“Journalism with Chinese Characteristics”

A somewhat funny piece, in a sad kind of way, from a former Global Times writer showed up in The Asia Sentinel today:

I was the first foreigner hired by the publication, which has since earned a reputation for scathing denunciations of pretty much anything not connected to the Communist Party and for occasional calls to arms against the west, regarded as imperialistic hegemonists.

Months before it began printing, I was interviewed and hired by the marmot-bangs bewigged Global Times editor in chief, Hu Xijin, after answering three questions:

“Are you a friend of China?”
“What is your opinion about Tibet?”
“Should China have Western-style democracy?”

That was the bulk of my interview. No questions about journalism per se, or my previous experience as a copy editor and reporter at China Daily, Shenzhen Daily, The Standard in Hong Kong and many more years in the US at daily papers, most of which are now sadly defunct.

It quickly became clear to me though that Hu’s new model wasn’t going to be as progressive as he’d initially led me and others later to believe. It was, of course, journalism with Chinese characteristics.

Although I was presented as an “expert” and asked to train and critique reporters, give several presentations on subjects such as interviewing, feature stories, and hard news stories there were moments when I wondered “What the f**k was I thinking?”

This became glaringly apparent one afternoon when I had been told to give a lecture on Western news style. Prepared with notes and a Power Point presentation, I showed up in the appointed room on time only to find it empty.

After waiting 10 minutes I began seeking one of the few English-speaking Global Times-China staff and asked if she knew where the new troops were.

“They are attending a lecture on the history of the PLA!” I was told brightly. My lecture was never rescheduled as other more “relevant” training, such as the history of the Chinese Communist Party began to amp up.

One of Zhang’s brilliant front page story assignments was one on McDonald’s offering cut rate coupons because “foreigners love McDonald’s.”

Never mind that I had never met a foreigner outside of an embassy who reads Global Times. “Mr Zhang, just go to a Chinese McDonald’s – like the one across the street — and see who the majority of the customers are,” I suggested. But he stuck to it and the result sucked, of course, though it made the front page. Great free advertising for McDonald’s, though.

GT’s comatose-appearing ad sales staff was a whole nother story. None spoke English or had a clue as to how to promote the paper. They spent most of their time playing online games and snoozing at their desks rather than pounding the polluted Beijing pavements for ads.

Given that the English-language edition of Global Times was specifically designed with foreign readers in mind, you can imagine that conditions in newspapers aimed at the domestic audiences are likely even less journalistically sound. No wonder people in China increasingly trust rumors over anything and everything else.

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