Media matters

Flicking through the South China Morning Post’s international section this morning, I am delighted to find no fewer than three opportunities to re-read whole, hefty-sized articles that I perused in detail yesterday in the New York Times on-line.  They are ‘Clinton friends deliver US pavilion for Expo’, ‘Millions in US survive on food stamps, no cash’ and (I wasn’t busy) ‘Asian carp stirs legal tussles between Great Lakes states’.  Not only that, but I also have the excitement of these three hitherto unseen headlines, which were crafted from scratch by the SCMP’s sub-editors as original works to fit their own publication’s layout.  As it happens, one enjoyment of each story was enough, but it is thoughtful of them to give us the choice.

Back in the days when we were poorer but happy, readers lunged at two-day-old overseas news items and devoured them.  A weekly airmail edition of a newspaper from the old country – printed on ultra-thin paper – was considered a highly pleasant luxury.  Members of the Foreign Correspondents Club would bicker over the previous week’s London Sunday Times.  I would cross the harbour to treat myself to surprisingly fresh and cheap issues of top overseas papers from an elderly newsvendor outside Kowloon Star Ferry, who got them from her son, who cleaned out aircraft cabins at Kai Tak.  I should have kept the front page that showed a photo of a major air crash and had ‘Courtesy of Cathay Pacific’ stamped in purple on the all black-and-white disaster.  If the idea of colour pictures in newspapers seemed far-fetched in those days, Internet publishing belonged to science fiction: instant news anywhere and anytime.

And free.  Mostly.  It is ironic that if I want to read about Michigan suing Illinois over non-native fish on the SCMP’s website today, I have to be a paid subscriber; but seeing it at www.nytimes.com yesterday cost nothing.  The fact that the SCMP has the nerve to charge for access seems to incense some people, but to the extent that it offers a unique product – (debatably) quality comprehensive English-language coverage of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta – it would be crazy to give it away.  Probably, too few people (and representing too disparate a demographic) crave English reportage on the Big Lychee on-line to attract advertisers, but they will pay money for it if they lack an acceptable alternative.

Only two other choices exist.  The free Standard is journalistic junk food; indeed, the target audience seems to be the secretaries and accounting ladies that line up at McDonalds in the morning.  Its tabloid prurience, pro-Beijing prejudices and adoration of tycoons make it amusing, but it’s not sustenance.  RTHK3 broadcasts on-line and posts the hourly news.  But it can’t rival a print publication for news depth or what we might call ‘ease of flicking through’ (though if you could skim through it, you would probably find it beats the SCMP’s analysis and commentary, much of which is repetitive or written by people trying to say or stimulate or offend as little as possible).  So, by default, we seem to be stuck with the SCMP and its vestigial two-day-old foreign news.

Having already absorbed Hilary’s Expo fund-raising and the food stamps traumas, I have a bit of time on my hands before today’s New York Times is ready on-line.  So I shall write to the Chinese government suggesting that they change the name of their capital city to Beixing.  This is partly because it could do with re-branding (the new name would mean ‘northern star’, which has a nice ring to it).  Mainly though, it would bring the pronunciation vaguely into line with that used by RTHK3, where newsreaders still, to this day, persist in enunciating the ‘j’ in Beijing as if it were the ‘s’ in ‘pleasure’ (or very roughly the ‘x’ in ‘xing’) when it is approximately an unaspirated ‘ch’ – which is what a ‘j’ basically is, as in, say, ‘jibberish’.

I will also recommend that they change Premier Wen Jiabao’s name so it is pronounced ‘when’ (RTHK-style) rather than ‘won’.  The problem here is that Mandarin Chinese words, and thus Pinyin, don’t really have a sound like the ‘e’ in ‘when’.  So they will have to invent a new letter for the Pinyin alphabet.*  Or maybe Wen could be persuaded to change his family name to something RTHK can’t get wrong, like Ma or Wu.

The SCMP doesn’t cause problems like this.

* Bingo: ê

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7 Responses to Media matters

  1. Joyce says:

    Mr. Lychee, you should subscribe to the IIHT, to help ensure that this fellow HK blogger still has a monthly paycheque. Plus, you will be able to get NYT copy that is slightly less old than what you would read in the SCMP, with possibly slightly better headlines.
    I’m half-joking, of course. I don’t know what will become of us in the newspaper world. It costs so much to produce international news, but consumers are so used to getting it for free online.

  2. Sam says:

    Maybe if the NYT did more reporting of news and less producing of it, people would be more inclined to pay for it.

  3. Historian says:

    I know the Standard is crap, but it seems to carry better local news coverage than SCMP, whose reporters do little more than watch local Cable TV news in Tai Po all day. And if the budgets are cut back much more up there, they won’t even be able to afford to do that.

  4. Number Wong says:

    Two thoughts:

    1.Do you think perhaps the preponderance of warmed over NYT, Guardian and Independent articles in the SCMP has something to do with the fact they sacked 35 reporters over Xmas holidays?

    2. I think all RTHK3 announcers should be instructed to pronounce Chinese names the same way their Chinese counterparts at RTHK pronouce them–in Cantonese. Why not have network wide consistency? And strike a blow for Cantonese supremacy at the same time! Repeat after me:

    Wan Ga Bo

    Hu Gam To

    Bak Ging

    Wasn’t that easy?

  5. Dave says:

    Actually, the reporters watch Cable TV in Causeway Bay.

  6. Joyce says:

    Number Wong — The SCMP has been relying on syndicated international media for a long time, certainly since I was there more than 5 years ago. And staff levels have gone up and down since then. I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s just cost-cutting. Maybe without a lot of thought to the quality of the coverage.

    The reasoning given to the SCMP staff — so I hear from my former colleagues — is that they had to cut so they could improve the quality of the product online. Now that makes no sense. You don’t produce better journalism with fewer journalists.

    My parent company, the NYT, has had cuts, too, both to staff levels and to salary (in the form of mandatory unpaid leave). But our bosses were nothing but upfront and honest about the fact that it was for the bottom line. I’d feel terrible if someone cut my job, and then told me it was to improve quality!

  7. Joyce says:

    Historian — The Standard is owned by Sing Tao.
    I think they translate alot of stuff from their Chinese-language sister paper. That tactic would be cost efficient, and probably results in better on-the-ground local coverage.

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