The Social Reporter's Internal Notes
(ReporterHome) The Internal Notes of My Experience as Society Reporter. By Li Zhigang (李志刚).
I began to work as a social reporter in Shenzhen in October. Previously, I worked as an editor/reporter at Southern Sports Daily for four to five years, during which time I did some nationally important investigations and profiles. But this was my first stint in social news. In less than 3 months, I feel that I have learned a great deal. My biggest asset is my ability to communicate with all sorts of people, ranging from provincial-level cadres to common people. I can mix with all with them. In the following, I want to talk about how I deal with various types of people. There are the joys of success, the lessons from the defeats and the frustrations that I encountered during my work.
Let me summarize the people that I deal with most often during my period in Shenzhen: the police, migrant workers, security guards and village officials.
As a news reporter who covers suddenly breaking incidents, it is natural that I should be dealing with the police most often. More than 70% of the suddenly breaking incidents involve dealing with the police. From the various incidents and situations, I learned three things about how to deal with the police.
1. When I gather information, I have used the indirect approach by slowly teasing out useful information from the police. The police are presently very strict about controlling their people at the police stations. The city public security bureau requires any interviewing at the police stations to have the approval of the public security bureau. At the scene of a suddenly breaking incident, the police are usually from the local station. If the regulations are followed, the story would have gone cold by the time that permission is granted to speak to the police. So the urgency of the situation requires the reporter to extract the information in the quickest time from the policemen on the job. But direct questions are normally declined by the police. Therefore, it is necessary to use an indirect approach.
On the afternoon of December 17, there was a death at the Yousong Market in Longhua district. I was off duty that day, but we did not have enough manpower and therefore my supervisor asked me to go there. By the time that I arrived, it was 5pm. The police had already cleaned up the scene and the deceased had been taken away. I spoke to the eyewitnesses about what happened and I realized that the crucial information was with the police. What is to be done? I went to the Yousong police station. I realized that if I asked the police what happened or the cause of death, the police will not answer.
At the time, I did not even have time to think and so I asked a policeman on duty at the station: "I heard that the deceased was murdered by someone?" The policeman jumped up in shock and tried to dispel the rumor quickly: "You reporters had better not make up stories. He was not murdered. Based upon the information that we gathered at the scene, he was a drug addict and it is likely that he died from an overdose." "Is that so? But the people at the market told me that this man was in a fight with some other people?" I quickly asked. "It was not a murder. Please do not make up some news story about murder over a woman or revenge for some past wrongs. Let me tell you -- the scene was like this. The deceased was emaciated and his skin was waxy yellow. These are the classical symptoms for a drug addict. It is not unusual for drug addicts to die from sudden overdoses." "So will the body be cremated?" I asked again. "No, no. The police cannot that without the consent of the family of the deceased. Besides the cause of death has not been established with 100% certainly yet. We found an ID card on him and we have contacted his family. They will be here tomorrow. If the family agrees, the medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the true cause of death." The policeman responded immediately. Towards the end, the policeman suddenly woke up: "You are trying to get me to talk? Sorry, you must have departmental permission to interview me." But after those questions were asked and answered, the reporter has already found out everything that he needed to know. The reporter then left the station. This is not a fictional story, because the photographer Hu Ke was with me at the time and he witnessed how I questioned the policeman.
2. I investigate the facts of the case first and then ask the police for confirmation after I have obtained the ironclad evidence. In the early morning of October 24, there was a case in which a policeman pointed a gun at the head of a security guard and the police also allowed thugs to assault the security guards. This occurred in Nanshui village in Shekou Street Office area. If I had proceeded directly to ask the police, I would be turned away with 100% certainty. I could not interview the thugs and I am not able to interview the police for now. So I went down to Nanshui village to learn what had happened. Among the three principal parties (the thugs, the police and the security guards), I can only interview the security guard. But I needed to gather some peripheral information first. I went to the village and questioned the village residents and the business operators. I learned that Nanshui village is famous as the village with the best security, with the lowest crime rate in the Shekou Street Office area. The villagers and the business operators said that the thugs cannot come to the village. A while ago, someone tried to install slot machines and set up a gambling den, but the security guards ousted them. After learning this, I began to speak the security guards in a surprise visit. I did not ask all of them at the same time. I asked them one at a time, so that they gave their individual answers. I questioned seven or eight of the security guards and I basically got the gist of the story. In addition, there was a surveillance camera in Nanshui village which recorded the assault. I asked for and obtained a copy of the video.
