January 25, 2008

Navigating the Chinese Press

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BEIJING, China — With China’s ever-growing role in world politics and the global economy, its decision to move away from isolationism in the late 1970s may seem like it was inevitable.
Jianyou Wu, the senior editor of the International News Department at Guangming Daily, which was founded as a newspaper for intellectuals in 1949, credits much of that decision to a front page article entitled “Practice is the Only Way to Judge the Truth” that ran in 1978.
In the aftermath of China’s cultural revolution, the article presented the view of some Chinese people that the only way to know whether isolationism was better than having open international contact was to try both — and isolationism had been practiced by the People’s Republic of China since its founding in 1949. Wu contends that the article played a major role in the debate surrounding the issue; it presented a view that became the prevailing theory, which helped spark the opening of China’s borders.
Almost 30 years after the opening of the borders, China has grown to be one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world.
China has become a major topic in the American and European media, even as its own media remains a source of contention to some.
Like many Chinese media outlets, Guangming Daily receives some financial support from the government.
In Wu’s opinion, Guangming Daily generally covers news as the paper sees fit but is influenced by the government at times in its coverage.
“Normally the newspaper is independent, but also sometimes we [get] influenced about hard issues. They might contact the editor in chief directly,” Wu said.
The paper, not the government, pays its approximately 400 correspondents and editors, however. In order to get these jobs, people usually must finish degrees — and often graduate degrees — in journalism.
Reporter Ting Hua has a graduate degree, but in law, not journalism, from Renmin University in Beijing. Hua writes about culture and politics. Guangming Daily’s focus on cultural news is one of the things that Wu believes separates the paper from others in China.
The paper also writes extensively about education and theory, Hua said. The theory section focuses on an academic look at the theories of politics, including communist doctrine.
Guangming Daily aims to have more authoritative, comprehensive coverage than Internet news sites, which are growing in popularity in China, Wu said. Guangming Daily does have a newspaper website, though, which the staff updates between two and four times a day.
One of the differences between the website and newspaper is the website’s inclusion of stories from a news wire service, the Xinghua News Agency.
Guangming Daily’s stories are also reprinted through that news service, including a recent story about the 10 most influential international news stories and political leaders of 2007, which was republished in about 30 papers.
Guangming Daily, which has a circulation of around one million people throughout China, is especially popular on university campuses.
One student at Renmin, who asked to be called Cedrik, said he reads Guangming Daily every day and believes most students there do the same.
Correspondents for the Guangming Daily work in every province and 20 countries around the world.
Hua said he has covered news in about half of China’s provinces, as well as in Japan, in the three years he has worked for the paper.
The Guangming Daily Media Group owns three newspapers, four magazines and a publishing house. The main office in Beijing, which the Guangming Daily moved into about four years ago, also holds a center for media research.