ChinaFile launches in February

A new online magazine seeks to give "texture" to China coverage

A new online magazine focusing on China is launching on February 5. ChinaFile, currently available in beta, was founded by the Center on US-China Relations, a privately funded nonprofit under the umbrella of the Asia Society. The new site aims to address gaps in coverage left by shrinking international bureaus and to take a deeper, broader look at China’s history and culture. ChinaFile is partnering with the New York Review of Books among others, and The New York Times has translated English-language articles from ChinaFile for its Chinese-language site, ChinaFile staffers said.

According to ChinaFile editor Susan Jakes, Center director Orville Schell, who has authored nine books about China and is a former dean and professor at UC Berkeley’s school of journalism,* first conceived it two and a half years ago. He wanted to create a space to bring together disparate bits of China coverage from around the Web and enrich it with input from scholars and specialists, many of whom previously worked with the Center on US-China Relations, Jakes said. In December 2010, Schell contacted Jakes, a former Time magazine journalist with eight years of experience reporting in China, and asked her if she would put her PhD at Yale on hold to edit the new site.

Jakes told CJR that ChinaFile hopes to address the upsurge in interest about China over the last decade. “We noticed a need for a place that would report on subjects just a little bit further from the news cycle and give texture to people’s ideas of China,” Jakes said. She also hope that ChinaFile will fill the gap in converage left by two English-language publications about China, The Far Eastern Economic Review, which closed in 2009, and AsiaWeek, which closed in 2001.

Around six staffers from the center will work full time on the site, which is based in New York and privately funded. ChinaFile will also aggregate coverage of the country from a multitude of other publications and partnerships, aiming to serve as a one-stop shop for accessible information, rather than the community of what Jakes calls “professional China-watchers,” who have time to read many sources.

The site already features the entire archive of China coverage from the New York Review of Books, photo essays from online photojournalism magazine VII, and articles from Tea Leaf Nation, an online magazine that offers analysis on news gleaned from Chinese social networking sites. ChinaFile will feature original content from a wide network of freelancers that its editors hope to syndicate widely. “We’re happy for people to read ChinaFile stories wherever they find them,” Jakes said.

While the English-speaking world usually covers big stories like the recent censorship walk out, or Beijing’s air pollution crisis, ChinaFile staffers feel that mainstream news outlets often fail to build a bigger picture of life in the country. That’s a gap Jonathan Landreth, who reported freelance from Beijing for eight years before joining ChinaFile as managing editor last year, thinks ChinaFile can fill.

“As China’s power grows, political and economic coverage of the country is important, but much is lost,” Landreth said. “Our goal is really to raise the quality of the conversation about China.”

*The article originally said Schell was a current UC Berkeley professor, and he is a former dean and professor.

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Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield. Tags: ,