Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Guerilla Tactics

This week reporters are taking a breather after the 10-day marathon of covering the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

While many news organizations tried to map out strategies for their mostly rookie reporters, even the best of plans didn't guarantee getting quotes or soundbites from deputies and officials.

A friend told me today about his first-time experience covering the liang hui, or two sessions.

Every Chinese province camps out in one of the hotels in Beijing. This is where the representative officials not only stay, but also discuss government policies and issues pertaining to the area. Every morning my friend had to go to the hotel and try to get a comment from these officials.

He only had a few options: when they came down from their hotel rooms to the meeting halls; when they finished meeting; when they went out for a cigarette or bathroom break.

The last time the two sessions were held, some media even dared to follow these deputies into the loo which crossed the line of privacy.

While it wasn't difficult to surround these officials as soon as they emerged, getting them to say something was even harder.

These government types really have their game down. Most of the time they'd say, "No comment". Or they'd disarm reporters by saying, "My, you've been working so hard. Why don't you come and have a picture with us." What cub reporter wouldn't want his photo taken with a senior government official so they could tell the grandchild later?

One tactic my friend used was to try and memorize faces with names and their titles. It worked one time when he correctly identified one by name which impressed the official, but he didn't get much farther than that when trying to get a question answered.

My friend was quite impressed though, watching his Hong Kong counterpart at work.

Armed with a video camera on her right shoulder and a microphone in her left hand, she confronted a PLA official over the Chinese and US incident in the South China Seas last week.

Like a machine gun she shot out one question after another, not even waiting to see if he'd respond. He was so annoyed by her attack, but then because she was so relentless, he eventually gave in, even though it was not quite the answer she was looking for.

My friend quickly learned that he was the predator seeking out his prey and that persistence pays off. Watching her get the story only fueled his desire to continue this cat and mouse game.

China needs more people like him, hungry to find and tell the truth.

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