My name is Henry Ren. I will graduate from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in five weeks and start working as a fall intern at Bloomberg News.
In early May, when the Trump administration announced a 90-day limit on work visas for certain Chinese reporters. I was stunned into stillness and kept asking myself: Is it really worthwhile to pursue a journalism career with my second language in a foreign country?
When I switched my major from environmental engineering and economics to journalism a year ago, I had no idea whether I could compete with native English-speaking peers. I only knew that as someone in my early 20s, I had the luxury to follow my passion, and that I could not see myself doing anything else other than reporting and writing.
This choice came with risks. Pursuing a master’s degree in journalism is a huge expenditure without immediate payback, especially for international students. Job openings in newsrooms were not abundant to start with, and they’ve further dwindled during the pandemic. Worse still, if international students cannot secure jobs or internships in the U.S. within three months after graduation, they have to leave the country.
Despite such risks, my dream drove me to push myself to the limits. Coming out of a one-year intensive program at Medill, with clips under my belt, I received my dream internship offer.
Does the result justify my pursuit of a journalism dream in the U.S.? Frankly, I don’t know. There is no one clear path to a successful career as a business journalist, and an internship is only the first step. However, so many fellow Chinese storytellers have proved themselves in major media outlets in the U.S. I would regret not giving my dream at least a shot.
For me, committing to a journalism career in the U.S. is like crossing a narrow and shaky bridge. A difficult job market or a change in immigration policies can easily throw me off the bridge. But with passion and determination, I’m marching on.
For this week’s Rock the Boat, I ask fellow student journalists and recent graduates: If recent events have disrupted your academic or career plans, how are you adjusting? How confident are you about fulfilling your inspirations in this uncertain time?
(Jiawei Caroline Chen, a member of Chinese Storyteller and Columbia Journalism School ’20 graduate, interviews a source in New York City. Photo by TuAnh Dam.)
MAKE A SPLASH 卧虎藏龙
Best work from our members.
😷 Masks Made by Uighurs
Muyi Xiao and her colleagues at The New York Times reveal that several Chinese companies are using Uighur labor from a contentious government program to produce P.P.E. during the pandemic.
🏥 How I Got COVID-19
Xinyan Yu just recovered from the coronavirus. She’d canceled her plan to return to her hometown, Wuhan, in January, but got infected after traveling to Florida in June. “I allowed myself a dose of American freedom, and paid the price,” she shares her takeaways for The Washington Post.
🌊 Progressive Wave
For the POLITICO Magazine, Shen Lu writes about a new wave of independent Chinese-language podcasts, blogs, newsletters building a community of progressives among young Chinese and challenging the isolationist worldview from both China and the U.S.
💨 Why Not Flee
For The Guardian, Yangyang Cheng comments on the Western response to the Hong Kong National Security Law and why rhetoric centering capital flight, skilled labor and national interest troubles her.
🏇 Rugby on Horses
Yam G-Jun photographs a traditional Central Asian sport called Kok Boru in Kyrgyzstan, taking us from the sacrificial slaughter to post-game dinner served with the trampled meat.
💌 A Love Letter to Durian
For Nikkei Asian Review, Clarissa Wei takes an inside look into the wonderful world of durian omakases, parties, and resorts.
✊ Chinese for Black Lives
In a photo essay, Mengyu Dong documents young Chinese nationals and Chinese Americans active in the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, D.C.
(Photo by Mengyu Dong)
👋 Submit your published work in three ways: 1. DM us on Twitter; 2. Post it on the Slack channel #shamelessplugs; 3. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROCK THE BOAT 抛砖引玉
Thoughts from our members and beyond on topics about the media industry, diversity and more.
If the pandemic, immigration policies and travel restrictions have disrupted your academic or career plans, how are you adjusting?
Freelance journalist Jiawei Caroline Chen writes about the obstacles she faces when trying to get a foot in the door of journalism:
Two months into graduation, I’ve already lost track of how many jobs I’ve applied for. And I’m not even surprised—ever since I came to New York for grad school last year, I’ve been constantly reminded of the fact that the news industry isn’t the easiest for newbies, especially someone like me—a female international student of color. I didn’t quite believe it; I hoped that my Columbia education would help me land something after graduation.
