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