Quite a bit of truth in this, I bet:
Imagine you are the Shanghai correspondent of the Daily Blah, a large newspaper chain based out of New York. You are the guy who communicates to the world, through your writing, what it’s like to live in China. You are a 28-year-old graduate of Metropolis University’s School of Journalism and you live in a fairly nice one bedroom apartment with your iPad, MacBook Air, and as much bandwidth as you can pay for.
And yet, half of the time you jump on Google to check your Gmail or check the latest football scores, you can’t get through unless you log in to your VPN first. And forget about using the latest Chrome app to integrate Twitter with G+ or access Facebook to set up a photo gallery of pics from Grandma’s 90th birthday party — not without that VPN. And even then, the speed slows down to a crawl and you end up shouting at your laptop and pounding a beer just to rein in the frustration.
And then, your editor tells you to write something, anything, about China’s Internet policies. That article just might be affected by Net-related rage. Maybe.
It reminds me of Alex Cockburn’s description (in the Golden Age is in Us) of a conversation with his brother Patrick about reporting from the old Soviet Union back in the eighties:
I remember Patrick telling me that there was one hotel from which it was hard to make calls. Dispatches from journalists lodged there used to put heavy stress on Russia’s trechnlogical backwardness. Another - I think it was the National – was noted for the petty corruption of its waiters. From there would be filed stories about the moral collapse of the country. A third hotel was on the outskirts of town and journalists staying there would brood about the degree to which Moscow, and Mother Russia herself, were cut off from the mainstream of world history.
I think it’s at least arguable that the ongoing slow strangulation of VPN networks in China has contributed to the tone (obviously, not necessarily the content) of reporting from the country, and I wonder what would happen if the securocrats provided hacks with faster, freer access. Because after all, it’s pure twenty first century thinking that a country which provides one with a pleasant, friction free online experience must be generally getting better, whatever its current problems.