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Being a Journalist at "Two Sessions" – A Rewarding Experience

The media pass is the best souvenir for LI Tongye (right).

"Two Sessions" might be a familiar term to our ears, yet this meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and of the National People's Congress (NPC) – the State's top-level conference – is usually something we can watch only on TV, with little involvement. As a student in the field of media and communication, I have long aspired to be personally present at this occasion and to report on the conference.

My aspiration came to reality this March as I participated in the practicum trip to the Two Sessions organized by the Journalism Education Foundation, founded and supported by the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong News Executives' Association. Our practicum crew travelled to Beijing with the media from Hong Kong and acquired hands-on experience in news reporting, working like practising journalists.

My imagination was fired up before my trip – would I run into President Xi and other famous CPPCC members? How would I address them? News coverage at such a grand event is a very rare opportunity for students; I was worried that my lack of experience might become a burden for our media organization partner. I therefore conducted in-depth research and preparation before the trip; I learnt about the Two Sessions and other relevant topics of discussion from as many aspects as possible, especially on matters relating to Hong Kong, for example, universal suffrage and constitutional reform, etc.

The week in Beijing flew by faster than expected. While my imaginations were proven to be wild, I gained invaluable insights into the news industry and the career of a journalist.

Life lessons in one week

The most important thing that journalists never iterate enough – team work and team spirit. Three other students and I joined the ATV news team as student reporters. We were new to the ATV team and unfamiliar with the geography of Beijing as well as with each other. Our roles switched back and forth and we were inefficient at covering the news. To cite an example, we were originally stationed at the Grand Hotel Beijing but were suddenly deployed to the Beijing Hotel for an unexpected assignment; we ended up following reporters from other TV stations and lost the initiative. Having failed to adapt straight away to the environment, we felt lost and defeated.

The ATV team and mentors therefore started to give us a full-picture rundown every night, listing every member's duty and location. This helped us prepare ourselves for the next morning. At the same time, we learned to adapt quickly when we were redeployed at the last minute.

Collaboration with the cameraman was another lesson to learn. We started by defining our tactics. With my small figure, my task was to dash for the most strategic spot when the interview target showed up, and crouch down so that the cameraman could take the best photos. And as the cameraman was tall and strong, he would help me through the crowd so that I could push myself to the front. We managed to avoid quite a few unnecessary conflicts with such tactics, and we obtained more news coverage than we expected.

Being patient is another crucial, yet unexpected, key in news reporting. A good piece of news coverage is very often the result of waiting. But it does not mean waiting without a purpose. Instead, it has to be done strategically. For example, in my interview assignment with Mr Li Fei, Chairman of the NPC Basic Law Committee, I was stationed at the main entrance waiting for the conference to end. Since numerous senior officials were present at the meeting, security measures were strictly implemented. We almost got ejected and banned from the venue. I was very discouraged as it was a sign that I would not be able to complete my interview task. That was when I spotted another reporter from Hong Kong Now TV who seemed to be senior and experienced; he was waiting as well. I decided that I would stand a better chance working alongside him. My identity as a student reporter benefited me, as he generously walked me through practical strategies for "ambushing" senior officials at such occasions. I was taught to be extraordinarily patient and to maintain a very low profile. Eventually, I secured my interview with Mr Li Fei and gained my first exclusive interview. I learnt that the most vital skill of a reporter is to wait strategically.

My trip was truly rewarding. I conducted interviews with 28 NPC members, CPPCC members or officials of the central government, including Ms Rita Fan, Mr Stanley Ng Chau-pei and Mr Li Fei. I experienced the joy of success and the complicated emotions from the hardship of being a reporter: regular working hours are out of the question; eating usually means sitting on the floor and flushing something down out of a lunch box; working twelve hours a day is normal; and failing to secure a piece of news brings enormous anxiety. Yet, it can be enjoyable when it ends with rewards. Tough work comes with a sense of accomplishment. Nothing is better worth celebrating than securing a piece of news everybody has while at the same time making an exclusive scoop which no one else can get. I feel enriched and I experienced significant personal growth after the week of working as a journalist. I am also inspired by journalists' history-making work, for "today's news is tomorrow's history".