What is the responsibility of the media right now? How will I use my passion for storytelling to influence the media?
Before I covered the Chinese technology industry, I worked in it. I was a visiting journalist at Tencent — the behemoth social media company — where I helped produce original documentary content for the company’s Chinese audience.
There, I got a taste of Chinese work culture. They called it “996,” because workers were expected to stay in the office from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days a week. My deskmates kept pillows and blankets in their file cabinets, ready to stay the night or take an emergency nap at lunch.
A year later, when I was covering the industry for TechNode, anonymous Chinese software developers launched a protest against 996 labor practices. In a savvy move, the workers took to Github — a site for open source software projects — and created a fair labor license that companies would need to follow in order to use participating open source software.
In China, where protest is rare, this rebellion was monumental. And it captured technology’s ability to both oppress and uplift: The all-powerful tech industry fostered this abuse, but individuals used that same technology to rise up.
The media has a responsibility to systematize “solutions journalism” — reporting that identifies inequities, but also charts possible paths forward. To do that, we need to close the distance between readers, reporters and the communities we cover.
My team at TechNode interviewed a Chinese developer who supported the movement. “People haven’t been working the 996 schedule willingly,” she said. “I believe 996 violates labor laws, but we don’t have unions or organizations to help safeguard the rights of employees.”
When we published our story, I wanted to make sure members of the movement could hear her words. We immediately posted our work right back onto the same Github repository, so Chinese developers could find it despite the firewall.
Reporters should pair their investigations with tactics of community organizing, facilitating in-person dialogues about systemic problems. I envision a world where reporters not only break news, but also sift through the rubble to look for solutions.
I’m currently investigating the furtive ways that police departments obtain surveillance software. Privacy researchers tell me surveillance abuses tend to go uncovered, because when dealing with brand new technology, individuals’ rights aren’t always obvious. VICE should not only cover these abuses, but also hold meetings in communities where police are known to surveil — to share what reporters have learned, and more importantly, to listen, deeply, and find solutions.
In some cases, VICE should be the solution. During the pandemic, education disparities are sure to widen. In addition to covering the problems with online learning, why not help teen readers by repackaging VICE content into a curriculum? Call it VICE 101, with courses that matter: the history of mass incarceration, hacking basics, personal finance and sex ed. Build a syllabus with the best VICE stories and documentaries, and pair those lessons with weekly discussions.
Despite the horror that 2020 has thrown us, I’m optimistic about the next ten years. In the face of great oppression, people will find solutions. And VICE will be there, listening.