On November 10 the Legal Evening Post, a newspaper published by Beijing Youth Daily, began serializing a novel by journalist Zhu Huaxiang (朱华祥) that gives readers an inside look at the lives of “news workers”, including interactions between fictional editors and fictional propaganda officials, and selective fictional bans on news coverage recalling very real news stories in China, from the draft emergency management law to student protests. The first installment follows:
At 9:30am after he had sent out “Demands Concerning Sudden-Breaking News in Dongfang City” and the propaganda department’s second publicity notice, He Dalong, director of the Office of Information of the Dongfang City Propaganda Department, began doing what he did everyday — he read all the newspapers of Dongfang City. Stacked on his desk were all the papers published in the city that day: The Legal Reporter, Information Express, Dongfang Economic Daily, Dongfang Commercial Daily, Dongfang Evening Post …
He Dalong simply scanned the first few papers, looking mostly at the headlines. The last paper he read was always the city’s venerable old Dongfang Evening Post, which held a pivotal position and had to be scrutinized carefully.
“Ding! Ding! Ding! …” The phone rang. He glanced quickly at the number listed and then immediately picked up the receiver. His tone grew respectful: “Department Head Zhang! It’s Dalong.”
It was Ma Cheng, head of the propaganda department of the Dongfang Municipal Party Committee. He had just received a notice from the provincial propaganda department ordering media not to carelessly build up stories of conflicts involving university students.
“Dalong, the Information Office needs to send out this notice. The student problem is getting more and more complicated. We have to be on our guard, otherwise things will get really chaotic. Has next week’s regular news meeting been planned?” He Dalong answered: “Everyone [all the media] has been notified, it’s just that Sun Qiangqing of Dongfang Evening Post has asked to be excused, and for the assistant editor, Gu Chengshi, to go in his place”. Ma Cheng’s voice grew a bit hostile: “That old Sun is trying to avoid the propaganda department”. He Dalong said: “Yeah, he’s avoided coming to quite a few meetings. Do you want to call him in to talk?” “Talk about what? If we really call him out and bring him in to talk he’ll lose face. Ok, let’s just keep our eyes on the ball.”
He Dalong hung up the phone, sipped his tea and began flipping through the day’s Evening Post. He had never thought that at the age of 34 he would be serving as the commander in chief, [as it were], of this particular newspaper.
It was at about this time that Chen Yuan, acting assistant editor of Southern Times was at the wheel of his Santana [sedan], caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic along the main road of the special economic zone. It wasn’t uncommon for him to sit in 40 minutes of traffic on the way to the office each day.
As he sat at the red light, Chen Yuan belted out a song and thought out a number of newspage issues at Southern Times. The executive committee of the newspaper [including top editors and the director, generally a cadre] had demanded that the arrangement of the paper be adjusted. For those newspapers that were drawing readers in China, it was mostly a question of style. Like those metro newspapers in Chengdu, Sichuan, that drew the eye with bold headlines. Chinese newspapers were all crazy about redesigning themselves. Whenever a new director or editor-in-chief came on board, the first thing they did was change the front page, which they saw as an accomplishment in itself.
The light turned green and Chen Yuan eased the car forward. Chen Yuan thought that he wanted to change the layout of the newspaper to something like that of the U.S. Wall Street Journal, but he worried that the executive committee might not approve. That was a great layout, one that had stood the test of time. But did it suit Chinese readers? He had no idea. He thought changing the layout to something more like the UK’s The Sun might stand a better chance of passing muster. This style was also suited to attracting readers.
Just as he was thinking this, his mobile phone rang. It was his wife.
“Are you coming home for dinner tonite?”
“Not tonite, I have to meet with the CEO of Ruidong Group”.
“What do they do?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve heard they’re paper manufacturers. Someone else introduced him, but we haven’t met yet”.
“Oh. Well, don’t drink to much.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll still have to be on the night shift”.
Right after he finished speaking to his wife the news desk at the paper called. They said an electrical components manufacturer in the special economic zone was searching its employees everyday, and that some of the security guards had touched the female workers inappropriately. “Jerks!” said Chen Yuan. “Send a reporter over, and ask someone from the photography desk to go along. Do a good job of it.”
[Posted by David Bandurski, November 17, 2006, 12:39pm]