“Who am I?”: On the Identity Struggle of “Chinese Assistants” and the Power Dynamics in Local Newsrooms of Global Media Corporations

Title“Who am I?”: On the Identity Struggle of “Chinese Assistants” and the Power Dynamics in Local Newsrooms of Global Media Corporations
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Tang, M.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Section or WGInternational Communication Section
DateFri 28 June
Slot CodeINCF4a
Slot Code (Keyword)INCF4a
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleNewsflows and foreign coverage in the changing global media landscape
Submission ID5685

Three premises underlie the discussion that follows. The first is that global political economic rebalancing, in the wake of the financial crisis, is marked by “the rise of the rest”. China, formerly known as a closed-off communist land, is exerting increasing influence on the stability of global society in the senses of economy, finance, policy and politics respectively. The huge attention drawn from global society indicates the importance of understanding China. The second premise is the complexity of understanding the intertwined historical discourses of socialism, nationalism and capitalism in China. Reporting in China requires sophisticated newsmen to read between the lines and to capture the delicate symbolic meanings behind each move of the country and its people. A third premise emerging in this study, engages the above two points, is the contribution of global media’s local newsrooms in China. With the overwhelming importance of understanding China, there have been an increasing number of foreign correspondents rushing into China after the 1979 reform and opening. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the number of registered foreign correspondents went up 170 to 606 between 1990 and 2007, with 363 foreign media institutions now based in China. Faced with a complex new political and cultural environment, foreign correspondents seek help from local news assistants in bridging the gap between the Chinese people about whom they write stories and Western audiences back home. This is how the community of “Chinese assistants” came into being. The “Chinese assistants” compose a unique subgroup of journalists in global news production. They work as news assistants for the foreign correspondents in collecting and producing international news about China. But in the meantime they experience strict control from the Chinese government. While many scholars have provided detailed analysis of foreign correspondents’ life and work status, little attention has been paid to local assistants. Drawing upon interviews with foreign correspondents and their Chinese assistants, this paper is the first study exploring the world of Chinese assistants. The paper investigates the cultural dimensions in the local newsroom of global media corporations, highlighting the professional identity struggle of the Chinese assistants and the power dynamics between them and the foreign correspondents. The paper argues that the Chinese assistants, a community emerging from the interaction between globalization and the complexity of politics and culture in China, have constructed a space of identity struggle and power negotiation in global news production. The study reveals that the identity of Chinese assistants and their relations to foreign correspondents are shaped by their cultural backgrounds including education, work experience, language, and professionalism. Lacking legitimacy and autonomy, they all experienced identity struggle in their work environment to some extent. The paper concludes with a broader discussion of the importance and complexity of understanding global media production from the perspective of local agency.

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