Magazines

Death of a Shanghai expat rag?

Shanghai Eye reports on the demise of an expatriate oriented magazine published in Shanghai:

Rumour has it Shanghai’s NVR magazine, a rip off of The Week, is no more. Most nodding dogs agree, this was likely to happen.

Owner That's Shanghai is looking pretty ropey too, and now comes with a “RMB 18″ price sticker. Hmm, and SH magazine is going out too, recent rumour has it staff have been thrown out the windows at an alarming rate, even for a free English language Chinese city magazine.

So that leaves City Weekend, joyfully rubbing their hands, counting their pennies and shooting anything that looks like content. Or maybe the old dame of Shanghai’s English language city mags, Shanghai Talk, maybe the only one left. This is like watching the world’s oil suppliers fall to the whims of happenstance. Or is it all an evil plot??

Two thoughts:

1. The idea of doing a news magazine that aspires to be "the only news source you'll ever need" (despite being published in China in partnership with a State-owned entity) is quite ridiculous. English-reading expatriates get quite enough of anodyne nonsense passing for journalism in the China Daily etc.

2. Perhaps your correspondent is biased, since he was the founding editor of the two publications mentioned below, but the English language media in Beijing is simply much better than in Shanghai. That's Beijing, which is operated by a different company than the Shanghai version, is fat, full of ads, and often contains good and informative writing and regular humor columns by people who actually know how to write, like Kaiser Kuo. They also publish a growing range of books.

Beijing also has Le - TimeOut Beijing which has pushed the envelope of expat rag content with columns on gay and lesbian issues, some great cartoons and good writing about urban life in Beijing.

Le - TimeOut was recently sold to SEEC, the Chinese media company that produces Caijing magazine. According to TimeOut editor in Chief Tom Pattinson, the entire editorial team is staying together and they are looking forward to a year of expansion with their new, powerful and well-funded owners. So how about a website fellas?

There are currently 23 Comments for Death of a Shanghai expat rag?.

Comments on Death of a Shanghai expat rag?

And let's not forget about Beijing Talk - consistently one of the more informative and entertaining of the English-language monthlies. Dare I say underrated?

NVR was OK -- mostly just reprints from global English-language newspapers and magazines, and while certainly not "the only news source you'll ever need," it was no China Daily. Good enough to pass away a cup of coffee with if you didn't have anything else to read.

"[T]he English language media in Beijing is simply much better than in Shanghai." Beijing has Shanghai beat six ways to Sunday in terms of culture, media, etc. But our air doesn't taste like anything, and most days its transparent, and that's the way we like it ;)

"Beijing also has Le - TimeOut Beijing which has pushed the envelope of expat rag content with columns on gay and lesbian issues, some great cartoons and good writing about urban life in Beijing."

what is the obsession with Chinese gay/lesbian issues? When I was in uni. there were, i think, five professors in the Chinese department; two specialized in gay/lez issues. I mean, is China THAT gay?

NVR is actually quite good. As is SH. The fact these two are failing while That's (indeed, not as good as Beijing) Shanghai and City (Sexpats?!) Weekend are not, says more about Shanghai readers than Beijing editors.

Admittedly "The only news source..." was a terrible tagline under the cirsumstances (as if the name NVR wasn't bad enough itself).

But the content was actually surprisingly brave and had the magazine made it onto the news stands and/or into a Chinese version, it would have been an interesting venture.

The point of publishing under the auspices of the state rather than posting out of Hong Kong is to be able to actually distribute the thing.

That Chinese publishers and their in-house censors are willing to risk falling foul of the powers that be by even attempting to rip off The Week as a commercial venture is quite surprising. That they failed is a sad thing.

I, in particular, hope I get refunded for the three months of issues I'm still owed.

Well thank you Jeremy for your kind post which has forced me to break my silence. I suppose my first comment goes to the amount of venom and schadenfruede in your words. As a magazine that always tried to push the boundaries of print in China, I would have thought (naively, perhaps) that my journalist contemporaries would prefer to see us succeed rather than fail. I was heartened by the comments of one of our subscribers below, and would have to agree that both our publisher (Nankai University) and the commercial operation that bankrolled NVR for almost two years showed a great deal of courage in supporting the venture. Given the tough media environment in which we operated, I’m enormously proud of the range of material that we were able to cover over the course of 40 issues. I can’t think of another publication in English, or in Chinese for that matter, that published political cartoons on their front cover, and I certainly can’t think of another English magazine operating on the Chinese mainland that covers politics. I take offense at the description of NVR as a “rag”; it was far from it, and I think that many of our readers and subscribers will be disappointed that it is no longer operating. I am afraid that now all is left is Asia Weekly (published out of Hong Kong), which succeeds marvelously in turning the most exciting continent on the planet into the most boring place on Earth. I’ve always liked Danwei and supported the role it has strived to play, and am more than a little disappointed that the professional courtesy hasn’t been reciprocated.

Sincerely,

JFK Miller
NVR Founder and Managing Editor

Dear JFK Miller,

I am sorry if my words were hurtful, and I certainly did not intend to attack you personally. As for the word 'rag', it's a self-deprecating industry term that I would not hesitate to use about the New York Times.

I was not actually complaining about the content or quality of the magazine: I just think it was a completely unworkable business model with a highly fanciful slogan.

I had a key role in several magazines published in China that are now defunct. When I saw the first issue of NVR, I was fairly sure it was doomed: The news nature of the content makes it too difficult to do in China: You can't make it interesting enough to succeed commercially without getting in trouble with the men in dark glasses.

Finally, if you are going to take me to task about my harsh words, perhaps you should extend the same "professional courtesy" to Asia Weekly.

Agreed, I think my words regarding Asia Weekly were a little harsh. I do support the venture but just wish it had a little more “oomph.”

