'Red Sox Win!' -- read all about it in the Peking Daily
Peking — A tourist from Boston sitting down to breakfast in a Peking hotel checks on the fortunes of the Red Sox. Across the room a retired businessman from Miami frowns as he reads of a further slide in the previous day's trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Unthinkable just a short time ago when China was all but closed to the outside world, this sort of information is now freely available to visitors and residents through the English-language China Daily, which went on sale in Chinese cities and in Hong Kong this month.
"A few years ago when an increasing number of foreigners started coming to China, they complained of feeling cut off from information about events in the rest of the world," Feng Xilian, managing editor of the China Daily, said this week, explaining of why the paper was launched. The new paper is trying to respond to that need.
China Daily is an experiment for the Chinese, whose own newspapers are quite different from those produced in the West. Their own papers tend to be long on Communist Party propaganda and short on news.
Trial issues of the daily, which have been available in Peking for the past month, show the editors are trying to combine a Western approach to the presentation of news with what they see as China's propaganda interests.
To Western eyes, the paper's news judgment is sometimes jarring -- such as the day the story about France's new president took second place on the front page to a piece about a Khmer Rouge radio broadcast that made what appeared to be extravagant claims about battlefield successes in Cambodia.
Mr. Feng, a shrewd, gray-haired gentleman who speaks impeccable English learned at a missionary academy in pre- 1949 Shanghai, concedes there are basic differences in approach between Western and Chinese journalists on the treatment of news.
"We don't see it as you see it," he says. "This paper is to be read by foreigners, but still a lot of Chinese will read it. I think we have to strike a good balance."
A small group of foreign journalists, who are referred to as "experts," assist Mr. Feng's group to achieve this "balance."
Mr. Feng sees the continued involvement of foreigners in the paper's production as necessary to act "as a representative of the voice of the readers."
"Originally I would have told you this paper would eventually be run exclusively by Chinese, but no I believe we'll always need one or two experienced foreign journalists," he said. Mr. Feng observed that it was important to have a "second opinion -- otherwise I think we would tend to get too subjective."
John Lawrence, group training supervisor of David Syme & Co., Ltd., publisher of the Age newspaper of Melbourne, Australia, who has worked on the China daily for the past six months, believes that news judgments among Chinese on the paper are beginning to correspond more with the tastes and requirements of a Western audience.
"It is essential that Chinese journalists develop a critical approach to news ," he said.
China Daily, an eight-page broadsheet, has been more than two years in the making. The Chinese turned to organizations like David Syme and Britain's Thomson Foundation for advice and assistance. Mr. Feng and senior colleagues spent a little more than a month in Melbourne last year studying production techniques.
The China Daily, as would be expected, has had some teething troubles. The Chinese had no experience in producing a daily English-language paper incorporating Western techniques of up-to-date news presentation. Mr. Feng said there were difficulties getting suitable staff with a good grasp of English, and even now the paper is being run by what he describes as a "skeleton staff."
China Daily incorporates a mixture of Chinese and foreign news, features, travel hints, sports, and business news, including gold prices and stock market reports from world financial centers.
Much of the foreign news is taken from Western news agencies. It is quite common to find the big Western agencies jostling for space with Xinhua, the New China News Agency, in the China Daily.
John Lawrence believes an unexpected result of the daily's Western-style news presentation, emphasizing attractive layouts and photographs, may be that Chinese newspapers, which have a singularly dull appearance, will brighten up their own pages. He says there has been "a lot of feedback" from journalists working on Chinese publications who liked the appearance of the China Daily.
It may be a coincidence, but two days after the China Daily produced a picture page of the life and times of Soong Ching Ling, late widow of Sun Yat Sen, who died late last month, the People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper and sister public ation to the English-language paper, followed suit.