be in the spotlight in the reports on this disaster?” Yu wrote. “This has become a pressing question for us. Shouldn’t ‘we’ retreat behind the scene and let people who have suffered the disaster be the focus?”

Yu’s criticism seemed to touch a nerve with Qiu, who responded on Sina Weibo that “the suspicions and swear words from some young people online are understandable. But now, Yu Guoming, a dean I respect, has begun to question what was behind my hoarse voice. I’d better clarify.” To do so Qiu posted a link to a video interview in which he explains that, “When my boss called me, I just said ‘Yes.’ As a journalist, this was the only response I could think of at the moment. It was also a gesture to show my respect for the people who are working on the front lines.”

In contrast to the polarized comments about Chen and Qiu, another young reporter, Jiang Lin, earned nearly unanimous praise for his professionalism. Jiang works for Chengdu TV, 100 km (62 mi) away from the Ya’an quake’s epicenter. Jiang’s reporting was straightforward and unadorned. He wore no distracting outfit nor suffered in any way himself, focusing instead on the suffering of the quake victims.

“Very good!” wrote Sina Weibo user @胡天孤牧 (Hú Tiān Gū Mù) “In such a long report, he said so many things without any superfluous words or repetition. Not easy to do that!”  User @麻宁 (Má Níng) praised Jiang, writing “He didn’t create tension or downplay the severity, nor pretend to be suffering him self to make a show. It is great.” When asked about his reporting later, Jiang said: “I never report in tears. This is the only thing I ask of myself.”