Why I Do Media Interviews
I have recently just completed print and broadcast media interviews. For these interview requests, the first question over the telephone is something like: "Would you agree to be interviewed by us?" Implied in this request is that this would be an open interview, with the name and identity of the interviewee being disclosed and there would be no disguised voice, silhouette, mask or hood.
My answer: "Sure."
The answer was so easy that the questioner was probably taken aback somewhat.
Why should he/she be surprised?
The fact is that the EastSouthWestNorth blog has so far been run anonymously. The blogger does not identify himself. If someone follows the blog for a long time, it is possible to pick up bits and pieces of information (such as references to his job title, company, published papers, public speeches, newspaper articles, etc) to figure out who he is. But it is very hard work to do so.
Still, when a blogger is anonymous, there are two standard assumptions:
First, this is for employment-related reasons. But the EastSouthWestNorth blog does not refer much to what happens at the blogger's regular job -- there are no references to his managers, his co-workers, his clients or his job duties. In truth, the blogger has disclosed his extracurricular activities to three levels of management above him, and the opinion is that what he does in his spare time is his business. The name of the blogger may have been omitted since it could be a distraction at business meetings as when people waste time talking about this other thing. But the blogger does not get involved in any China-related business and his primary responsibilities are in the Americas. No, there are no issues here.
Second, there may be a fear of the speech police, for lack of a better description. The blogger travels between his two homes in the United States and Hong Kong, where there is freedom of speech, expression and press. He is not worried about anyone kicking in the front door in the middle of the night, throwing him in a black Maria and then disappearing him because of what he writes. With respect to China, EastSouthWestNorth has never been directly blocked (except for keyword filtering on specific pages). For example, it would be supremely ironic that when the EastSouthWestNorth blogger translates the statement from the Panyu district government about the happenings in that village in Guangdong, he would be blocked but the copy of his work would appear in China Daily nevertheless. No, there are no issues here.
So why the anonymity then?
How many times has the EastSouthWestNorth blogger asked his readers to READ THE TEXT. He puts out a document. The document exists on its own. He is asking the reader to read the document on its own terms. He is also asking the reader not to think about the original author or the translator. The document should be read in its own terms. If the reader cannot forget about the author (or the translator), then this is AUTHORITARIANISM (in the sense that it is the author that matters rather than the substance of the work) and we all know that AUTHORITARIANISM is BAD. Anonymity is therefore a way of forcing the reader to address and react to the text directly. Unfortunately, some people still get hung up about the blogger instead of the text. As I said, this is unfortunate. Read the text: if you think it is stupid, then you reject it by all means; if you think it makes sense, then it was productive. If you react instead to the author (or the translator) and ignore the text, then you are sadly missing the point.
Another reason for anonymity is that the EastSouthWestNorth blogger is not interested in building a brand name for himself. Otherwise his name would have been plastered all over the place. The raison d'Ítre for the blog is simple: the blogger reads a text, he thinks it's interesting and he brings it to the attention of the world (translating if necessary) for sharing. Is that so hard to understand? The precursor website (at the Central Park Track Club) was the same way: over more than seven years, unless the reader was very careful, he/she would never know who the webmaster of that fascinating website was.
That being the case, why am I doing media interviews now?
Upon information and belief, the media organizations found the blogger on their own. The blogger assumes that they must have their reasons for being interested. The blogger does not ask why, but he assumes some of these reasons may be:
Frankly, the blogger does not care. The blogger is a media researcher by profession. This means that he has lived and fed off the media through his entire career. As a matter of professional courtesy, he feels obliged to make it easier for the media organizations to do their jobs. Besides, this was not going to take a huge chunk of his time. If you show up and tell him what you want, he'll oblige; if you show up with a hidden agenda that you won't inform him about, he'll oblige too.
The EastSouthWestNorth blogger is aware that such encounters may result in distortions, misrepresentations, inaccuracies and so on. He accepts all that. He accepts that he will not preview the media reports, according to the standard rules. Previously, he has described his encounters with the media in this post: Media Accuracy and he concludes with this statement:
If I want everything done exactly the way that I want to, then there can be only one solution: do everything myself. But that would deprive others of seeing myself or what I do in a different light. Therefore, you are unlikely to hear me complain about what others say about me.
In the end, the blogger has found these recent experiences to be useful in that there are often questions that address issues that he never imagined before. For example, one month ago, he never thought carefully about how he would answer the question: "Would you agree to be interviewed by us?" Why would he worry about such an abstract and hypothetical question? And then one day, the telephone rang and the result led to this post. The blogger now thinks that he understands why the response "Sure" came out so easily ...