Jock Lauterer Speaks on Community Journalism and China

Jock Lauterer is living proof that Community Journalism extends far beyond your own back yard. A retired senior professor at the UNC school of Journalism, he has taken the field he helped pioneer all the way to China and back.

As the retired founding director of the Carolina Community Media Project, Lauterer is a veritable expert in the field of Community Journalism. You could even say he wrote the book on it; three of them in fact: “Community Journalism: the Personal Approach”, “Community Journalism Instructor’s Manual”, and “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local”. He not only spent time lecturing on the subject in the classroom, but has also worked to put the concepts he teaches about into motion in the real world. This led him to places as near as Durham, where he led an initiative to create a community newspaper for inner-city Durham, and as far as Beijing, where he helped Chinese nationals establish their own community newspapers within the hustle and bustle of the big city. On Wednesday, September 4, 2019, Lauterer gave a guest lecture in Stephen Bouser’s MEJO 153 class, where he shared some insights from his travels, and discussed the future of China’s relationship with the Media.

“China is destined to be our partner, or our rival,” he said in opening the talk. He went on to explain how understanding China and it’s path into the future will be imperative in understanding how to navigate our own.

While many places in the world don’t have freedom of the press, Lauterer noted that the degree to which China controls things is growing more alarming. “Journalists get a list of stories every day that they are not allowed to cover”, he said. Even as the Government suppresses many forms of free speech, Lauterer found that they actually appreciated certain functions of small, localized newspapers. While they must be careful not to say anything that will upset the government, many local papers are still able to bring attention to, and inspire government response to, issues that impact the local community.

“Dancing in Shackles”, Lauterer says, is what Chinese reporters call this balancing act between doing good in their community and not upsetting the Communist Party. If there’s something that needs fixing (potholes, for example), the local papers act as a sort of buffer between upset citizens and the local bureaucracy. The people complain to the paper, the paper writes a story (careful not to cast blame anywhere near the government), and the local officials take action to fix the problem.

Ultimately, while this system allows Journalists to do some good, it’s far from a transparent system. Lauterer also shared some of his experiences with China’s culture of “The Red Envelope”- a system where sources pay local reporters for positive coverage. Despite these and other limitations, Lauterer believes that Journalism can still make a big difference in China.

“You have to believe in the goodness of people,” he says. “Have to believe you can make a positive difference, otherwise what are we doing?”

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