After obtaining the evidence, I went down to the Shekou police station. Of course, I did not get any response. Then I went to the Nanshan public security bureau office. A leader at the command center told me that the facts were not consistent with the allegations of the security guards. But when I said that I had some very strong evidence (namely, the videotape), this leader quickly changed his tone and said, "A misunderstanding. A misunderstanding." He also told me some facts about the case and he said that the police present at the scene are now being investigated by the supervisors at the public security bureau.
The news report did not get published for the reasons that everybody knows about, but I had gathered strong evidence and the police acknowledged their mistake. I was proud of the news gathering.
3. I can go to them directly. If I cannot get anything indirectly and the matter is complicated or still ongoing, then there is no choice but to deal with them directly. At 9pm on November 7, I was working the night shift. Migrant workers were assaulted in Gangxia by the Gangxia village security guards. There were multiple injuries, including four serious ones. This was a bad incident. When I got there, the scene was very chaotic. The place was flooded with several hundred migrant workers and village residents. Many people provided me with information. The police were also there. The security guards involved in the incident had already left. This was a complicated situation, and I thought that it would be less productive and more demanding to use any other channel but the police. The seriously injured people had been taken to the hospital. The police were concerned that there might be deaths and so they were going to the hospital to check on the conditions of the victims. As the police cars left, I got into a police car. When the reporter says that he wants to visit the injured persons, the police would not want to refuse. So I followed the police around as they checked the various local hospitals. By the time that the police finished their investigative work, I had learned a lot about the case. That was a very good cooperative project with the police. Those policemen were all very polite.
2. Migrant Workers
Shenzhen is a city with a large number of migrant workers, and the reporter often has to deal with them. Migrant workers are socially vulnerable. From the humanitarian point of view, the reporter should be protecting the rights of socially vulnerable people. But I feel that a reporter should not be concerned about who is strong or weak. Instead, the reporter must assume a neutral position, without listening only to the stories of the migrant workers because they happen to be vulnerable. I did several reports on behalf of the rights of the migrant workers. For example, "3 million yuan bounced check caused migrant workers to show up and demand payment" (October 12), "No labor contract: Industrial injury still requires factory to pay compensation" (October 18), "Gangxia migrant workers assaulted by security guards; four seriously injured" (November 27) and so on. But it is not true that the vulnerable people are always right. On December 8, I went to the Haiyi Dongfang Garden in Nanshan district to investigate a case in which a migrant worker working on interior decoration was assaulted by security guards. I went first to the hospital, and discovered that the injuries were not as serious as the migrant workers made out to be (namely, just a drop of blood on the ear." Then I went to the site of the building and the security guard captain and the security guards on duty gave me the details: that migrant worker had an expired site pass and he personally altered the expiration date himself. So he was stopped at the gate by the security guard. When he tried to barge in, there was a tussle. But the security guard captain said that the man was not assaulted, but the migrant worker said he was. I also checked with the tipster as well as building residents and they also told me that a migrant worker wanted to barge in but the security guard stopped him. Then came some pushing and shoving. Finally, I got to see that expired pass with the altered date. This showed that the migrant workers was being unreasonable. Therefore, my report did not favor the migrant worker just because the group was socially vulnerable.
