The debate over the veracity of the South China Tiger photos has been a hot topic in the media of late. Report after report and full-page spread after full-page spread have been devoted to the tiger. Major national public welfare issues and practical problems that are relevant to the public's daily lives seem no match in the eyeball economy for the sudden appearance of a nonexistent South China Tiger.
There was once a newspaper that professed to "responsibly report everything"; actually, the media cannot report on everything. "News, old news, no news" is one of the principles of statesmen publishing newspapers. At any given time, what to report and how to report it is a choice between news, old news, and no news. Judging the South China Tiger reports against this standard, the scale is at the very least inappropriate—excess is as bad as omission, like today's excessive exploitation of resources. This is irresponsible to readers and to the practice of journalism.
When relatively minor events like the South China Tiger photographs are hyped up into major news stories, turning stories that ought to have received attention into old news or no news, it is a problem with the press management system, and stems to a large degree from a sense of helplessness. To fill pages and capture eyeballs, mountains are made out of molehills and ants are turned into elephants. Such obvious errors in judgment, such indiscriminate reporting of everything, certainly has many causes.
The majority of the media has failed to report on tons of important news stories recently. The arrest of Golden Key CEO Liu Yiliang by Beijing police—this individual was named an outstanding Beijing property entrepreneur in 2004, a national property agent of the year, and one of the ten most influential property agents in the country in 2005. He is on the board of the Beijing Real Estate Association and the China Real Estate Association. He has more than 3000 employees, represents more than ten property developments, and controls more than 200 chain outlets covering Beijing and extending into Hebei, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shanxi, and Jilin. Connect this to how the president of Zhongtian Real Estate in Shenzhen absconded with company funds, and imagine the sort of things that could be reported.
The chief of Liaoning's Yilishen Group was taken into police custody. Zhao Benshan has had a business relationship with them. For years, Yilishen has expanded its breeders network model: its members paid a 10,000 yuan membership fee and purchased larvae and food, while the Group made payments on the 14th and 21st of every month, with a guarantee of 13,250 yuan in annual returns. From the beginning of this month, payments stopped, and large numbers of members came after them. How great of an influence this affair will have is hard to determine, for the truth has yet to come out.
A similar business model was used Gong Yinwen, head of the Shandong Jizheng Healthcare Products Company, illegally amassed billions of yuan over the course of eleven years, and recently fled the country with those billions. He left behind large numbers of common people in Shandong, Beijing, and Shanghai who are now completely ruined. This individual was once the head of the Zaozhuang City sports committee, a party secretary, and had spent more than a decade in official circles. His company had won a slew of "halos": it had a China Quality Service AAA reputation, it was a top-ten selling national health products brand, Gong was one of ten outstanding national brand-building entrepreneurs, it was awarded the Long March to China model work unit certification, and it was a member of the Long March to China anti-fraud alliance. When Oriental Outlook reported on this case, it declared that it was "collective aphasia on the part of the media."
Is not one of these news stories, which involve the personal interests of countless common people, a bigger deal than the South China Tiger? Each of those bosses is worse than a tiger: they are tigers among men. Leave aside the tiger without reporting on it. Don't report on the tiger's henchmen. Isn't it an enormously poor choice to wrestling back and forth over a photograph? Where is the social responsibility of a journalist today?
Whether the South China Tiger photo is genuine, and whether it will be discovered, is a question of protection. But if you do not search for the tigers among us, people will get eaten; untold numbers of households will be ruined and countless people will die. How to evaluate, how to determine the value of news, and how to use news resources are issues that deserve careful consideration.