Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Future of Journalism

If you want to see the future of journalism, look no further than Brian Stuy. Brian runs Research-china.org in which he researches information for parents of children adopted from China to find out a bit more information. Items such as photos of finding places, foster parents, etc.

In his travels he has uncovered quite a bit of information and has become an information source for many such parents (including myself).

His posts sometimes elicit anger, sometimes compassion and we all know his bias, but he also shows his readers the cards, showing his figures and thought process, then letting others also add their own view to the conversation.

A recent post done in resonse to an idiotic comment in Parade Magazine is a good case in point. He finds the figures to back up his assertions, not jut relying on knee-jerk reactions.

I'm not saying he is the ONLY future of journalism, but certainly an interesting example of how the field is changing. It will no longer be about uninterested observers trying to provide dispassionate reporting, an idea that is constantly lambasted. Instead, it will be about people who care immensely providing information and commentary on issues important to them.


Anonymous said...

"The future of journalism"? Yikes.

Let's leave it as "sensational" shall we?

Oh I forgot, you're into marketing as well.

Argh! I'm feeding the Machine!

What bugs me is "the hook". Yes you, and he, got my attention. But what's painfully clear to me is what you are into. It's not information, but rather INTERESTING information.

The fact that the information might not be accurate or truthful doesn't really matter. Just as long as you can get people to read it and make a buck, right?

Forget about providing these children (who I thought were at the "heart" of his mission) an accurate and unbiased set of data for their own evaluation years hence, and forget about smoothing relations between China and the USA, we've got Trackbacks to think about!

Well, Rock On, I guess....

And be sure to send in that money for one of his DVDs... he's got to pay for a plane ticket to do some more "research"!

Chuck Tanowitz said...

To be fair, this site is about how the media are changing. That is, how communications are becoming more open.

That said, where does "truth" lie? Is it in a single article in the Washington Post or is it more nuanced than that?

Brian's job is to think about his mission. His blog is just a tool to tell the world about it. My study of it fits into the rest of my work.

There is a lot of information out there, it has to be interesting for people to read it. You can read lots of data sets, you can collect reams of numbers, facts and figures, but people aren't just figures... they have emotions and feelings.

To get closer to that you must dig deeper.

Anonymous said...

I hear you, and I think you make a very good point. I agree with your logic. Maybe I'm taking too much of a moral stance on the whole thing.

But let's further the discussion: You said, "Brian's job is to think about his mission". But he states that his mission is to find the Truth!

So what's going on here?

IMHO, he's after HIS Truth. He's on a quest to find answers to HIS questions. And he needs to get money for those plane tickets. And to do that, he's got to get up on stage, and put on his best PT Barnum face, and sell some snake oil.

Ok, so I'm not impugning the process. You're right, the blog is his tool to do that, and he's doing all the right things with the wonderful writing talent he has. But there's something amiss here, and it might permeate into your examination of the changing face of journalism. It has to do with posterity.

For example, it's different if we're talking about something like selling clothes. Of course, one is going to take advantage of "the changing aspects of media" in order to best present the latest supermodel with the most cleavage in order to get readers and spread the message.
But there is a difference with "research journalism". Brian is peddling "Truth" to a group of people desperately seeking it, on behalf of a group of children who will no doubt have a COMPLETELY different take on reality, once they are old enough to comprehend "self". By that time, I daresay the parents taken in by his Backpack Adventures to Shangri-La will admit that they were soothed by his insight into a land they were unable to visit, and were soothed by his little newspaper clippings which the parents were able to hang high upon the mantle to fill in the missing pieces of their own family uncertainties. However, their need for "Brian Stuy" and his "Truth" will have long passed, and the children will care not one whit, for the emptiness of their lives will not be soothed by a finding ad in a frame collecting dust on a mantlepiece.

I'm ranting a bit here, but my point is, will posterity judge the journalist as a success because he achieved his objectives (a large readership and plenty of fun trips to China), or rather should they judge him on his mission, which was to find Truth for the beginnings of these children? Since I do not believe his current methods of garnishing readership and his data gathering methods support meaningful use for future generations years hence, I think he will be judged as a failure in this latter regard.
IMHO, the journalism and trend towards "open media" which you speak of will be viewed as very narrow minded and self serving.

If future generations pick up an old disk and find information on clothing advertisments and commentaries, I think it would be fair to assume that they would evaluate our approach in context of the time in which the information was gathered.
But I am troubled as to our lack of desire for unbiased objectivity, for the sake of our posterity and to help them with their effort to make sense of their/our overall history/"Truth" (especially from documents purporting to report the "truth"), in order for them to make the best decision for them and their children.
I think journalists/researchers/communicators have this as a responsibility to think of, as well.

