Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I read the news today, oh boy
Foreign barbarian coworker Jeff and I have been fighting some losing battles lately and most have been us vs. rest of the staff regarding what, exactly consititutes "news."
To whit: In the last two weeks there have been some staggering reports of mass murders in China. A serial killer confessed to 65 slayings recently. His motive? According to the official PRC press agency, Xinua: "He was spurned by his girlfriend." This sore loser's story was buried on page 6 of our paper while the front page trumpeted something like "World lures Chinese tourists."
In contrast, when the Green River Killer recently 'fessed up to his 40something killings, the SZ Daily ran a half page story with a color photo that was also used on the front page as a "refer" - (pronounced "reefer" and U.S. newsroom speak for those teasers that refer readers to stories inside the paper). But he is a foreigner, so that is "different..."
A Chinese verson of John Wayne Gacy was arrested elsewhere about 2 days before the spurned serial killing swain after police were alerted by a high school boy who escaped from the guy's house. Inside they found the bodies of 25 young boys buried in the walls and under the floors. He made page 4.
In fair Shenzhen, we have also had our share of mayhem when a married couple was arrested 10 days ago for robbing and killing 12 young women who had responded to employment ads. They made the bottom of page 2 and barely that. Page 1 of that edition had a story about "Local trade fair vows improvements". I did a google search and found that the Las Vegas Sun had printed a version of the Shenzhen slayings that gave more details.
They had nothing on the trade fair, however. Let it be known that we take no prisoners when it comes to trade fair coverage!
In our Monday morning critique session, Jeff and I recently tried to make case that all of these murder stories warranted better placement, more details and that some of the headlines could have been better. (The headline for the 12 murdered women originally read: "Police solve robberies." Jeff tried to change it to "Pair arrested for 12 murders" but was told that we can't use the word "murder" in a headline. The compromise was "Police solve robberies, killings."
The paper's third-in-the-chain-of-command, a somewhat arrogant guy named Paul defended the first headline by proclaiming that "headlines should not be explicit."
Well, therein lies a major cultural and journalistic divide that cannot be bridged comfortably. It also doesn't help that the only people on the staff with any formal journalism training and previous newspaper experience are Jeff, me and the paper's top editor. Everyone else was an English major in college and Paul is particularly proud of the month he spent in Germany honing his English skills.
The cultural gap is even worse at times. Chinese are not usually explicit or blunt and much of their communication seems to use a lot of poetic euphemisms in place of forthright expression. For instance, "clouds and rain'" is a common allusion to what you and I know as "sex".
I'm wondering now if the Clinton/Lewinsky affair featured headlines here such as: "Clinton denies stormy weather allegations."

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