Having worked for the original expat rag, Beijing Scene, as did Jeremy, I wish every other foreigner who comes to China with the idea of creating "the Time Out of China" or "The Atlantic Monthly of China" would disavow themselves of the notion they're doing something original or different or creative. As every city magazine sinc e the Scene has proved, readers of free city rags want events calendars and classified ads, wrapped in interviews with local rock and film stars who seem cool but actually suck.

As a small business operator, I'm sorry to hear that someone else's idea didn't succeed. But the fact is, that happens every day to numerous publications and businesses, in China and elsewhere. It happens. Hopefully your next business will do better.

Kaiser Kuo knows 'how to write'. Don't drink the Kool Aid Goldkorn. Reminds me of what Truman Capote s
said about Jack Kerouac's work:

"That's not writing, it's typing"

Old Beijing Laowai, you're not a very good typist. Maybe your literary judgement is also no good.

we're forgetting one of the elephants in the room - once MK was ousted it was only a matter of time before the 'That's' brand was run into the ground. It a common phenomenon in the local media industry. And Shanghai will rise again, just wait until the honoured leader rallies his troops with an editorial in the people's youth rag. We'll let you have your fun with your sporting festival first :). Ps. Is it true you can now buy uncensored versions of the Daily Sun in Beijing?


That's Beijing is crap, despite Kaiser's contributions. In fact, his column is probably the only page worth turning to. The rest is puffed up editorial, gap year writers on holiday in Kazakhstan, the absolutely worst design imaginable and a whole load of classifieds. maybe they need to resurrect the Danwei page to really get back to form.

Agree about Time Out. Don't care about 'pushing the envelope" with gay and lesbian columns, but overall the folk there do a good job.

As for City Weekend: so many resources, so much money and so little product. A 20 minute read, if you read really, really slowly.

Beijing Talk sits alone and doesn't care what the rest do. Never has. Its commercial philosophy is quite astounding and very successful. I even remember seeing our esteemed correspondent featured in its pages way back in the day under a feature named "Beijing's hottest bachelors" or something along those lines

All these magazines suck. Why can't someone do The Exile in China?!

mike: I had managed to erase that embarrassing article from my mind until you mentioned it.

You are right that Beijing Talk has always sat apart from the others. It was never a combatant in the 1997 to '99 Beijing Scene / City Weekend wars. I have never found it a very compelling read, but it seems to be a very stable money maker.

1. The idea of doing a news magazine that aspires to be "the only news source you'll ever need" (despite being published in China in partnership with a State-owned entity) is quite ridiculous. English-reading expatriates get quite enough of anodyne nonsense passing for journalism in the China Daily etc.

--that does sound like a comment on the content and quality of the magazine...especially China Daily is trotted out as a point of comparison.

Jezza

Agree with all your comments apart from the absurd idea that Kaiser Kuo can write. I eventually had to stop reading his pretentious and totally pointless column because it made me want to drink copious amounts of Er Guo Tou and then run at him with a pair of sharpened chopsticks.

Beijing Scene rocked...

Ben: Perhaps I am biased because I was partly responsible for Kaiser writing his column for the first issue of That's Beijing. But here is a story:

That's Beijing was put together in September 2001 — an eventful month, you may agree. The first issue was printed and distributed in the first week of October 2001. It included a column by Kaiser, titled 'Ten Ways to Fall in Love with Beijing' in which he described the city as a 'stern gray matron, dressed so unfashionably, with that red band on her arm'.

Since then, he has written a page full of observations about Beijing, every month. That's almost seven years worth of observations about this city. Even if Kaiser were an appalling writer, which I do not believe, this column is valuable. He has diligently documented Beijing without resorting to stereotypes or having to worry about what readers abroad who are not familiar with the city will think. His columns have been light-hearted but not frivolous. He has recorded, with occasional streaks of brilliance, the changes Beijing has seen in the last seven years.

I like that.

And I like the fact that That's Beijing has managed to nurture his writing.

Disclosure: Kaiser is a good friend, and as mentioned above, I have been too closely involved in some of these magazines to be objective, so take my words with a large pinch of salt if you are so inclined. Also see Shanghaiist's take down of my comments above for balance.

I wonder if it was the term "expat rag" rather than "rag" that offended President JFK? Whether intentional or not, "expat rag" does feel a bit derogatory to my ear.

A bit like "student rag", it perhaps seems to imply a lack of officialdom.

So here's a larger queston for 总JG (or anyone else): when does an Expat rag become a Rag? Is the South China Morning Post an expat rag? Danwei?

The old (both as in in the past and aged) editor of the expat rag Beijing This Month used to describe all other English language efforts as "rags". He genuinely believed he was on a higher mission. He later decided his rag was no longer a magazine but a historical record of Beijing. Whatever happened to him I wonder?

www.expatrag.com

JFK Miller:

"I can’t think of another publication in English, or in Chinese for that matter, that published political cartoons on their front cover"

Asia Weekly had a cartoon of the Dalai Lama on the cover a few weeks (months?) back. I didn't catch every issue but I can't recall NVR publishing a single Asian political cover.

i recall nvr had quite a good one of kim jong il and nuclear bombs once but yeh, asia weekly wins hands down - it's not censored.

"...I’m enormously proud of the range of material that we were able to cover over the course of 40 issues...[and] I take offense at the description of NVR as a 'rag' "...

(JFK Miller
NVR Founder and Managing Editor)

Precisely what one would expect an editor to say about his (now defunct) magazine. Ho hum.

And no harm in letting him have his say. But you don't have to apologize to the bloke.

Looking forward to more such straight-talking posts from you, Jeremy! But when you apologize simply for saying what you mean, your fans out here -- like me -- feel a tinge of disappointment.

Bruce Humes

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
laomo2010x80.jpg
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives