News for the Social Media Kids

Mr Kwan Wai Peter
Senior Teaching Fellow
Department of Media and Communication

In his long career as a journalist, the story which most enthralled Peter KWAN resulted from his visit to the southern part of China, where Yunnan province borders Vietnam.

He made the trip in 1979, right after the brief war, which China had launched earlier that year to punish Vietnam for siding with Moscow and occupying Cambodia. As the only journalist from Hong Kong, Kwan and his cameraman joined 12 others to tour prisoner-of-war camps where captured Vietnamese soldiers were being held.

Also around that time, Deng Xiaoping was launching China’s programme of economic reforms and the country was just starting to open up to the west. Still, though, in second-tier cities and small towns very few Chinese had seen any foreigners before, so it was not unusual for large groups to gather on the street and simply stare.

“We were often surrounded by a lot of local people,” says Kwan, who was touched by their innocence and sincerity. “I couldn’t speak Putonghua well, so I relied a lot on my cameraman. But I remember a couple of them came up and wanted to speak English.”

Having worked as a journalist for more than 40 years, Kwan has witnessed momentous changes both in China and in the media sector and is always happy to reminisce. Now Senior Teaching Fellow at the Department of Media and Communication at CityU’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, he started out in 1971 at Rediffusion Television (RTV), Hong Kong’s first TV station, translating English-language dramas for local broadcast.

The next few years saw him translating wire service news reports into Chinese for Ming Pao newspaper and then working as a night-time translator and sub-editor for Commercial Radio. After that, he became a reporter and assistant assignment editor with Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) before joining Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK)’s Chinese Current Affairs Programme Division. In 1980, he went back to TVB as a news editor and, three years later, became the station’s manager for news and current affairs.

“Journalism is a kind of storytelling. “- Peter Kwan

“Journalism is a kind of storytelling,” he says. “So, I force my students to listen to some of the old stories. They know more than me about new things, but on old stories I am the authority.”

Teaching Digital Television and Broadcasting at CityU since 2010, Kwan has observed first-hand how the industry is changing. In television, the most important changes include the 24-hour news cycle along with instant access to the headlines on handheld devices. In parallel, there has been a fall in audience numbers, especially among younger viewers.

“When I joined CityU, fewer than ten in a class of 40 students regularly watched the TV news. This year almost none do. They are getting the news from other sources.”

This observation correlates with the analysis of data supplied by Nielsen for the second quarter of 2016. It shows that traditional TV viewing in the past five years fell by 36.2 per cent in the 12 to 17 age group and by 37.9 per cent among those aged 18 to 24. It remained steady or even increased slightly among viewers aged over 50.

Kwan, though, has become a fan of modern technology and methods of delivery. He is enthusiastic in explaining how Quartz’s system differs from Google News, WhatsApp and other digital and social media sources.

“I have to learn about the new ways of disseminating news,” he says. “Reading or watching on your mobile, you can select what you want. It is a totally different experience. On a website, you can’t easily tell what is most important. But content is still king. Whatever you are watching, you still need content.”

To keep up to date, Kwan attends seminars and conferences to see exactly what is going on in the media world and learn how to convert traditional ways of news-reporting to the requirements of digital media. Related study tours have taken him to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and New York, with visits to the likes of Dreamworks, Google, NBC, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

“I enjoy being a teacher,” he says. “Some media companies have asked me to join them but I prefer it here.” As far as possible, he uses his extensive experience not just to instruct, but also to offer career guidance. Many students still have hopes of being TV news anchors, seeing the role as interesting and somewhat glamorous. Kwan may have to instil a little realism pointing out, for instance, the importance of correct pronunciation and a sense of composure.

Kwan has once been an active chairman of the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association, which joined hands with the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong in 2006 to set up the Journalism Foundation. This offers an annual scholarship of HK$60,000 for young journalists on training programmes or taking media-related courses. There are also internships to let journalism students at local universities get experience with different media outlets.