Did NZ news media get the memo about Asia?

December 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

I had an epiphany the day Paul the Octopus died. When @pmigone, an NZPA journalist I follow, tweeted news of his passing, I relayed her tweet to my followers. Pulpi Paul, as he was known in the Spanish language media, had become a feature of the World Cup. I – along with many football and even non-football followers – had developed a strange fondness for the clammy eight-legged sea creature.

But the epiphany came later in the day. On a visit to NZPA, @pmigone turned from her computer and thanked me for retweeting her tweet and we laughed about our Twitter connection. Then as I stepped out of Newspaper House, across the road I saw reviewer @danslevin marching up Boulcott Street. What Twitter had told me just prior was that he was on his way to Radio New Zealand to critique the latest John LeCarre novel.

It struck me then that Twitter in that hyper-local setting had the quality of augmented reality. When I run into members of my local Twitter community, I will often have seen their latest updates. There are of course limits to just how much you might want to know about someone’s activities but to see a local Twitter network, ostensibly a virtual network, translate into a physical real world network was for me a powerful moment.

This hyper-local function is one of the reasons I adore Twitter. The other reason is to do with being connected to a boundless global network. In my professional role, it is important that I connect and engage with journalists and the news media. Twitter is one of the tools that help me do my job.

Staying on top of news and commentary out of Asia is one of the reasons why Twitter and other forms of social media are valuable to me professionally. That’s why I follow journalists and bloggers around the world – and especially in key Asian countries – to get a heads-up on interesting issues, news, discussions and observations.

Asia is fast becoming the world’s most important regional economy and its influence is projected to grow dramatically. The most talked-about aspect of this is the breakneck pace of modernisation, urbanisation and industrialisation we see in India and China today.

Using Twitter to trace the output of journalists, news media and bloggers who provide insight and evidence on big news stories means the geographical limitation of being based at the bottom of the South Pacific is less of a handicap.

There have been some tremendous stories out of Asia this year. There has been the violent Red Shirt protests in Bangkok, the freeing of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat by the Japanese coastguard over a contentious sea border, the scrap between the Koreas, the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, the Commonwealth Games in India and the recent United States charm offensive to bolster its strategic position in the region in respect to China.

Underpinning these news stories coming out of Asia is one major trend: How the global financial crisis is accelerating the shift in the world’s raw economic clout away from Europe and the United States and instead, towards Asia. American economist Larry Summers said the dramatic modernisation of the Asian economies ranks alongside the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution as one of the most important developments in economic history.

It stands to reason that China has become a focal point of my professional (and for that matter, personal) interest in Asia and I’m fascinated by how predictions of China’s rise are now coming to pass.

Twitter allows me to connect to China watchers such as @adamminter, @eosnos, @markmackinnon, @melissakchan, @taniabranigan, @tomlasseter, @isaac, @raykwong, @jossailin and many others who are using VPNs to scale China’s Firewall. Websites like @danwei, @chinasmack, @shanghaiist, @asiasentinel, @cmphku and @chinadialogue are also formidably instructive.

I can keep in touch with the day-to-day, week-to-week events that are indicative of China’s transformation into the Asian superpower that is grabbing the world’s attention. Here’s an example: a social media marketing effort by Air New Zealand which I discovered on Twitter

I now get my information from a much wider range of sources, many of them strictly old school journalistic, but many of them bloggers and commentators with demonstrable credibility but who aren’t ‘journalists’ in the traditional industry model. I don’t need to depend only on the orthodox news media to keep me informed.

I might be in a minority now but I’d like to think there will be more of us who feel this way, because our news media is generally failing to reflect the region’s significance to our small Pacific economy. World stories appear to be chosen through a Eurocentric lens with an Anglophone tint.

The fact is, Twitter now shames many of our news content providers. There’s an evident disconnect from where we as a country are located on an atlas (clue – Asia, to our north and west and looming). As Asian countries increasingly become the economic lifeblood of this country, the news media is heading in the opposite direction, framing Asia uncomprehendingly in coverage that fails to reflect the region’s critical place in an emerging world order.

That’s one reason why I love Twitter. I say this with respect to many of my journalist friends who conscientiously and accurately work reporting domestic stories but when it comes to overseas news, I now have a way that allows me to cut out the middleman, the news seller peddling weirdly out-of-touch news judgment exercised by people with a quaintly obsolete world view.

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