Writing China-related tech news for The Information this summer was hands down the most rewarding professional experience I have ever had. The Information was built on the belief that people are willing to pay for truly good content, and I leave even more convinced about this thesis and the values of the organization: a relentless focus on quality over quantity, depth over length, the exclusive over the recycled. When reporters are given the freedom and the time to develop their stories, the result is rewarding for both the reader and the writer.
It is both daunting and exciting to write for our subscribers, many of whom are movers and shakers of Silicon Valley. On the one hand, finding information that even they have not heard of is not easy; I’m constantly in fear of sounding amateurish or trite. On the other hand, knowing that the stories written by my colleagues have been known to affect stock prices and predict industry trends is breathtaking.
Getting the information takes patience, connections, and skill. It takes knowing the right people and asking the right questions. The journalists here helped connect me with key sources and expand my network, and taught me important lessons on what is worth writing about and how to make a story relevant to our subscribers.
At The Information, I was treated just like the other reporters, with my own bylines. I had a sense of ownership over my works and received acknowledgement for them. I was given the opportunity to pitch my own stories, write an essay in first person, record podcasts (where I got to speak Mandarin), attend exclusive events, and work alongside reporters with decades of experience and deep knowledge of the industry. I was given prompt and helpful feedback on my stories. Seven weeks and seven stories later, thanks to the mentoring of my editors, I developed a sensitivity for news that matters, an intuition for good questions, and an appreciation for succinct and simple writing.
This is not the average news internship where you rewrite press releases or aggregate information from other news sources. All my stories were based on 100% original reporting, which required getting in touch with all parties and people involved. Because most of my sources are in China, I have gotten used to operating on China time, blocking off 9 p.m. to midnight each day for phone interviews. By the end of the summer, the number of my WeChat friends grew by 200, my spoken Chinese has improved (I could rattle off hot-button tech jargons), and I could convert between Pacific time and China time without thinking.
Many of my sources were not exactly thrilled to talk to me because of the sensitive nature of the topics involved. There were plenty of moments of resistance that put me outside of my comfort zone. But I also learned that if your sources don’t want to talk to you, it means you’re onto a good story.
I was proud to work at an organization that upholds highest level of news professionalism, where not a single word is published without rigorous fact checking and scrutiny. The high bars set for the stories made writing them much more rewarding. I received letters from readers who gave me feedback on my stories and said they were heartened by our increased coverage of China.
I did not anticipate this, but soon found out that there were two running themes in my stories on Chinese tech:
- Contrary to popular perception, Chinese companies can innovate, too, and can even teach U.S. equivalents a lesson since they’re forced to move much faster.
- American tech companies cannot expect to enter China and succeed with sheer valor and will.
The second point especially rings true after the UberChina-Didi deal, which I thought was a great moment for China’s tech industry. China’s ride-sharing war is one that I have been paying close attention to. The outcome of this war, announced just three days ago, goes to show how difficult it can be for Western companies to replicate their success in China. The list of tech companies with dashed hopes of conquering the Middle Kingdom goes on and on: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn, Apple, and now Uber. Going into China is not simply a matter of localizing a product. It takes resources, connections, and above all a humility and respect for local entrepreneurs and products. I hope my writings helped change people’s impressions of China’s tech industry.
Despite my fruitful internship, there are still several stories that I wish I could write:
- A profile of the bars/restaurants in Beijing that served as venues for the Didi-UberChina negotiations
- A day in the life of a Baidu PR team member
- How does LeEco make sure that all its employees synchronize their social media postings
- Transcript of WeChat conversations between Jack Ma and Pony Ma
Read the articles that I wrote for The Information here (non-subscribers can read these articles for free if you put in your email address).