SARS Media Correspondence

15 May 2003

Recently I wrote a letter to many different media agencies using addresses I found online. (I won’t go into the spam-related ethical issues at this point…) The basic letter I sent out is below.

> To Whom It May Concern:

> I am a 25-year-old American citizen living in Hangzhou, China teaching English. I love China, and I love my life here. I find it very distressing, then, to see an abundance of hysteria- and hype-driven news stories on SARS. What I don’t understand is why the American media has not gone to one of the most authentic sources out there today – blogs. Yes, blogs (weblogs). There are many, many English-speaking foreigners living through the SARS crisis. What’s more, they are conscientiously WRITING ABOUT IT, and have been since day one. I sincerely hope that you consider adding this angle of the SARS story to your news reports.

> My China blog, Sinosplice, is at:
http://www.sinosplice.com

> I also maintain a long list of China blogs, many of which write extensively about SARS:
http://www.sinosplice.com/chinablogs.html

> The American people deserve to know a firsthand account of the truth which goes beyond hysteria.

> Thank you for understanding.

> Sincerely,
John Pasden

I received disappointingly few replies (one reporter responded apparently solely to inform me that her son is teaching in China too), but the following reply was interesting:

> Hi John,

> I’m a reporter with [a News Service] in [city], California. We are an off-beat news wire and I read how you are a proponent of blogs to tell the true story behind SARS in China. I’d like to hear more about what you have seen and how you feel they would tell the true story.

> What makes them superior than traditional media outlets? Is what is being reported inaccurate? Can you point out some mistakes the media has been making? Have you had any brushes with SARS yourself? Do other English speaking blog writers in China share your view? What are they saying about it?

> Lastly, our service provides contact information to other reporters and editors who subscribe to our news service so that they may do their own interviews with our sources. If I write an article about this subject do you mind other reporters from around the world getting in touch with you?

> Thank you for your help.

> Regards,
[Reporter Guy]

My response:

> [Reporter Guy],

> I’ll try to answer your questions as simply and directly as possible.

> I never said blogs were “superior” to traditional media outlets, but they’re certainly DIFFERENT. Sometimes the traditional media outlets sort of drop the ball, and so it’s important to remember that there are alternatives. But in some cases, what makes blogs different could possibly make them BETTER.

> We’ve all been hearing for years that a killer virus could be on the horizon for which modern science has no cure. That’s unthinkable. It’s horrific. It’s SERIOUS news. Then along comes SARS. How convenient. It’s much easier to report on SARS from the “safer” side of the Pacific, and the majority of Western investigations that I’ve read which actually go into China don’t stay for long.

> Yes, blogs are very subjective, but how subjective is going in to report with an almost predetermined conclusion? I think I trust the subjective viewpoint of someone who’s been living in China for some time, knows how things work, and at least knows what China was like BEFORE SARS.

> Hangzhou has reported very few cases of SARS. I think there really have been very few SARS cases in Hangzhou, although the government has been taking the threat extremely seriously. To my knowledge, I have not had any “near brushes” with SARS itself, but the effects have certainly reached me. My school was on lockdown* for two weeks, and remains in a state of partial lockdown**. Two of my coworkers have been quarantined in their rooms for leaving Hangzhou to go to Dalian (7 day quarantine) and Hong Kong (14 day quarantine). Even though face mask sightings have become a rarity, the city has taken on a whole new edgy feel to it. The vibrant Chinese bustle has been stifled.

> If any reporters want to get in touch with me, I’m happy to talk to them, but as I’ve said before, there are a lot of bloggers out there reporting SARS much more thoroughly than I ever care to. Their blogs are at:
http://www.sinosplice.com/chinablogs.html

> \* “lockdown” meaning no one could enter leave or leave campus without special permission.
** “partial lockdown” meaning everyone can go out, but there is a strict curfew, and only those with proper ID can enter the school.

> -John

> P.S. I’m posting this correspondence to my blog. I’ll withhold your name and organization until you give me permission to include it.

I don’t want to say anything negative prematurely, but I get the distinct impression that reporters would much rather end the “story” on China blogs about SARS with a few quotes from me, not even reading any of the China blogs in my listing.

Share

John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Leave a Reply

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