In the autumn of 2002, Brent asked me to take over editing ZGBriefs, a weekly email of curated China news. I thought it sounded like an interesting project, so even though I was working full-time in China, I said yes. I never imagined I would still be doing it 16 years later!
At the time, the newsletter was just over a year old and was going out to an email list of approximately 300 people. Subscription was by invitation or request only. In 2012, we integrated ZGBriefs into the ChinaSource website, a move that allowed anyone to subscribe Today it has over 4600 subscribers.
The purpose of ZGBriefs is to provide those in the China ministry community with a resource that would help them stay current on events and trends in China; or, as I say, “scanning the Internet so you don’t have to!” It is posted to the ChinaSource website on Thursdays. If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to go here to subscribe.
I often get questions from ZGBriefs readers so I thought I’d turn some of them into a FAQ format. Perhaps you’ve been wondering these things as well.
Q: How many sources do you monitor each week and how do you monitor them?
A: To put together ZGBriefs, I monitor 70-80 sources. When I say “monitor” I mean I either have a site bookmarked in my browser, I follow it on Twitter, or I subscribe to the RSS feed. For RSS feed monitoring, I use Feedly, which automatically checks my subscriptions for new content and puts them into a “China” folder that I can access at my convenience. I can’t imagine trying to put together ZGBriefs without it.
Q: How long does it take you to compile ZGBriefs?
A: I spend some time everyday checking Feedly and highlighting articles for possible inclusion. I do the same on Twitter. On “compilation day” (Wednesday), it takes me approximately four hours to compile and get it loaded onto the site for publication on Thursday.
Q: Why Thursday?
A: Why not? That’s the way it started and there seems to be no compelling reason to change it.
Q: How do you decide which items to include each week?
A: Since there are so many news items out of China each week, that is one of the biggest challenges. I try to include a mix of links to straight news stories, as well as analysis and opinion. I look for articles that will fit into the different categories in the newsletter (politics, religion, economics, etc.), and that will be of interest to a wide variety of readers. I’m always on the lookout for new sources as well, whether blogs, journals, or even podcasts.
Q: Are there sources you avoid, or tend not to use?
A: In general, I don’t include links to press releases or ministry newsletters. I also try to stay away from sources that require a paid subscription, such as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The Washington Post. There are occasions, however, when I feel an article from one of those is important enough to be included anyway. I try to keep these to a minimum, however, and make a note that a subscription is required.
Q: How has editing ZGBriefs changed in the 16 years you have been doing it?
A: I would say the biggest change is in the proliferation of sources and sites from which to choose. Beyond the major media outlets (NYT, CNN, TIME, Newsweek, China Daily, etc.), there really weren’t to many other sources to choose from in the early days. The explosion of blogs, online publications, podcasts, and social media has meant an expansion of voices and perspectives that can be included.
Q: What have you learned about China in the process of compiling ZGBriefs each week for the past 16 years?
A: That’s a hard question to answer without falling into a swamp of clichés (“China is changing.” “China is opening up.”) I guess my main observation would be this: Even though China would prefer to restrict reporting and control the narrative, there are numerous journalists, academics, and ordinary bloggers who are producing extremely intelligent writing about China.
Q: Do you ever get tired of compiling ZGBriefs each week?
A: Not really. It’s important for me stay up on what’s happening in China, and compiling ZGBriefs is a way to do that. It’s hard to imagine a Wednesday without ZGBriefs work!
Finally, in 2015 I wrote a post, “Where’s ZGBriefs”, in which I listed the 38 different places where I have compiled ZGBriefs over the years. Since then I have added the following locations:
Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada
Estes Park, CO
Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada
North Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
In case you’re interested, upcoming “non-home” locations for this summer/autumn will include Estes Park, CO, Waynesville, NC, and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio
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