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One reporter's lonely mission to keep "facts" flowing in China, where it's "hard now to get real news"

Exiled Chinese journalist reports from Japan
Exiled Chinese journalist Wang Zhi'an continues to report from Japan 02:42

Tokyo — Wang Zhi'an was a star investigative reporter on China's main, state-run TV network. His hard-hitting stories, which included well-produced exposés on officials failing in their jobs, would routinely reach tens of millions of people.

But that was then. Now, Wang is a one-man band. He still broadcasts, but his news program is produced entirely by him, and it goes out only on social media — from his living room in Tokyo, Japan.

"I was a journalist for 20 years, but then I was fired," Wang told CBS News when asked why he left his country. "My social media accounts were blocked and eventually no news organization would touch me."

The World Press Freedom Index, compiled annually by the organization Reporters Without Borders, ranks China second to last, ahead of only North Korea.

Speaking truth to power as China's President Xi Jinping carried out a crackdown on dissent was just too dangerous, so Wang escaped to Tokyo three years ago. 

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It's been tough, he admitted, and lonely, but he can at least say whatever he wants.

This week, he slammed the fact that Chinese college applicants must write essays on Xi's speeches.

Half a million viewers tuned into his YouTube channel to hear his take, which was essentially that the essay requirement is a totalitarian farce.

Last year, Wang visited Ukraine to offer his viewers an alternative view of the war to the official Russian propaganda, which is parroted by China's own state media.

While YouTube is largely blocked by China's government internet censors, Wang said many Chinese people manage to access his content by using virtual private networks (VPNs) or other ways around the "Great Firewall."

But without corporate backing, his journalism is now carried out on a shoestring budget; Wang's story ideas are documented as post-it notes stuck to his kitchen wall. So, he's had to innovate.

On June 4 this year, to report on the anniversary of the violent 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on student protesters by Chinese authorities in Beijing, Wang crowdsourced photos from his 800,000 followers. Some of the images had rarely, if ever, been seen.

Chinese news journalist Wang Zhi'an speaks with CBS News at his home in Tokyo, Japan.  CBS News

Wang told CBS News he wants his channel to be "a source of facts on social and political events… because in China, it's so hard now to get real news."

His dogged commitment to reporting turned him from a famous insider in his own country, to an exiled outsider, but it didn't change his mission. He's still just a man who wants to tell the truth.

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