Oriental Outlook on Lan Chengzhang, N/A Online

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Coverage of Lan Chengzhang’s killing will not die. Both China Newsweek and Oriental Outlook Weekly weigh in with cover features this week. Oriental Outlook opens from a particularly fresh and unflattering angle: the murderers’. It’s worth picking up a copy, because the piece is not available on the Web. (More on that below).

The Shanghai-based magazine, published by Xinhua News Agency, gains access to a detention center in Datong to interview Hou Si, a.k.a. Hou Zhenrun. Hou’s the mining boss who perpetrated the attack on the China Trade News journalist and according to peasant witnesses, struck the fatal blow to Lan’s head with the handle of a pickaxe. Hou confirms to Oriental Outlook that in the three days prior to Lan’s arrival, he paid off reporters from five other publications who stopped by his unlicensed coal pit demanding hush money, to the tune of 16,000 RMB. Then Lan and colleague Chang Hanwen showed up and rang Hou by phone while he was out to lunch. That’s when Hou finally cracked, the magazine asserts. He rounded up seven drunk underlings and they drove over to confront Lan and Chang. Hou recounts:

“I went to check out the situation. If they were real reporters and gave me good treatment, then I’d give them a little money. But if they were fake reporters, then I’d set them straight,” Hou Zhenrun told Oriental Outlook Weekly, describing the situation at the time.

On [January] 10 at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, Hou Zhenrun and the others arrived at the [mine] office. First two of them controlled the car where Lan Chengzhang was seated, while the rest entered the office.

Meeting Hou Zhenrun, Chang Hanwen said: “We are China Trade News reporters. We’ve come down to look for some material. Your mine hasn’t completed the procedures. How’d you open it?”

“What’s the meaning of this? If I’m no good then I’ll give you a little money and that’ll be that,” Hou Zhenrun weakly replied.

“Straight away, Chang then asked for 5000 yuan, but I only had 2900 yuan on me. Yet he wouldn’t agree. He said, ‘Our brothers have all been here, how about another 2000 kuai’. All I could tell him was ‘don’t have it. This is all the money I have right now. Do you want it or not?'”

Because of the issue over the price, the two sides didn’t close the deal. First Hou Zhenrun held his ground with Chang Hanwen. After demanding he produce his journalist permit, [Hou] took the identification outside and gave Meng Er [the Legal Daily journalist in Datong acting as his adviser] a call.

Before long, he came back inside and suddenly turned hostile. He said to Chang Hanwen: “Your journalist permit doesn’t even have the stamp of the General Administration of Press and Publication, and all day you go all over groundlessly extorting, are you blind!”

“At that moment I noted Lan Chengzhang’s journalist permit was brand-new. Chang Hanwen commented that the last time he went out on an interview, he came across the same problem. At that moment, I was confused. At Chang’s age, how could it be his first time doing interviews? [the former porter, 56, had just been hired as ‘English news center director’]. I was even more suspicious that they were phonies.”

Soon afterward, Hou Zhenrun ordered people to beat Lan and Chang.

There are other moments of note in the Oriental Outlook file. The magazine says it could not track down Chang Hanwen. Lan’s bureau chief at the China Trade News, Chang Xuri, says it’s not convenient for him to talk. But Oriental Outlook does go on to interview the president of China Trade News, Yang Xiaodong. He says Lan was not accredited to act as a reporter but as an employee, he hedges, Lan was entitled to provide the paper tips.

The magazine’s reporters also catch up with Lan’s family members. They produce the “news work” permit Lan got from China Trade News – just two Chinese characters’ shy of that for a journalist, according to the magazine – as well as his now-infamous stamped letter of introduction from China Trade News dated Jan. 10, the day before the “111 Incident”. Lan’s brother-in-law grumbles that the paper instructed the family to remain silent about the case. Lan’s wife voices displeasure with the paper for showing little sympathy toward the family and not publicly recognizing Lan “was a journalist”. Later, she’s asked about his previous work at another paper in Datong, Modern Consumer Guide’ Safety Education Weekly, before it was reorganized for extorting illegal mines: “I’m not clear about the circumstances of his work or his income,” she says. “He never told me. Essentially he was never home. He said he was writing reports, but they were never published.”

Why isn’t the Oriental Outlook story on the Web? Because none of the magazine’s contents are anymore, two Oriental Outlook editors explained to Biganzi during a conversation this week.

Until mid-December, like many other major news magazines, Oriental Outlook allowed Internet portals to republish the bulk of their contents from each issue in exchange for little more than free publicity. On portals like Sina and Sohu, these glossies maintain free Web pages that are usually updated much faster than their own websites (see here. Each new issue is uploaded in staggered fashion. Oriental Outlook, though over three years old, doesn’t even have a Web site.

But soon it will, the editors said. They expect the site to launch sometime after Chinese New Year’s holiday. Meantime, as of mid-December 2007, the magazine has taken to posting nothing online but the table of contents of each issue. The last cover story it posted was a Dec. 13 feature on the renovation of Republican-era pretender Yuan Shikai’s old pleasure pad. No text has gone online since. Said one editor: “We didn’t even announce this. We just stopped.”

The immediate impetus for the move, the editors explained, was Web editors’ routine practice of sexing up their articles with new headlines. “This has made some of our subjects really angry,” said one. The other editor referred to one particularly problematic dispatch from Fuzhou in 2006, but declined to elaborate on the circumstances of the case.

The magazine’s move also comes as print media in China fumble for new online strategies now that growth in print ad revenues have begun to slow. To capitalize online, they seek to protect their archives against unauthorized republishing on other Web sites, who are barred by law from generating news of their own but are not explicitly prohibited from reusing others’. The Beijing News recently sued Tom.com for copyright infringement (see ESWN/Danwei). Caijing magazine editor Hu Shuli has helped spearhead the fight, and top editors of metropolitan dailies emerged from one conference in November 2005 with the Nanjing Declaration, which threatened a boycott against the portals. Oriental Outlook hasn’t taken part in any organized movement, but has appointed a veteran manager to take full-time charge of IPR “rights defense,” one of the editors said. “He’s really tough.”

In the weeks since it quit the portals, ironically, Oriental Outlook has found that its biggest copyright challenge going forward may come from within Xinhua itself. The Xinhua Daily Telegraph (ÊØèÊó•ÁîµËÆØ), a daily digest of Xinhua copy, has picked up some of its articles under new headlines without the magazine’s knowledge, an editor said.

The magazine has carried some fairly hot stories recent weeks as well. One showcased a rising generation of senior officials born in the 1960’s. Another highlighted the continuing struggle of the AIDS activist Gao Yaojie to stop the poor hygiene at blood banks. The magazine ran the piece under an unusually provocative headline: “Why does Gao Yaojie want to kill herself?”

Conceded an editor:”Now that time our headline had some problems.”

February 3, 2007, 1:51 AM