Chuck Tanowitz said...

You make some good points, but Brian's research for families is one thing, what he puts on his blog is another. He photographs finding places, interviews foster parents and does other such work that is specific to the child. In other words, he's not trying to answer any questions that are not easily answerable.

It would be very expensive for any one parent to do that, but he can do it cheaper and easier by combining a bunch of requests at once... and his wife speaks Chinese, which helps.

As for his "truth" on his blog, at least we know his biases. Do you know the biases of the Post reporter? I certainly don't. Does he have any? I'm sure, it's nearly impossible to be without.

As a former journalist I tried to convince myself that I can be unbiased, I tried, but found it to be nearly impossible.

Anonymous said...

Two points:
1. offbeat rant on Brian Stuy - Brian, like so many of the rest of us, could very easily pick up the phone, or surf the net for a China contact, and ask them to get a high res scan of the newspaper (or maybe even get the newspaper sent to his doorstep!), and ask a local kid (who I'm sure would WELCOME the extra few Yuan) to snap some photos. THAT'S the definition of "easy answerable questions", AND I don't need to sell many DVDs to do that. What's the difference between my suggestion vs. actually going over there and doing it yourself? A BUNCH! A different paradigm, the journalist's viewpoint, blah blah blah. But in the eyes of the child that Brian's "doing this for", what is he adding to the process for the sake of the adopted child? Answer: Not a whole lot. In fact, he is actually adding another set of lenses to the process, which is actually a disservice to the child.

So don't be fooled into thinking he's doing our children any big favors.

You are absolutely right, the journalist has bias. And over on Brian's blog you can see people delving into that bias, and other people being amazed/upset with that questioning.

The people who are questioning the journalist are after "truth" and are trying to identify exactly the nature of the lenses through which the data from China is flowing. The people upset with those who are questioning are those who are not really interested in truth, but just wanting to feel good by Brian's writing, and are confused and upset as to why anyone would want to rock the boat.

The conclusion in this case is Brian's having a really fun time exploring self-actualization and connection with his lovely daughters via trekking through China talking with people about adoption and abandonment.

Heyman, whatever cranks his tractor.

However, I just hope that he, as well as the people who pay for his services, are aware that he's part of the Machine. His lack of objectivity puts him (arguably) within closer-than-arms-reach to the harmful and dark side of the issues, such as baby-traffickers, biased WP reporters, abandonment, and the reluctant adopting families.

Be careful Luke, of the lure of the Dark Side.

But this intertwines my 2nd point:
2. Brian's gotta do what he's gotta do. Which is a point I agree with you on. And in addition to using the blog and the DVD sales to further promote his inner passionate soulful drive, he has to get some sort of feedback that he's heading in the right direction. Certainly there's a few known sources for these:
a. His daughters, who provide the primal needs of love to him. They see how he shows his love to them via his work and experiences.
b. His DVD and finding ad sales. Many people want them, and many people pay for them. Certainly positive reinforcement there.

But then there's the other form of feedback, which probably was very different, or else non-existent, a few years back - all this internet stuff. Blogs, Ipods, etc... the New Media. This makes it a lot easier for him to reach out to people on a faster basis. And the people who want the information, want that quick fix.

It's a perfect fit, and it's why you may have found "the future of journalism".

The internet was perhaps the catalyst for Brian, and this particular segment of "people who do things for a certain reason" to come together and feed off each other.

Adoptive parents:
1. are, on average, middle-class, by virtue of how much it costs to adopt, and as such, are prone to be internet savvy.
2. they, like the rest of America, want a quick fix, and like to feel good, and want it NOW.
3. China is still a long way away (physically), so there's this big painful gap in the ability to obtain information.

Enter Brian Stuy in his Feel Good Bus (complete with T1 connection), who just stepped off the plane from another wonderful trip to China, his CompactFlash card filled to the brim with Jpegs.

A match made in marketing heaven.

So you're right, and Brian Stuy is a fascinating case study in light of changing media.

Chuck Tanowitz said...

A key here is that Brian's biases are on display for anyone to see. They can take what he says at face value, or argue with them, it's up to the media consumer.

Of course, this power comes with a price. It used to be that if CBS news told us it was true, we accepted it. Now we must decide if the person we're reading is credible, that takes more finesse.

