In print journalism, a story placed on the front page above the fold is a signal of its importance. The journalists whose work is consistently featured there are rightfully considered among the most influential. But what is the equivalent in the digital age, when readers can find reporting aggregated across outlets and disaggregated by topic?
China Books Review has produced a new measure of the most prominent online journalists in China reporting, building on its previous analysis of the leading outlets and coverage trends. The index, based on daily Google News results for China-related stories, considers the author’s share of stories that are in the first position on the platform and the total number of days these leading stories persist in any position, a measure of their impact over multiple news cycles.
Nectar Gan, a correspondent for CNN, dominated the list with 30 first position articles in 2021 which collectively persisted on the Google News platform for 442 days, earning a score of 15.6 points. Gan was followed by CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng and the New York Times’ Keith Bradsher with 8.6 and 7.2 points, respectively.
Among Gan’s work with the highest staying power on Google News last year were her coverage of China’s belated disclosure of the four soldiers killed during a 2020 border clash with India; Covid and China’s disinformation campaign surrounding its origins; and the extension of the US-China rivalry into space. Prior to joining CNN, Gan was a reporter at the South China Morning Post. Cheng, currently based in Beijing, previously covered markets from CNBC’s New Jersey headquarters. Bradsher, currently the Times’ Beijing bureau chief, previously served in that capacity in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Detroit.
The index is based on daily pulls of the top China-related stories on Google News in 2021 (results were available for 90% of days); given that Google accounts for a significant share of web traffic, it is considered a useful proxy for an article and journalist’s reach. Both the story position and endurance measures are equally weighted. Co-authors were credited equally regardless of byline order. To be sure, the measure is dependent on a complex set of factors that influence the Google News algorithm. For example, the algorithm may privilege articles produced by CNN over outlets, irrespective of the journalist, topic, or article in question. As ever, a journalist is influential both because of their talent, the salience of their beat, and the reputation of the outlet with which they are affiliated. The index does not consider other potential indicators of influence, such as the author’s count of followers on Twitter or the volume of retweets of their work.