HAS HE GOT NEWS FOR YOU: Tom Lasseter, Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy newspapers

What social media platforms are you on, and what are your handle(s) on them?
I’m on Twitter @TomLasseter, Google+ as Tom Lasseter and I have a work Facebook account, also under my name.
What do you get from each of these platforms? Which do you most heavily use?
I mainly use Twitter, which offers a good cross-section of people posting about breaking news (especially when something big is happening), China-related stories in domestic and foreign media that I’ve missed, links to essays or commentary that have caused waves here, and feeds from several Chinese media sources that I find valuable.
Where do you get your own news from?
I rely heavily on reporting in the Chinese press. There are often small items in state press with an interesting detail that suggests something bigger or more interesting has happened than what the article itself describes. And, of course, publications like Southern Weekly, The Economic Observer, Caixin, Caijing and China Economic Times have all done compelling investigative work. For tips, verified and otherwise, weibo is great. Like everyone else in this town, I’d recommend subscribing to Bill Bishop’s daily reads over at sinocism.com.
How much time would you say you spend on social media daily? Is it worth it?
When I’m at my desk, I often leave Twitter on and scroll through it now and then. When out of the office, I glance down at my phone between interviews. I’m more compulsive some days than others. I’d guess that if you add it all up, it comes to an average of something like two hours a day.
How do you organize everything? What software do you use?
TweetDeck on my laptop, HootSuite on mobile devices. On the screen that I use, I have a column for China-related stuff (@TomLasseter/china) that I focus on. I put together a general foreign affairs list as well, but often feel overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to figure out what’s happening in places other than here (@TomLasseter/general-foreign-affairs).
Then there’s @TomLasseter/things-i-like-to-read, a hodgepodge including @The Browser (flags interesting articles from all over), @DaleMurphy3 (hometown baseball hero), @nybooks (The New York Review of Books) and – though I hesitate to admit this – @KimKierkegaard (quotes from Kim Kardashian mashed with passages from Soren Kierkegaard. I’m very much hoping to see an @JoseHume, as in Canseco).
Are you on weibo? If so, what’s your take on it?
Owing to my language skills, or lack thereof, I’m not on Weibo. But I follow it closely with help from my research assistant. I think Tencent and Sina Weibo are incredible windows to all sorts of things happening now – as in right this millisecond – in China. Most fascinating, to my mind anyway, is that we still don’t really know what the impact or legacy of those platforms will be for China, particularly as more and more smart phones penetrate the market. After the Wenzhou train crash last year, I took a high-speed train trip to and from Shanghai. As I interviewed passengers about their thoughts about the accident, I also asked them where they got their news. I was taken aback, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been, by how many answered: weibo.
Has being on social media been beneficial to your life or career in Beijing?
I hadn’t used Twitter on a regular basis before moving here. I was, and continue to be, wary of the multiplicity of ways in which one’s meaning can be misconstrued in a single tweet. (I read books I disagree with, watch movies that occasionally offend me, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth considering. I view the “RT” of a tweet in the same fashion.) In any event, once I got to Beijing I found Twitter to be an invaluable way of plugging into the news stream. I get tired of it sometimes, hit quit and try to ignore it for a while. That’s usually when I get a phone call from someone who’s just seen something big flash across Twitter.
Which accounts do you most recommend people to follow?
Danwei.com put together an excellent list earlier this year. Folks reading this will probably be familiar with most of the usual suspects, but if not, I’d suggest starting here: danwei.com/model-workers-2012. They kept the Twitter portion short, but for journos-who-tweet-a-lot I would have added @markmackinnon, Globe and Mail reporter who does a great job of adding regional context, and @limlouisa, NPR’s Beijing correspondent. I should also mention @Bendilaowai (Beijing-based journalist Rachel Beitarie), @ananthkrishnan (Beijing-based journalist) and @AdamMinter (Shanghai-based journalist), who often catch my eye for their willingness to counter the echo chamber’s collective roar. The entire list of accounts I follow is @TomLasseter/china.
Smartphone, tablet or desktop?
All of above. I prefer tablet, but since getting a smartphone find it a little silly to carry around both.
Which China blogs do you find the most essential?
I’d point you to danwei.com/model-workers-2012.
Will social media supplant journalism, take it someplace new or just be a supplement?
No idea. But it’s proving to be a very interesting question.

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  1. hard have heard of the paper that this chap is working for, but i do follow him regularly on tweeter and he tweets twinkling and shines like the stars among tweeters from Beijing

  2. hardly have heard of the paper that this chap is working for, but i do follow him regularly on tweeter and he tweets twinkling and shines like the stars among tweeters from Beijing