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Chinese investigative journalism in the digital age: Perspectives from Beijing

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2020
Number of pages295
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


As news production worldwide has been experiencing challenges from technological developments, this thesis looks at the gatekeeping practices of Chinese investigative journalists in the digital age. Prior to examining their practices, drawing on interviews with 25 investigative journalists and my field engagement in Beijing, I find that this journalistic group is in an ongoing transition regarding who they are. In this thesis, I first analyze Chinese investigative journalists in terms of their perception of their role, social contributions they make, the quality and circulation of investigative reporting
and contrast with daily journalists. Second, I emphasize that the nuanced changes observed from the variances among journalists, in terms of how they think and what they do are at individual and organizational level, driven by an aggregated force from their interactions, struggles, confrontations and negotiations with digital media and the public engagement and consumption of information. Amid this entangled status, I argue the impact from the public use of digital media on investigative journalism is more prominent and complicated than any other political or economic factors during my field exploration, and sufficiently powerful to rival the political controls on news production in China. This can be identified from the selection and processing of raw information into investigative reporting among journalists.

Situated in media sociology studies, this thesis engages with gatekeeping
studies to unpack how Chinese investigative journalists approach, process and select raw information and turn it into news in the digital age. I highlight the impact from the public on journalistic practices regarding selecting what to cover based on the news agenda on digital media, and how they approach sources and choose what to verify in the vast pool of online information. This research takes field experience as the departure of my argumentation and then, I re-engage with gatekeeping studies.

More importantly, this research concentrates on examining the procedures and
key concerns proposed by journalists when they deal with raw information in a nonwestern context. I reach the conclusion that the prevalence of digital media in China increases the tension between the Party-state, journalism and the public. In response, this thesis complicates the understanding of Chinese investigative journalism that journalism in China is also vulnerable to other non-state factors in this age. This thesis suggests that journalism in non-western context should be examined taking the field as the point of departure and then theorized critically.