That said, I agree that some things for which he charges are easy to get (like the ads) but others aren't so cut and dry. I remember driving around Fuzhou with a busload of people looking for finding places. What looked like a simple description on the form turned out to be much more complex, as places and signs that existed at the time disappeared. It an investment of time on the part of our guide and several conversations to figure out where to go, and in many cases we were never sure we found the right place. My daughter's finding place was listed as the gate of the SWI, so taking pictures of the location was easy for me. But I know that many other parents never make it to the orphanage nor to the city of origin, so they need some kind of surrogate.

Finding foster parents is much the same way. In some cases it's easy, in others its more difficult. I think as a parent if you're asking someone to do this, you want to trust that they're going to put in the time and effort to do it right. So, in a sense, Brian is selling his trust.

My point on the journlistic front is, as he's doing this he sees and hears things, he talks with people, that's information. Should he be your only source? Of course not.

But is he a source worth reading?


Anonymous said...

"But is he a source worth reading?"

Great points, and this is the question that's up for debate, and has made me think.

People "way back when" looked to "CBS" (aka the biggest media source) for the truth. So they tuned in.

I put forth the argument that people then had just about as much free time as people do now... which is to say - very little.

So you're suggesting that now, the burden is on us to not trust the sole source "CBS", and to decide on our own from all the different media outlets which one is "true".

Heyman, I just don't got da time for that!

And judging by all the hype that journalists have to put in their pieces in order to grab my attention, it looks like I'm right.

So that leaves us with 2 options: Either I have to get better at scanning through a lot of crap in order to get to the truth, or I find a few places I can trust where I don't have to put on my "crap filters" and just get the most truthful info.

So in essence, from a journalistic point of view I would read Brian's blog a lot more if he made it much shorter and to the point, and didn't put in all the adjectives. Let me decide on my own if his info is good.

All that hype and "click...click...click... the trains make their way through China" (reference to one of Brian's more prosaic blog posts) stuff is a bunch of Reader's Digest tripe.

Of course, if you're the bored housewife looking for the latest tabloid at the checkout line, then
have at it.

As for the "Brian's selling his trust"...

Don't tell me you've been taken in as well...?

Are you saying you wouldn't be able to do some digging yourself over the internet (free of charge, I might add), and find someone in China who would be willing to hunt down an address for you?

And "do it right"? What does THAT mean? How would you know that he did it right? How do you know what "right" is? How could you verify that?

Oh, I forgot, you BELIEVE in him.

owell, as PT Barnum said, there's one born every minute....

Research-China.Org said...

So, I guess some people feel it is easy to do what I do. To them, I say, "Have at it". Search through the rubbish heaps looking for a newspaper with your child's finding ad (if you want it), because you must assume that these newspapers keep extra copies around just waiting for you to walk through their doors. Give me a break! Unless you have telepathic capabilities, you will NEVER find the newspaper yourself. They are gone the day after they are published. So, you will have to pay someone, somewhere. Deal with it.

Is this information important, or are parents being duped by a modern "P.T. Barnum"? Some families feel that their child's lives began on adoption day, and see no value in documenting their child's pre-adoption history, abandonment, foster families, etc. Time will tell if this denial will benefit their children. I prefer to get as much information as possible for my children, so that IF one day they ask about it, I am ready.

I am often asked why I don't find someone in China to do the research. Heavens knows it would save me money, and some feel that is the reason I do this. But the reality is that I have never found anyone in China that "gets it". They might go to a town and photograph a bus station, not asking if that was the bus station in 1999. They assume the parents want a bus station, not the actual location. They will not ask after finders, because, like most everyone in China, they are afraid to draw attention.

Yes, I do enjoy traveling to China, to see her change, to experience her people. But the primary reason I go is to obtain rapidly disappearing information for families with children just like mine.


Chuck Tanowitz said...

Thank you Brian!

I truly appreciate that you took the time to read and to post on this topic.

Anonymous said...

I think the main problem I have here is with Brian's ego. There's too much of it there. And that means there's too much of himself in this, in an area where he claims to be so selfless.

He is so passionate. This greatly detracts from objectivity. This is what he should be focusing on.

In fact, that will be Brian's final journey, as he looks for his peace and reflects at his familiar temple in Guangzhou. It will be his journey to self, in which he will find that answers all along were inside of him, and not so elusively disappearing in the shifting times of China.

Brian['s ego] states: "Deal with it."

Is this your anger? Your frustration? Your pride? Are you interested in comparing penis size?

For shame. Shame on you on behalf all the people who think you are doing this for THEM.

But of ALL of Brian's words, (and pay attention to this one Chuck), the pivotal statement is:

"But the reality is that I have never found anyone in China that "gets it". "

And there you have it.

That's Brian's entire life summed up in a nutshell.