3. Security Guards
There are good security guards and then there are bad ones. Based upon my experience in gathering news, most security guards are good people (or else Shenzhen would be in total chaos). There were several stories in which I came into close contact with security guards. The first case was the security guards who were assaulted in Nanshui. They were the victims. The second case was on November 1, when a security guard was squeezed twice in the testicles by a woman, resulting in a painfully swollen injury. The security guard was also a victim. The third case was the Gangxia security guards. They were very bad people. The fourth case was the security guards at Shexia who were very good at maintaining security at the village. The reporter played the role of a passerby and chatted with the security guards to obtain the information. Sometimes, one gets more lively material when one does not reveal oneself as a reporter. The fifth case was the Zhao Xinxian affair. On December 13, I and photographer Hu Ke were dispatched to gather information at Sanjiu Recreational City in Maluan village, Pingshan town, Longgang. I identified myself as a reporter and the security guard refused to let me in. Then the idea came to me quickly and I said that I came from the newspaper to ask about using the golf course to stage a mass event. The security guard said that construction has halted at the golf course. So I asked whether I could be allowed for a simple visit, and the security guard still said no. I asked if he could take me to see the golf course because I really wanted to see it now that I am here. So, using the excuse of organizing a mass event, I got the security guard to take me on a tour of the golf course. I learned the basic facts and then I left.
Concerning the Sanjiu Recreational City, I should mention what I encountered during the visit. On that day, I and Hu Ke went out to the sparsely inhabited Maluan village and we ended in the wrong place. We thought that a farm that with a padlocked iron gate was the Sanjiu Recreational City. We climbed over the wall and entered. On the way out, we encountered a dozen or so wolfhound dogs on the way. It was around 8pm. The dogs were barking at us. I and Hu Ke were very nervous. I kept telling Hu Ke: "Don't run; if you run, you will get a chunk bitten out of your behind." We stood our ground against the dogs for around 10 minutes and then we slowly moved to the wall and climbed out. When I got to the outside, I found out that I was soaked in cold sweat. The point of telling you this is to say that reporters come across all sorts of situations. You must react accordingly. (If we had started to run at the time, we would end up fighting with the dogs. I had been bitten by a dog when I was young. I know that when a dog is barking, I must never run. If I run, the dog will bite my behind.)
4. Village Officials
I came into contact with village officials. The first was the party secretary that I interviewed about the Shexia community. The second was the Gangxia village official that I interviewed after the Gangxia security guards assaulted the migrant workers. The third was the village mayor of the Xinchuan community in the Pinghu Street Office area. Good village officials such as the one in Shexia are easy to interview. In the case of the Shexia assault on the migrant workers by the security guards, the village official was clearly protecting the security guards. But once the facts come out, it is irrelevant what the village official says. The most difficult case was the one about the village mayor of the Xinchuan community in the Pinghu Street Office selling public lands for private gains. It is obviously somewhat sensitive to interview the village mayor. On that day, several reporters had learned enough about the case from the periphery. The last bastion that we had to conquer was the village mayor named Li Xiaomin, who has the nickname of "Big Idiot." To finish this report, we could not avoid speaking to "Big Idiot." Previous to that, the villagers told the reporters: "Big Idiot has a foul temper. You better watch out in case he gets mad. He also keeps a pack of wolfhound dogs at his home." The reporters went to see Big Idiot with some anxiety. When we saw him, we realized that he looked exactly like the Hong Kong actor Cheng Kui'an (成奎安), whose nickname is ... Big Idiot.
I asked Big Idiot, "The villagers said that you sold the village land, but we don't believe it. Is this really true?" Big Idiot was taken aback and said immediately: "I did not sell any land. I only rented them out." I followed up: "The villagers say that they have evidence that you sold the land. Do you have proof that you are renting the land out?" Big Idiot was hesitating and so I followed up: "If you cannot show the evidence, then the news report will be unfavorable to you." Big Idiot immediately got nervous and opened a cabinet to take out a pile of contracts. "You see. The contracts are all about rentals. There is no mention of sale anywhere." I took a closer look: Isn't this admitting your own guilt? The rental contracts all refer to terms of 50 years or even 70 years. Isn't this another form of selling land? According to the relevant regulations about selling collective land in Guangdong rural villages, any rental lease longer than 30 years needs the consent of more than two-thirds of the villagers. But Big Idiot did it all with a wave of his own pen.