Internet Resources for Doing Business Journalism in China

This is a post about my presentation at Financial Media Institute 2011, held by Hong Kong Baptist University’s journalism school last month. You may find the slides and my talking points below.

Imagine you just got an assignment from your editor on a business story. However you found the internet is down. You are disconnected from the internet. What would you do?

The students in the Financial Media Institute 2011 has obviously never really thought of this question – they suggested different ways including calling for help, going out of the house, etc. But getting connected is the ultimate solution.

That makes sense, and here is the point: internet resource is already part of the daily work of journalists and editors. The question is how to be better equipped, so that reporters can get the stories done more efficiently and vividly. Some steps are FYI. Remember that technology updates just too fast that this post might be outdate just 30 days later.

1. FIND DATA

It is always too late to find the relevant data when you need it. So keep the important databases in your bookmark, and review them from now and then. To get you started with some of the most-used databases and directories in HK and China, try these (thanks to Irene Jay Liu for introducing some of them to me):

–          Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department is a one-stop shop for government statistics on economic indicators, demographics, health, labor, and many other areas.

–          Hong Kong Exchange: Warehouse of information for companies listed in Hong Kong, including interim and annual reports, and required disclosures such as acquisitions of more than 15 per cent of a company, change of senior executives.

–          Webb-site: An independent website that tracks HK company disclosures, news and other events. A good place to start, but it is always good practice to check back with the original source.

2. FIND PEOPLE

Hong Kong enjoys the advantage of required information transparency, while China is more lacking behind with unpublicized data in most the sectors. However, even with HK’s public data, it is always suggested to double check the data before you use them in your story. And it is never a good idea to directly citing press release or any government reports, because you never know how the interpretations are made, and if any dark side of the story is faked or disguised.

So after you find more about the company that you are reporting, the next step is to figure out who are the power brokers. Here are some databases to start with:

–          Renlifang: a search engine to explore relationships in China, which automatically summarizes the Web for entities (such as people, locations and organizations) with a modest web presence. It has fancy visualization, but Microsoft also clearly knows its limitations, as said on its website:

The prototype currently only contains information extracted from 1 billion Chinese public Web pages, therefore it is possible that some information for people with a substantial Web presence is still missing in our index;

Some names and relationships could be incorrect, and the information may not be update-to-date;

Name disambiguation is still largely unsolved. Some people with popular/common names may find that their information has been mixed with other people of the same name;

Some of the summarization features are currently only available for people. We are currently working on these for other entities.

–          WhoRunsHK: an interactive project of the South China Morning Post that maps the connections among the most influential people and organisations in Hong Kong. You may check out this video how SCMP used this database to write up the story on Stanley Ho’s family saga. This project is not actively updated after Jan 2011, but still worth exploring.

–          GlobalExperts: this is where you can get someone to comment, a free online resource of opinion leaders who provide quick reactions and accurate analysis to journalists worldwide on complex political, social and religious issues and crises.

3. TELL BETTER STORIES

Now that assume you get the story already. What is the next? You may of course turn that into one 300-word quick business story, or one 8000-word feature story on all the dirty details. But what if your reader only have 10 minutes, and how can you present your key information that is easy to digest, and even attract another 10-min attention? Visualization is an easy way to start, and there are tons of free tools available.

–          Google Public Data Explorer makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate. As introduced by Google, “students, journalists, policy makers and everyone else can play with the tool to create visualizations of public data, link to them, or embed them in their own webpages”.

–          ManyEyes lets you upload data and visualize it using a wide variety of interesting displays: maps, word trees, tag clouds, tree maps, bubble charts, matrix charts, network diagrams, etc. Here you can check out the China-related data visualization.

–          Tableau Public (Windows only): Another free data visualization tool that help you create interactive visualizations and embed it in your website or share it. Here is an example story: China leads the world in renewable energy investment: They provide clear tutorial on how to use.

FINALLY: SHARPEN YOUR SKILLS

Non-stop self-education is the key in this information-overloaded, technology-savvy world. There are all sorts of self-learning sites, while IJNet is one of the best of them. And you should always stay with the community by being connected on social media, so that you will at least realize that you are out: once you realize that, don’t panic, just shout, get help and share ideas, finally you’ll come up with some great stories.

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