In China, an Editor Triumphs, and Fails

Philip Pan at Washington Post did a very good job covering the story of Cheng Yizhong, the Southern Metropolis Daily and the “new journalism” in China.

……The newspaper also began to distinguish itself with more critical reporting on such social problems as crime and corruption, causing a sensation, for example, with a report on restaurants that used cooking oil extracted from kitchen waste.

While other newspapers avoided angering local officials by muckraking only in other provinces, the Daily focused on hard-hitting reporting in its own city and region.

……By 2000, the Southern Metropolis Daily had become both the thickest and most expensive daily newspaper in China, charging about 12 cents for 72 pages. The next year, the party promoted Cheng to editor in chief. Yu became a top deputy and the paper’s general manager. The average age of the Daily’s 2,200 employees was 27 in 2002. The average age of the members of its senior management was 33.

……Colleagues described Cheng as an eloquent speaker. At weekly staff meetings, he urged his reporters to remember they were working for the public. In one memo, a reporter recalled, he criticized an article describing the problems caused by the city’s prostitutes. He said the paper should sympathize with the weak and concentrate on “supervising” the strong.

“In the newspaper business, we have already learned how to be out of power,” Cheng said in an interview distributed by the paper’s marketing department in 2002. “Now, we must learn how to act like a newspaper that is in power.”

Cheng said the party had given the press a mandate to monitor local officials. But he said he also picked his targets carefully. “In China, supervision by the media can only proceed within the existing system,” he said. “Freedom means knowing how big your cage is.

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August 1, 2004 12:52 PM
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