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Science & Technology ... ...
    Online, all the time
2005-07-11 06:51

Xu Zhibin is a news hunter. But he works for neither a TV/radio station nor a newspaper/magazine.

He reports news for Internet company Sina Corp and is thrilled with online news reporting.

"It's boring to work for traditional media where news is disseminated so slowly," he says. "I feel proud when my online news reports are published much quicker."

Xu had worked for some traditional media before joining Sina Corp, which now is one of the most influential media among the Chinese community globally.

There have been a lot of discussions, predictions and even hype about online news in the past years; and only some of the forecasts have turned into reality.

But compared to Western countries, online news is having a much more far-reaching impact in China where the society is amid a transformation and people are becoming more and more information-thirsty.

In China, many office workers begin the day by reading news on Sina's "news channel" after they turn on their computers. And many set the channel as the main page of their Internet Explorers.

"Sina is the media Chinese people rely on most now," says Chen Tong, senior vice-president of Sina Corp. "And compared to Westerners, Chinese people rely more on online media."

He says the reason is very simple: China's print and broadcasting media is not developed enough.

Sina scored big successes in comprehensively covering the Kosovo war, the Taiwan earthquake, China's WTO accession, the Sydney Olympics and the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"Our news channel is updated around the clock," Chen says.

Sina was the first media outlet to report the US military's bombing of China's embassy in Yugoslavia. And it published the news nine minutes after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the first response by a Chinese media organization to the tragedy.

A combination of pictures, text stories, short videos and hyperlinks are attracting news seekers; and that is applying much pressure on traditional media.

Online news reporters such as Xu also run live coverage of some major seminars, news conferences and other big events.

"Such live coverage has a fairly big impact in the media industry," Chen says.

For example, Sina hires stenotypists to record the events and put what speakers said on its news channel.

That does not mean online reporters such as Xu sit idly. They still do interviews, summarize the events and publish the most important information as news stories online.

"Live coverage of major events is what we are very good at," Chen says.

"TV stations are simply not willing to have live coverage as the event could be either important or unimportant."

And that means the online audience can find exactly what the speakers said at the events or search the archives at any time.

Also, online news reporters conduct live face-to-face interviews with business executives or celebrities. All the questions and answers in the form of unedited text appear on the Web live. And Internet users can also ask questions and watch live videos.

"In terms of interactive features, traditional media is not comparable with online media such as Sina," Chen says.

Readers of Sina news can also leave messages with their comments.

Sina and rivals and, all listed on NASDAQ, grabbed much attention in recent months when they collected online signatures from tens of millions of Chinese against Japan's bid for a permanent seat on an enlarged Security Council in the United Nations.

Sina also has more than 300 editors collecting material from most of the media outlets in the country.

Chen says Sina pays high fees for republishing news from traditional media. But ironically, an increasing number of newspapers are now relying more and more on Sina to be better known. An online republishing is the best way to reach a bigger audience while saving printing costs.

One of the best benefits the Sina news channel brings to the firm is that it creates a big brand among China's ever-rising Internet population.

And financially, Sina news channel is the major contributor of ad revenues for Sina Corp, Chen says.

"For the Sina news channel alone, the profit margin is fairly good," he said. and have been playing catch-up with Sina, eying the boom created by the online news reporting.

But it's hard to displace Sina from its well-entrenched position, boasts Chen.

"For example, our sports news channel has a market share three times bigger than our closest rival," he says.

"And that's the most influential media outlet, only second to the CCTV, in the sports industry."

State-owned CCTV is the country's largest TV station.

Online news reporting has largely failed to live up to its promise elsewhere but in China, it did.

However, it may take some time for online news reporters to get as mature as veterans at traditional media.

"We are competing on speed," says Xu. "Sometimes we just do it too quickly and do not have enough time to completely validate some news. And most online news reporters are young."

Chen said when recruiting online news reporters and editors, Sina requires broader knowledge, better foreign language ability and a good mastery of the Internet as a working tool.

That means most online news reporters and editors are young peoople who can rapidly adapt to the Internet society.

And some policy issues could potentially thwart the development of online news reporting in China. The government has never officially given the green light to the online news reporting, especially to commercial media.

Online news publishing of specialized topics such as stocks, IT, entertainment and the like need not a licence but vaguely-defined regulations always pose a risk.

Another potential competitor to online news reporting is blogging, a form of individualized online writing of news and personal journals, as well as RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

The RSS format allows quick and easy syndication of news, headlines, and more. RSS keeps Internet surfers up to date with the latest news, tools, resources and developments of this widely supported specification.

An increasing number of people in China are now using blogs and RSS to read news. And some people in the industry forecast such new technologies will fundamentally change the way Internet users read the news and how the news is distributed.

But Chen dismisses the challenge.

"Blogs and RSS remain something like concepts which have yet to take shape," he said. "It's too early to say blogs and RSS will be a fad."

But Sina will be closely watching any new technology which could potentially bring changes to the industry, he notes.

Sina is already doing some tests of the beta version of its own blogging services.

But that does not necessarily mean that Sina will give full support to blogs and RSS.

"Some people are drumming up such technologies just for attracting venture capital. And some people are just wishing such technologies will bring new changes to the Internet industry," Chen says.

(China Daily 07/11/2005 page8)


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