Then the pandemic hit, the job market went into a hiring freeze, and my unemployment anxiety started. Many internships and fellowships I applied for were suspended, and I had an offer withdrawn. It was difficult enough to get a foot in the door, not to mention having most doors shut in my face. I also had to worry about my visa. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, the U.S.-China relations went sour. I had not expected these complex obstacles, but they are my reality now.
Two weeks ago, I started a freelancing job. Now I’ve moved on to worry about paying bills and making ends meet, but still not knowing what lies ahead.
Zeyi Yang, a reporting fellow of Rest of the World, writes that the pandemic has had a surprisingly positive impact on his career path:
The pandemic has wrecked families and tanked economies around the world, but weirdly enough, it has also given a positive twist to my career path. Because my hometown Wuhan was in the news, I was suddenly given the opportunity, which normally would be hard to get as a foreign student in the U.S., to show my value as a reporter with knowledge of and network in China.
Previous publications turned into job interviews, and then into my full-time fellowship. Now I’m writing about China (and beyond) at a publication, which I am immensely grateful for. It comes with new challenges: I’m almost never at the same time zone as my sources. I’m very cautious of my implicit bias. But I’m doing exactly what I have hoped to do: to tell unheard and nuanced stories about China and the world. In less than a year, I will have to worry about visa, employment, and all the inconvenience thanks to the Trump administration and the pandemic. But for now, I can put those thoughts away and just focus on being a journalist.
Andrea Zhou, a current undergraduate student at Boston University’s journalism school, says she is reconsidering her career options:
On the day China announced the expulsion of American journalists, a number of my Chinese peers said that they would seriously consider changing their majors. Tensions between China and the U.S. have since soared, which makes me more unsure about my future. Several friends, who had always dreamed of becoming reporters, recently told me that they had changed their career plans. I’ve decided to take a gap year and rethink my plans.
Dian Zhang, a national data reporter for USA TODAY based in Florida, writes about her experience as a Chinese reporter covering a pandemic in an American newsroom:
When I graduated from Columbia Journalism School last summer, I never thought that I would cover a pandemic in my early career and report from a state with over 400,000 coronavirus cases.
As the only non-American reporter in my team, I have expanded my reporting beyond the U.S. and brought a unique perspective to the newsroom. I published a case study of three situations that spread COVID-19 in China and wrote about a tiny island in eastern China, where making mask filters was so profitable that some said it’s like printing money.
I’d be lying if I told you I’m not fretting over the ever-changing visa rules, especially those towards Chinese nationals amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China. While international students and foreign reporters are reporting stories that need be told, our stories are still waiting to unfold.
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RAISE A GLASS 拍个马屁
We recognize our members’ professional achievements (and flatter them).
🎉 Chinese Storytellers was featured in the Columbia Journalism Review as one of the new outlets in the transnationally Asian media world. Shen Lu and Isabelle Niu spoke with the author E. Tammy Kim.
🗳️Jin Ding is running for Asian American Journalists Association’s VP of Finance. She will host a “Ask Me Anything” virtual session on July 30. Vote for her before August 7.
🎙️Rui Zhong was on NPR’s Morning Edition discussing the Chengdu consulate closure with Steve Inskeep. Have a listen.
🥂 Tell us what makes you proud via email, Slack or Twitter.
MAKE SOME DOUGH 肥水入田
Jobs, gigs, grants, fellowships, etc.
TIME is seeking a reporter to tell stories relating to race and identity in the U.S. This reporter will play a leading role in TIME's coverage of the impact of discrimination in America, as well as exploring policy and social change, among other crucial topics. APPLY
NPR is hiring reporters and producers for its award-winning investigation team. Ideal candidates will have a background in investigative reporting, as well as preferably beat experience in certain areas. APPLY
The New York Times is hiring a news assistant/researcher in Taiwan. APPLY
NBC News Digital is seeking a data journalist responsible for conceiving, reporting and writing stories around data and visuals. APPLY
Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA)is providing grants to journalists who have a story to tell about COVID-19’s impact on the AAPIs and communities of color. Deadline is July 31. APPLY
👀 Find more on the #opportunities channel on Slack.
Chinese Storytellers is a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry. Follow us @CNStorytellers. Questions? Suggestions? Comments? Tell us.