Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Little Good NewsThough I'm still physically in Shenzhen and at the paper for about another week, in my head I'm already in Hong Kong. It would help to have a place to live nailed down, a small detail that hasn't been resolved yet.
Nonetheless, I'm going through the motions at the Shenzhen Daily but my heart really isn't in it. Soon-to-be-ex foreign barbarian coworker Jeff has been out with a bad back and I've been working both shifts and assuming his duties, one of which is attending the afternoon news budget meeting where stories for the next day are discussed.
While I will miss headlines like "Man sweats green sweat" and "Compensation for civet cat traders", I won't miss these confabs and today's was a reminder of why, upon leaving most of them, my immediate urge is to head for the nearest bar or to the nearest wall in order to repeatedly pound my head.
Besides a long, labored discussion on the pros and cons of going to the nearest post office to get a "new standardized national envelope" to photograph for a blockbuster story on the same subject, there was also some serious editorial soul searching about whether we should run a story about four men arrested for killing and robbing a family of five in Shenzhen last weekend.
(Or as the proposed original headline read "Four-member robbery clique nabbed." Before I'd edited the story the fact that the family had been slaughtered was two paragraphs below the fact that they were robbed.)
Printing it is a no-brainer, you might think. Admittedly it's not as compelling as the envelope blockbuster, but still...
But the staffer who headed the meeting (Faithful SZ Zen readers may recall her as "The Comics Lady") advised caution.
"We have a notice from the city publicity bureau not to write it," she said.
Another staffer pointed out that we hadn't "written" the story. Our version came from China's official news agency, Xinhua - a source that can easily trump the Shenzhen "publicity" bureau, though normally the two march in lock-step. And yet another dissenter noted that every SZ paper but the Daily, in other words all the Chinese language papers here, had already run versions of "robbery clique nabbed."
"So, it's OK if Chinese readers know that there was a mass murder here and that the killers have been caught, but the 'publicity' bureau doesn't want foreigners to know?" I asked only half rhetorically. "That doesn't seem very polite." There was no answer, of course, just some embarrassed laughs.
But the good news is that the story will run, albeit not on the front page.

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