Thursday, November 18, 2010

News on the March

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I subscribe to the Guangzhou Daily, Guangzhou’s (Second) Best Daily Chinese Language Newspaper. (Motto: “Seeking the most remarkable news, molding the most trusted news source.” A younger me would have said that it sounds better in Chinese, but I’m tired of making excuses.)

Now, I know I’ve had some bad things to say about Chinese news outlets in the past. I know I’ve called certain papers — the China Daily, especially — some bad names: news(toilet)paper, China Gay-ly, pickle breath, ass blaster, Tryin’-a-slay-me, the Daily Princetonian. But really we shouldn’t blame the authors of these papers. After all, they get their news information from Xinhua, China’s state-run news apparatus, and they really don’t have much choice about what to put in the paper. They get their articles, they slap them into their layout, choose a headline, and push print. Bet those ass blasters don’t even do a Print Preview first.

But it’s the “choose a headline” bit that we’ll be focusing on today.

This morning, at breakfast, I’m reading the paper, like I do, and I turn to page one. Note that at the Guangzhou Daily, page one contains no articles, only headlines. All part and parcel of their unparalleled commitment to quality journalism. Top of page one, biggest font on the page:

温家宝考察广州赞变化
“比以前更干净,花更多,树更绿”

And here’s what this headline says in English:

Wen Jiabao praises changes during inspection of Guangzhou
“It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.”

Just in case you missed it, the pull quote they decided on for the subhed of this front page article was: “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.”

So China’s Premier Wen Jiabao comes to Guangzhou for the opening of the Asian games. He looks around. He comments on what he sees. But the reporters are restless: they’re looking for one sentence, one pithy, encouraging remark that could sum up his entire trip to Guangzhou and his hopes for the city’s future. And this quote has to be great because, remember, page one contains no news content of any kind, so this quote is doing all the work of attracting people not only to buy, but also to open the paper.

And then someone hears Wen Jiabao say, “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.” And suddenly all the reporters are laughing and shaking hands and backslapping because they got this one in the bag. And there’s probably some fresh new reporter, first day on the job, who’s like, guys, shouldn’t we wait around? Can’t we get something better than “there are more flowers? and the other reporters shake their heads and grin and say, kid, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Oh, and by the way, a longer version of the quote is used as the headline on page two: “比以前更干净,花更多,树更绿。看到这些变化很让人高兴。” Or, “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener. Seeing these changes makes people happy.” Even better!

Other page one news: remember how the Asian games started last Friday night? How many medals do you think China has won so far? One hundred and thirty three medals. In six days. More than twice as many as Korea, their closest competitor. At some point the other countries are going to realize that when China invites you over to their house to play, they’re not trying to be neighborly, they just want to beat you.