What makes it news? If it’s new, interesting or newsworthy, says veteran journalist Terril Yue Jones
Updated: Oct 16
By MICHELLE NG
Global Business Journalism reporter
Is it new, interesting or newsworthy?
That is the question journalists should ask themselves when covering stories or issues in China and around the world, veteran reporter Terril Yue Jones told journalism students at Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication on Sept. 28.
“Something new, you can write about it. Something interesting, you can write about it. If it’s newsworthy, you write it. If it’s a [combination of] two or three of these points, it’ll be so much better,” said Jones, who is a professor of international journalism at Claremont McKenna College's Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies.
“But if it’s neither interesting nor useful, it’s not necessarily a story,” he said in his lecture titled China’s Economy and Leadership: A view from abroad.
Citing the oft-quoted expression of "if it bleeds, it reads,” Jones said stories about fighting and wars are always going to be big stories for media outlets because conflict captures eyeballs.
But Jones cautioned against writing only sensational stories — or what he said a British reporter once referred to as “Big Bad Weird” — especially when it comes to complex, globally significant issues like China’s economy.
“China is full of big stories," he said. "China has its own share of bad stories — pollution, toxic foods, corruptions, natural disasters — simply because it’s so big and there are so many people."
However, the same can also be said for any countries with a large population such as India, which recently overtook China as the world’s most populous country, or major states such as Florida in the United States, he added.
Before becoming a professor, Jones had an illustrious journalism career for more than three decades. He wasa foreign and business correspondent and editor for Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, Forbes magazine, and The Associated Press.
Tapping his experience on covering diplomacy and technology with a specialization in Asia, Mr. Jones said it pays to look for what he calls the “contrarian angle” — that is, the alternative angle to the most obvious or common narrative.
“As a journalist, you should always look at alternatives to the story, not just what everybody is saying and what you’ve been hearing,” he said.
Look beyond conventional wisdom
Recalling his three years at Forbes magazine, Jones said they actively looked for the “contrarian angle” to keep stories fresh as the magazine was published every two weeks, instead of the typically daily news cycle.
“While everyone else was talking about the business, economy, companies and jobs, our job was to sit at the back of the room and say ‘Hey, wait a minute, says who? Who says what you’re saying and why are people saying that?’” he said.
At a time when headlines are changing so quickly, it pays to consider if the media is overstating the negatives and not looking at the positive side, he added.
“That's one of the drawbacks of the Western media — that it's driven by headlines driven by scoops and what is the news of today,” said Jones.
While chasing the “contrarian angle,” remaining objective in one’s reporting is still of utmost importance, he stressed.
Noting that journalists show bias all the time by deciding what questions to ask, what information to include and not include in their article, Jones said it is important to let data and statistics speak for themselves.
“I tell my students to not use loaded adjectives or [insert] your position [in the story] because it sounds utopian, even if it's true and even if everybody agrees with you. Don’t be the one to say it,” he said.
“Remain as neutral as possible and let people speak for themselves.”