Journalist Evan Osnos ’98 on the challenges of covering China

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In the weeks before Evan Osnos delivered the 2013 Joe Alex Morris Jr. Memorial Lecture at the Nieman Foundation, the problems facing journalists in China were prominent in the news: Veteran correspondent Paul Mooney, who has written hard-hitting stories about human rights abuses, had his resident journalist visa renewal request denied, and a recent New York Times report detailed charges that Bloomberg News withheld a story out of concern that it might upset Chinese leaders. “In various ways, these headlines say that this is an extraordinarily complicated time to be writing about China, both for Chinese journalists and, I think, for those of us around the world who are trying to describe it with rigor, and with fairness,” Osnos said.

For eight years, Osnos was one of those reporters, serving as the Beijing bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune from 2005 to 2008 and then as the China correspondent for The New Yorker until this fall, when he relocated to Washington, D.C. In his time there, he saw extraordinary growth in almost every sector of the country, and with it came new demands—often made on the now-ubiquitous microblogging platforms—for rights and freedoms. Chinese and foreign journalists have become emboldened, he said, digging deeper into the personal finances of the country’s leaders in a way that had never before been possible. Even when this work drew reprisals from the government, reporters accept the difficulties in exchange for covering the momentous story that is modern China.