Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Suffice to say this is like no newsroom I've ever worked in. It physically resembles one with the reporters and editors in various pods, stacks of old issues scattered and stacked about and the lingering smell of newsprint - which I do love.
But the reporters rarely leave the office and spend a lot of time translating articles from other sources, including Chinese wire services, newspapers, the Internet, and the odd 1970s-era Encyclopedia Brittanica, from Chinese into their version of English. Phone interviews are also common. Two or three of the top editors routinely sack out on leather couches with their shoes off for naps after lunch. Privilige of postion, I guess.
There is only one other copy editor, an Aussie named Jeff - who looks as if he has been living and drinking gin here since 1946, but is a friendly, helpful and intelligent soul - and he arrives at about 2 p.m. I work the day shift, basically 9 til 6 or so. Like in the US, copy arrives unpredictably and in clumps, often large, tangled ones. Unlike in the states we work many desks apart, so there is no "copy desk" per say.
Jeff warned me that changes I would make in stories would be challenged by the reporters brandishing dictionaries. It was prophetic. Indeed, about 30 minutes after he warned me, a business reporter came to me with a well-thumbed Chinese-English dictionary, and was upset because I had made a change in his story that involved me substitutiing the term "outstanding debts" for a tortured term of his that read something like "money funds that are owed by the debtors to bank from which it loaned them previously". His understanding of "outstanding" as he thrust the dictionary at me and pointed to the word was the way it which it is used to describe something remarkable or special or worthy of acclaim.
I assured him that "outstanding debts" was a perfectly acceptable and he grudgingly accepted my expertise. Jeff had a similar problem recently with the term "British" which was used alone in a headline instead of the correct "Englishman" or "British citizen.". The dictionary cited by the reporter who wrote the headline was written by a Chinese man and published in 1948.
According to the in-house lexicon, Jeff and I don't "edit" stories. We "polish" them. I did receive a nice compliment this morning from a reporter who said, "You give my story good polish. Thank you. You are a better polisher than your predecessor."

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