You want China to understand you. And you want to understand China.

The operative word here being YOU.

For I have been to China, and I can get someone to locate a finding spot for me. I can get someone to get the finding ad for me. It took me some time, but I did it. I've done it from here, and I've done it while there. (and even without the benefit of a Chinese wife)

Y'know...Some people can't build a house, so they pay someone to do it. They won't know how it's built, or what's behind the walls, but they know that when they turn on the faucet, the water will come out.

I don't fault Brian for building houses so that people can wash their hands.

But it is heinous to be so bold as to sell your houses such that people can look at their little finding ad and say, "see, now I know where water comes from!"

People will only know where water comes from when they build the houses themselves.

"But I don't want to build a house, it's too hard and I just can't do it," they say.

"Oh, let me build it for you, I know how!" you say.

That's not the answer, Brian. And you know it. In order to find out where the water comes from, you have to build the house yourself.

You know you will have accomplished your real goal when you help others on their quest for discovery, rather than you doing it for them.

You're not there yet. You're still doing all this for you.

Don't worry, you'll get there!

Not much further!

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Here is my problem with the continuously anonymous post. As I noted before, by putting in your name we can understand context. I also noted that your biases would show eventually.

"For I have been to China, and I can get someone to locate a finding spot for me. I can get someone to get the finding ad for me. It took me some time, but I did it. I've done it from here, and I've done it while there."

If you have a problem with what he's doing, then stand up and tell us who you are and what his problem is.

My wife and I found a picture in his collection, it looked a lot like our daughter. He could have easily told me that it was, and that the woman with him was her foster mother.

He didn't. He didn't because it wasn't true. In looking at her name and at his records, he could see that this wasn't her.

He could have told me it was and I would have paid him for the picture.

I trust that he tells me the truth. And in business, as in life, trust is really all we have.

Is he on a personal journey? Yes, obviously, and he admits that. But could that journey also help my daughter? perhaps.

Research-China.Org said...

"Anonymous" has it all figured out. We must all go though life building our own houses, growing our own food, changing our own oil in order to discover ourselves. I'm not sure what his (or her) gibberish is intended to say (what does a finding ad have to do with water, anyway?).

Those of us in the real world don't have time to do many things, so we hire people who have done it over and over to do it for us. We wisely ask ourselves, "Why re-invent the wheel if someone can do it quickly, cheaply, and more effeciently?" I encourage families to get this stuff themselves when possible, but most families deal with real life challenges like work, raising children, etc., and can't afford the time and money to travel to China themselves. If "Anonymous" can, bully for them!!! You saved yourself $35!

To the point of this blog: With the advent of the internet, it is now possible to read the first-hand experiences of others, and learn from them. Why read a blog entry on my visit to a Temple in Guangdong? The same reason we read books, watch movies, talk with friends -- to experience something through another. Is it your experience? No, but hopefully you gain something from the reading. Blogs make that possible for millions. But apparently "Anonymous" hasn't figured that out yet. Too busy building their house perhaps.


Anonymous said...

"We wisely ask ourselves, "Why re-invent the wheel if someone can do it quickly, cheaply, and more effeciently?" "

That's not "wise", that's "American".

(sigh) I guess you're further back than I thought, and I'm disengaging from this one.

Although I thought it was spelled out pretty clearly in my earlier posts (and I guess I'm to blame for you not "getting it"), I do NOT fault you for making money. I do NOT fault you for gathering information.

Jennifer said...


I'm an adoptive mom and university professor (i.e., anonymous, please don't characterize me, or anyone for that matter, as a "bored housewife"). I speak Mandarin and I have done a lot of research on both China and my daughter's life on my own. Because I do have the capacity to do this work myself, I have not needed to pay for Brian Stuy's services.

I read his blog, though, because I find him well-informed and, yes, interesting. As anonymous points out, adoptive parents tend to be middle-class, and I would add, often well educated. Give them some credit. If Stuy were just some ego-inflated con man with no insight into China & adoption, he would be unable to sustain our attention. Like Tanowitz, I'd really like to know exactly what it is about Brian Stuy that anonymous objects to so ferociously. He himself admits to being "jealous" but I'd like to give him (her) more credit. Anonymous, do you somehow feel that offering this information (finding ads, DVDs, etc.) is inadvertently damaging psychologically to our children? I'd disagree but at least I'd feel like the motivation for your rants came from something more worthy than jealousy.

And, BTW, I agree with Tanowitz's overarching point here: with the proliferation of new media, the old stance of "objectivity" becomes much harder to maintain credibly. We might have more to sift through but we'll have more to gain if we do.