The opening up of the new public sphere has allowed internet users to gain freedom of expression and enabled opinion leaders to discuss public issues which also puts pressure on the authorities to become more accountable. Journalists in China have become empowered by the microblogs of millions of users to investigate societal conflicts, protests and corruption, whilst battling for information control.
The use of Weibo by journalists has played an important role in both news reporting and society. It has transformed the news reporting model, changed investigative methods, and helped to build journalists credibility and resist Communist Party controls. Media coverage with the help of Weibo has also improved government transparency and accountability, helping users become better informed about social and political issues.
Through Weibo’s faster and freer flow of information, it’s rivalling professional journalism even under government restrictions. Professional journalists have changed their investigative methods as they now receive new leads through public or private messages, follow newsmakers for news developments, contact news sources for reporting tips and importantly, to disseminate news developments and therefore attracting attention from the public.
The collaboration of Weibo and traditional media has also assisted journalists in unpacking social issues and unrest and in many ways, has help to empower journalists in their coverage of news stories around corruption and other contentious issues. These issues most likely wouldn’t have garnered much media noise without the feedback and amplification through Weibo. Weibo has allowed these investigative journalists to transition to citizen journalism by posting editorial thoughts which would have been censored which allows them to get their message across despite political control. Journalists have much more freedom in voicing their opinions on social media as opposed to traditional media platforms.
A case study I found looks into the impact of Weibo on investigative journalism and makes reference to the case of village chief Qian Yunhui, who died under suspicious circumstances after petitioning against local corruption and land grabs. This case looks at three journalists who gained influence through tweeting real-time developments that couldn’t be published on news sites due to its sensitivity. The tweets of one journalist, Liu Ziqian, approached the issue with the intention of maintaining a cool and objective account of the events and avoiding any inflammatory or subjective comments. His reasoning was that he ‘didn’t want to promote a news event. I just wanted to simply let people know what had truly happened’.
Weibo is extremely powerful when traditional investigative journalists come across politically sensitive stories like illegal detentions or violent beatings. These issues and the discussions that follow would have no effect on investigative journalism if not for Weibo and other micro blogging sites as traditional media outlets are strictly forbidden to write their own stories., only carrying statements form the state-owned Xinhua News Agency.