rant on the state of shenzhen news

A journalist approached me for an interview on the topic, “送你一个好男人 (We’ll give you a good man)”. His newspaper is currently preparing special articles for International Women’s Day, next Thursday, March 8. I replied that my ideal man would have been a better topic for Valentine’s Day, when fantasy is given free reign and chocolate assumes its rightful place in the food chain. He responded that the newspaper was aiming for a “light” approach to women’s issues by collecting and retelling love stories. I’m presuming that the editorial moment will be to abstract those characteristics shared by good men the world over; my love story would be cross-culturally inspirational. So to speak.

The fact that newspapers are generating content for International Women’s Day isn’t surprising. In fact, making the ideal man the subject of Women’s Day reportage is an accurate reflection of the status of women and the terms of gender debate in Shenzhen. What’s more, I’m not even surprised that their story is gossip — the semiotic daisy chain that strings women and love and sex and gossip is so overdetermined that I’m moderating a roundtable on the relationship between gossip and architecture as part of my Women’s Day celebration. But here’s what I don’t get — why call me?

Surely, an intrepid reporter could find a more willing and accommodating subject to interview. One who wouldn’t have said, “But the point of Women’s Day is reflecting on how to make women’s lives better, rather than more dependent on men.” And then, when he insisted that the shift from emancipation to romance was not a change in topic, but rather a change in perspective because everyone has a different point-of-view, that other, more pliable subject might have said, “You’re right. How can we talk about this in a way that reflects my position?” Instead, I asked if he didn’t understand my point or if it was merely that he didn’t respect it because, let’s face it, the irony of gossip as Women’s Day reportage verges on the insulting.

That said, this human interest angle on news seems indicative of the state of journalism in Shenzhen, where newspapers aren’t read for their truth content, but rather to get a sense of the direction of national and local politics. In addition, the prevalence of weibo and blogs as sources of information has meant that the print media compete with micro- and regular bloggers for audience, and us bloggers aren’t held to the same truth or good taste standards as conventional media. Sometimes, weibo and blogs do better than the traditional media, often we do not, but even then we’re usually more interesting. And that’s the point. Shenzhen’s reporters aren’t providing socially informed critique — they could, for example raise the don’t ask, don’t tell status of mistresses and prostitutes in the SEZ as a viable and gossipy topic for Women’s Day — but instead are in the unhappy position of generating news stories with no bite. Unfortunately, in the absence of news that bites, the papers have glommed onto the fact that gossip sells.

Sigh.

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