James Pomfret on reporting inside the Hong Kong protester's campaign against China
Earlier this year, protests erupted to reject a bill that would have allowed the extradition of defendants from Hong Kong to mainlaind China. Last week, Reuters interviewed dozens of young protesters in Hong Kong directly challenging China’s communist rulers to piece together how this movement functions and the mindset driving it. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Chief Correspondent in Southern China and Hong Kong James Pomfret offers an inside look at reporting this story.
Q: How did you get started on this story?
A: The story came to us, but has been a long-time brewing. Hong Kong’s pushback against China’s tightening grip has been a theme the bureau here has been reporting extensively on since the city’s 2014 pro-democracy “Occupy” civil disobedience movement that lasted almost three months. So, when the anti-government protests began gathering steam again this year, the entire bureau was poised to respond, and we jumped on it.
Q: What types of reporting were involved?
A: We followed a frontline protester, Ah Lung (Dragon), for a full day, shadowing him as he roamed across the city in his full body gear—confronting riot police, being tear-gassed three times in different locations, chatting with him about his life—with dramatic accompanying video from Thomas Suen. The HK bureau, led by Anne Marie Roantree, has had to mix daily spot coverage on the often heated protests with deeper investigative pieces that have taken longer to realize and have required deeper sourcing. Over the past few months, the bureau has come up with a mix of spot stories, exclusives, insights, analyses, features and a special report as this movement intensifies and increasingly challenges China’s rule over the city.
Q: What was the hardest part of the reporting?
A: Balancing breadth and depth of coverage and a lack of sleep from being out on the streets late into the night, then shifting gears in the morning, and having to write trunks, meet sources and attend press conferences. The bureau has also had to deftly go about snapping and reporting on everything else going on, including financial and business news.
Q: Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A: As one of the world’s preeminent financial centers and China’s freest city, Hong Kong’s importance as a bastion of capitalism, pushing for greater democracy on the doorstep of the world’s rising superpower, is a captivating story with deep regional implications spanning U.S-China relations, business, economics and finance.
Q: What makes you passionate about journalism?
A: It’s an honest calling, endlessly fascinating, drawing upon many skills that when combined effectively, can be deeply satisfying and make a real difference. Going about a regular day—the way you talk to a person, kindle an idea, craft an angle, pen a sentence, ask a question, tilt a lens—can have subtle and powerful effects. It also lets you stretch your legs, escape the office and step more independently and freely about the world.
Q: What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A: I cover politics and general news for Reuters as Chief Correspondent in Southern China and Hong Kong. The most fulfilling aspect is being part of a great team and being surrounded by passionate and dedicated colleagues who shape you each day into a better journalist and a better, if not more resilient, person.
Q: What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A: These protests are the biggest and most challenging story I’ve covered so far in my career, stretching my skills and experiences in ways that have surprised me. As journalists, we don’t always ride big, regional stories breaking on our home turf; there tend to be lean and slow streaks in between that are challenging in different ways. So the bureau and myself, alongside other senior colleagues like Greg Torode, are trying our best to surf this historical moment as best we can for as long as we can.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A: I’ve had many fantasies: naturalist, explorer, film director, archaeologist, footballer (without the dodgy knees). But on balance, journalism has been one hell of a ride, one of the best and most fun careers anyone could ask for.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: Never give up. Keep shedding light where it is needed with integrity, guts and hard work.