Friday, February 1, 2008

Expert for Sale

So I ran into a teacher of mine from last semester who has extensive experience with and knowledge of the formal process involved in sending Chinese teachers abroad. He himself was sent as a state-dispatch to teach in France some years ago, and he has contacts in the office in Beijing.

We were chatting friendly-ily* and I was telling him about my article, and when he started talking about his experiences, I said:

"Ah, you really understand this stuff. I should take you out to lunch sometime and we could do a little interview."

And he said: "Or you could just give me money. Haha!"

"Haha!" I said. "So how bout lunch some time?"

"Haha!" he said. "Like, if you make 500 USD writing this article, you could give me 100!"

"Haha!" I said. "One-fifth! You must have something very valuable to tell me!"

"Oh, yes," he said. "I have a lot of information about this."

"But you're a teacher. Your job is to transfer information to your students."

"But you're not my student anymore."

And that's pretty much how we left it.

I mean, is this how journalism works in China, or is this guy just a jerk? I mean, I know it's supposed to be about greasing the wheels, but I thought that meant a decent restaurant and some beer, not a red envelope with cash.

Can anyone shed some light here? Will I run into this problem with every "expert" I try to talk to, or I am just dealing with an opportunistic individual?

*One of those hated -ly adjectives. How do you make "friendly" an adverb?


Dave said...

Try "amicably."

Great blog, by the way.

赵晨威 said...

"We were chatting amicably"?
I feel like that implies our chat had been hostile, then improved.

Clinton and Obama chat amicably.
I chat friendly-ily.

But really, what about the other issue?

Noam Ross said...

What, "Western ethical standards of journalism prevent me from paying you " doesn't loosen the lips at all?

La Mama said...

I think there have been a number of journalists -- writing for western newspapers -- who have in fact gotten into trouble or rather, have been discredited becuse they paid their sources. I say don't do it and he's a jerk. (But then I'm your mother.) Why not ask your former collegaues at the newspaper place? Or Dana?

赵晨威 said...

Hmmm... mama's idealism and disaster's cynicism have left me conflicted and unsure.

Perhaps I will go "the middle way" and simply write my own quotes and attribute them to him.

Anybody remember Jason Blair....?

Unknown said...

This is a big no-no for Western journalists and you must avoid paying your sources. That said, buying someone a dinner is not out of the question.

In fact, the reverse is really common in china. There are scores of "journalists" that are paid by businessmen and local governments to write flattering pieces on them and bestow legitimacy.

-wen jiang

赵晨威 said...

yeah, see that's the job i want: selling legitimacy to corrupt power-players

when i can put "shill" on my resume, I'll know I've made it.

La Mama said...

I'm surprised no one's reacted to the blog entry before this one (except me) It was really interesting and funny too!

赵晨威 said...

I'm sure there'll be plenty of chances to talk about my beautiful little Chernobyl in the future... and yes, "react" is the perfect word.

Brendan said...

Ditto on not paying sources. When I was working at the VOA, it wasn't uncommon for us to buy lunch for a bunch of our sources and have a big conversation about issues, or to reimburse sources "for transportation costs" (generally pretty generously, but not totally unreasonably) -- but actual payment was absolutely out of the question, regardless of how many Chinese news organizations do it.

Re: "friendly-ily" -- what about "pleasantly?"

赵晨威 said...

Pleasantly! My god, that's it-- Brendan, you're a genius!