Monday, July 31, 2006

Editing for a state-run newspaper

A Canadian interning as a reporter at the China Daily laments the editing process:
Like a dove flying a gauntlet, my article flew out of my hands at 6 p.m. and landed in the next day's paper a flightless, ugly thing. It sailed the jet streams of copy editors, senior editors, and night editors, both foreign and Chinese, losing a feather here, a quote there, a harsh edge, a word, a thought, an idea, and, eventually, its point. What I read the next morning was still, in its discussion of political theory, riskier than the state-owned China Daily's usual fare, and that consoled me a little. But it had no bite.
Some of Iain Marlow's complaints are that of a typical reporter in the West. (It's obvious that his "dove" needs to fly some sort of "gauntlet," methinks.) But his best examples tell of the paper's edicts against mentioning censorship, revolution and Taiwan.

When he mentioned that the subject of his profile -- Canadian professor Daniel Bell, who is teaching in China -- had experienced some censorship: "The word 'censorship' was removed and replaced with 'restrictions' by one editor. Even that euphemism was obliterated in the copy that made it to print."

Marlow loved Bell's description of how he met his future wife: It was May 1989, and while he was falling in love, "she was cancelling dates for the revolution." But editors couldn't allow revolution, they said. How about changing the quote to "'cancelling dates' for the goings-on at the time"? (In thpublishedly copy, it became: "It was 1989 and among the Chinese students he was hanging out with was someone he met and fell in love with."

On being a friendly neighbor:
Hong Kong was, obviously, changed to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and China (in the same sentence) to "the mainland." This was, as an editor offhandedly remarked, not a politicized change but a matter of style. I promptly consulted the China Daily style guide. Oops. On other points of "style," the guide instructs its followers to use quotation marks around the title of any government official from Taiwan. And also, that "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China."
The China Daily piece is still online. But I wonder how long Marlow will be kept on as an intern if he keeps writing editing exposes for the paper back home.


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