Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Assistant

It occurred to me, almost immediately upon my arrival in China, that if I was to ever work efficiently in this country I would need to help of an assistant. That realization came to me five years ago.

I have yet to hire an assistant.

Most of the reason for this has been financial. It took me a few years to learn how to be a journalist and establish myself as someone who was based in China and working on strong features. With that being said, it is also serious business interviewing people and offering them any sense of job stability - or at least conveying a sense of the fact that you will at least pay them at the end of each month.

The job of journalism assistant is a tough one, let there be no doubt about it. The job itself offers almost no chance of advancement or substantial salary increase. A local Chinese assistant working for the New York Times Bureau in Beijing will surely never rise to the point of becoming the Beijing Bureau chief. So, the job requires someone with a motivation unlike most.

In China's big cities the economic growth is dizzying. Getting a job, for a bright University graduate can be as simple as breathing. Most young Shanghai residents switch jobs as often as two or three times a year - opting to take a new position for as little as US$20 more per month in salary. The growth is there to support this type of behavior. In this new economy money seems to rule, few potential employees care about being part of a team, or building something special. There are few that will sacrifice now for something greater in the future. In a very broad and general sense, these are the employment conditions in Shanghai.

So you can imagine my pitch: You are going to work long days, doing difficult work and I'll be paying you less than you can make working for someone else. But I can offer you a bit of excitement, some travel and you'll get to see a side of China that you didn't learn about in high school classes. If only that pitch could generate some interest.

By the way, this is not simply a problem I have. Most of my journalism friends or people in the publishing business have similar difficulty. Compounding the problem is finding someone who doesn't always take what they are told for truth. Open mindedness, critical thinking and having opinions are also important for a job like this; but these qualities are not exactly stressed in the Chinese educational system. In fact, a student who shows the kind of behavior and mental capacity that I am looking for would often be reprimanded if in the class room.

So this is where I stand today. I am assistant-less, but still fairly efficient and working hard. Assignments are starting to pick up again after the summer lull that seems to fall over the entire industry.

More interviews next week.

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle


  1. Good luck with the assistant thing. I worked as an assistant to Eddie Adams one summer. I may have already told that story. Some of Perpignan is a hazy blur.

  2. after reading your blog I remembered that I'd started a blogspot blog a long time ago. I did it as a protest...



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