Web Journalists Keep Discerning Eye on Asia

AsiaMedia's focus on global dimensions will be evident on April 27 when it will screen a documentary film by Yahoo! News reporter Kevin Sites about his solo journeys across 22 war zones over a year.

When a critical mass of people get interested in Asia, they start wondering how they're getting their information.

This article was first published in UCLA Today Online.

By Ajay Singh

WHEN PARTS OF ASIA were struck by a devastating tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004, UCLA staffer Angilee Shah got in touch with a Chicago Tribune reporter who had been ousted from Indonesia's disaster-ravaged Aceh province by the Indonesian army battling an insurgency in the area.

As managing editor of AsiaMedia, an online publication based at UCLA's Asia Institute, Shah asked the journalist, Michael Lev, if he would write about his experience. He promptly shot off an exclusive report for AsiaMedia, not only breaking the story about the expulsion of journalists from Aceh but providing AsiaMedia its "first big breakthrough," said Shah, adding exultantly: "The tsunami fueled change at AsiaMedia in a big way."

Originally known as Asia-Pacific Media Network when it was founded in 1998, the publication focuses primarily on news about Asian media — everything from the change in ownership of a Malaysian daily to social, political and economic forces driving media across Asia.

"When a critical mass of people get interested in Asia, they start wondering how they're getting their information," Shah explained. "AsiaMedia takes a look at how Asia is presented."

Working out of a small room on the 11th floor of Bunche Hall, this niche publication is staffed by Shah and four part-time student interns who scour the Internet for relevant news and feature stories five days a week.

A selection of these stories is posted on the publication's Web site (www.asiamedia.ucla.edu), as are stories written by the interns and a string of columnists. Some 1 million readers on average visit the Web site annually, Shah said, adding that most are scholars, journalists, decision-makers and students.

AsiaMedia also reports on some of Asia's most neglected regions. It recently focused on media censorship in Nepal and China, highlighting how Internet bloggers have become the new watchdogs in both nations.

Once, when an AsiaMedia intern wrote a story about Nepalese bloggers, the Reuters news agency ran virtually the same story two weeks later, said Shah. "So we knew we were picking the kinds of stories that resonate with people."

In 2006, UCLA alumnus Arthur Rhodes won an award for new media reporting from the South Asian Journalists Association. Rhodes, an anthropology major, received the honor for writing an unusual article in AsiaMedia on the 2005 presidential election in Sri Lanka.

He reported on a widely ignored aspect of the elections: why the nation's minority Tamils were determined not to vote. Rhodes also broke a story about the murder of a Sri Lankan journalist and documented the adverse effects that powerful international charities were having on local volunteer groups in the tsunami's aftermath.

AsiaMedia's focus on global dimensions will be evident on April 27 when it will screen a documentary film by Yahoo! News reporter Kevin Sites about his solo journeys across 22 war zones over a year. "A World of Conflict" is part of an international experiment in online journalism. The screening, at 7 p.m. in the James Bridges Theater, will be followed by a Q&A with Sites. RSVP to erwin.c.ong@gmail.com