An editorial from Timothy Garton Ash in the Los Angeles Times does a nice job discussing whether there is any truth to this idea:
As you could guess from the frequency that I update this blog, I'm a hardcore China news junkie. I'm fascinated with China and what goes on in the country on a daily basis. There is no other country on the planet that has as many contradictions and nuances as China. It's really a joy for me to try to figure the place out.
Photo found on currybet.net
In China, there is a widespread belief that Western media give a distorted picture of what's happening there. There's some truth in this, but it's not for the reasons that Chinese Communist Party members or nationalist "netizens" imagine.
However, this slant is not because of "anti-China" policy or prejudice. Hard as it may be for many Chinese to believe -- because their own media reflect the policy of their party-state -- Western governments have almost nothing to do with it. The cause lies in the West's commercial news business, which is going through one of those "gales of creative destruction" that Joseph Schumpeter saw to be characteristic of capitalism.
As they compete fiercely for readers and viewers, mainstream Western media tend to stick with stories that are familiar and interesting to them.
Yes, their news stories on China's domestic politics tend to the sensational and the negative -- so do their stories about the domestic politics of their own countries. Those who edit and select these stories are just following the market-oriented rules of their trade: If it bleeds, it leads. Good news is no news. "Many Chinese city-dwellers moderately content with rising standard of living" is not a headline that would sell many papers.
The real problem with China coverage in the mainstream Western media is not its negativity; it's simply that there's too little of it, given the growing importance of China and the fact that Chinese culture and society is so different from ours.
Read the entire article
One of the strange things about my China blog is that I rarely quote Chinese news sources. Nearly everything on here is from western media outlets. As an outsider, I'm using outsiders' writings on China to get to the heart of what is China. It's very strange.
The reason I can't quote Chinese newspapers very often is, of course, because of China's state-run media. Everything it prints comes with approval from above. Aside from not getting the important stories in the country, Chinese news outlets are mind-numbingly boring.
So it's just a fact of life that my reading of China on a daily basis and what I present on my blog (aside from the perspective I share based on my day-to-day life in Xi'an) depends on good journalism from western media outlets.
Overall, I'm pleased with the China news available. Agencies like Reuters, AFP, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Bloomberg, and a few others are getting a good pulse on China.
In a country as large and populated as China, there are going to be stories missed and mistakes made. Undoubtedly, China is a hard place to cover. But when I compare what I read from these sources to what I see and hear "on the ground" in Xi'an, I feel like there is a solid connection between reality and the things said about China in the western media. These outlets are doing well.
I'm worried about the current collapse of newspapers and the news industry though.
Bill Simmons, a wildly popular columnist from ESPN, has been talking about the death of newspapers a lot recently in his columns and on his podcasts. He's talked a lot about newspapers' problems in terms of sports coverage, but I believe what he's been talking about goes deeper than just sports coverage.
He has a nice section in his column from today about the mysterious end to Boston Celtics' forward Kevin Garnett's season:
There's a hidden sub-story lurking here: It involves the fall of newspapers, lack of access and the future of reporting, not just with sports but with everything. I grew up reading Bob Ryan, who covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe and remains the best basketball writer alive to this day. Back in the 1970s and early '80s, he was overqualified to cover the team. In 1980, he would have sniffed out the B.S. signs of this KG story, kept pursuing it, kept writing about it, kept working connections and eventually broken it. True, today's reporters don't get the same access Ryan had, but let's face it: If 1980 Bob Ryan was covering the Celtics right now, ESPN or someone else would lure him away. And that goes for the editors, too. The last two sports editors during the glory years of the Globe's sports section were Vince Doria and Don Skwar ... both of whom currently work for ESPN.Informed people need quality journalism. China, which is covered domestically by state-run media, needs stories and information flowing out of the country from the foreign press.
For the past few years, as newspapers got slowly crushed by myriad factors, a phalanx of top writers and editors fled for the greener pastures of the Internet. The quality of nearly every paper suffered, as did morale. Just two weeks ago, reports surfaced that the New York Times Company (which owns the Globe) was demanding $20 million in union concessions or it'd shut down the Globe completely. I grew up dreaming of writing a sports column for the Globe; now the paper might be gone before I turn 40. It's inconceivable. But this Garnett story, and how it was (and wasn't) covered, reminds me of "The Wire," which laid out a blueprint in Season 5 for the death of newspapers without us fully realizing it. The season revolved around the Baltimore Sun and its inability (because of budget cuts and an inexperienced staff) to cover the city's decaying infrastructure. The lesson was inherent: We need to start caring about the decline of newspapers, because, really, all hell is going to break loose if we don't have reporters breaking stories, sniffing out corruption, seeing through smoke and mirrors and everything else. That was how Season 5 played out, and that's why "Wire" creator David Simon is a genius. He saw everything coming before anyone else did.
If quality journalism starts fading away, the world as a whole is going to be a much more dangerous place.