Most journalists will tell you that they don’t really like being interviewed themselves. I’m no different. Being in front of the camera for on-air reporting and being interviewed for a story are very different experiences.
About two hours ago I was interviewed by a local TV station in Harbin for a story on a Manchu singer with whom I’ve been traveling to visit elderly native Manchu speakers in the rural northeast. It was my first interview in Chinese – interesting, I’ll say.
But more interesting is how they conducted themselves. I’ve always been told that journalists in China are what they call “niu,” or proud and self-important, in part because they are government-sponsored and often weld a lot of power. Today I got to experience that.
The interview itself raised no alarms. It was short and simple, curt even. But that could have been just a matter of different social customs. I was much more concerned about their asking to use some of the footage I shot in the past weeks. Or rather, they asked the Manchu singer to ask me a couple days ago, and didn’t really approach the subject with me in person. A little common courtesy would have been nice.
Typically in these types of situations, the footage would have been sold as freelancing b-roll. And in this case, since I have not yet produced my documentary, I usually probably would have said no. However, as a thank-you to the singer for taking the time to help introduce me to the native Manchu speakers, who are the most essential parts of my documentary, I said yes. I did ask for a “Courtesy of” sign in the finished piece; they almost didn’t want to do that.
As I pulled together some b-roll (they’re doing a 7-minute piece), the reporter came up to me and asked me how I was going to give him the footage. I asked if he had a flash drive. He said no and said he assumed I had a DVD to burn the video onto. Why yes, of course I knew weeks in advance and brought a blank DVD with me just for you. For me, that was utterly unprofessional to ask someone for a favor and not come prepared.
Right now the reporter, photographer and all the other sources are all out to lunch and booze in the middle of the day. It must be quite a leisurely life as a reporter here. And I guess schmoozing is sometimes just another part of their news gathering.
Just a little brush with journalism in China.