Media and Advertising
Posted by Joel Martinsen on Wednesday, November 16, 2005 at 11:37 PM
Occasionally in English-language media you'll run across a citation from a "Beijing tabloid," conjuring up images of irresponsible journalism and "headless body found in topless bar" style headlines.
It is true that the tabloids that arose in China during the 1990s were launched out of a desire to actually make money in the news business, but when the front page of the typical party paper reports such excitement as "Minuscule Pacific Island Nation Reiterates Commitment to One-China Policy," the more commercially-oriented papers don't need to be all that lurid to attract readers (the truly trashy stuff is unregistered).
Add to that the recent arrival of broadsheets with a commercial sensibility and tabloids that take themselves way too seriously, and we have an environment in which reputation is hard to judge from format. Of course, that's not to say format isn't important. When the well-respected Southern Weekend (a broadsheet) started printing on new presses in 2003, effecting a minor retooling of the paper's dimensions, it promoted the changes on classical aesthetic grounds: the new format was the closest to the Golden Rectangle of any Chinese newspaper.
Anyway, see for yourself. Here's a graphical comparison of some of Beijing's broadsheets and tabloids.
Respectability: It's the National Voice of the Party, so draw your own conclusions
Distinguishing Characteristics: Headlines, like those of party dailies across the country, are done up in a wide variety of typefaces. They're also often compressed to the point of illegibility to fit a long declaration over two columns.
Format: Tabloid, three times a week
Respectability: Though part of the People's Daily group, it's not exactly known for its sober reflection on international affairs.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Three times out of five the front page headline froths at either Taiwan or the US. Lots of pictures of warships and fighter planes for folks who don't want to subscribe to Ordnance magazine. "Foreigners look at China" section is often good for a laugh.
Paper: Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报)
The front page of Beijing Youth Daily cover from 8 August 2005.
Respectability: Much higher than its absolutely garish color scheme would suggest. The papers of the Beijing Youth Daily Group have remained untouched by the financial scandals rocking the group's HK-listed advertising arm.
Distinguishing Characteristics: There's enough blue and black ink used in this paper to drown a small dog. Like its sister publication, the evening Mirror (tabloid), it often features computer-generated renderings of crime scenes.
Paper: The Beijing News (新京报)
Ads in The Beijing News.
Respectability: Highly regarded investigative journalism. Pretensions of being China's New York Times keep it mostly on the high road. The paper knows what sells, however, as its month-long series of interviews with survivors of the Japanese invasion demonstrates ("The devils stole my bike" read the headline above one installment).
Distinguishing Characteristics: "Tasked to report on everything" used to be the paper's motto, but it disappeared from the masthead the first week of November. Front page often features excellent photographs, but just as often is a mess of advertising. Its recent 2nd anniversary issue (pictured) stuck full-page real estate ads on the front page of practically every section. The paper's delivery fleet can be seen throughout the day in the neighborhoods of Beijing, wearing their vests and pedaling their yellow bicycles.
Paper: The Economic Observer (经济观察报)
The Economic Observer.
Format: Broadsheet weekly
Respectability: Still quite high even though a group of editors walked out over what they saw as upper management betraying the paper's mission for cash.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Prints "Advertorial" over advertorials, but floats graphic ads amidst the serious content. Pink like the Financial Times, or like the gossip tabloid Big Star. Very little online content available to non-subscribers.
Paper: Mirror (法制晚报)
Mirror from 15 November.
Respectability: Quite good. Cited far more often than rival evening paper Beijing Evening News.
Distinguishing Characteristics: As its Chinese name implies, the "Legal Evening News" includes a section of legal news (what big shot got arrested today), practical legal knowledge (how and when to sue your neighbor), as well as other typical evening paper stuff like serial fiction and quirky news features. Entertainment reporting indicates that someone on staff has a hate-on for Vicki Zhao.
Paper: Beijing Times (京华时报)
Beijing Times from 15 September.
Respectability: It's a commercial paper under the auspices of the People's Daily, with independent editorial control. Its news editor occasionally gets frustrated by inept front page layouts.
Distinguishing Characteristics: According to its news editor, this paper delights in its reputation as a "laborers' paper" even as other rags pursue the nascent middle class (related Danwei story). Solid business news.
Respectability: Printed a story from The Onion.
Distinguishing Characteristics: The evening paper from the Beijing Daily Group, it traditionally runs a more fluff than the main party paper. Kitchen sink sort of stuff - recipes, neighborhood watch reports, serialized novels, and tons of advertorials. It does have the highest circulation of any local Beijing paper, but this may just be inertia.
Paper: Beijing Daily Messenger (信报)
Beijing Daily Messenger from 27 June.
Respectability: Formerly called Star Daily, it's made a conscious effort to appear less gossipy. The writing inside, unfortunately...
Distinguishing Characteristics: The best part of this paper is the ad space in the gutter margins - find casting calls for extras in costume dramas, ads for ringtones, and personal statements from fetching 20-year-old women who recently inherited their deceased parents' furniture stores and are looking for a Beijing non-resident to share their considerable fortune.
Respectability: Doesn't get much respect, but then no one really seems to know it's there.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Color scheme and section layout are clean, as Beijing broadsheets go, but articles are short on content.
Respectability: Considerably worse than the garish color scheme suggests.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Olympics, olympics, olympics, even more so than the rest of Beijing's print media.
Link and Sources
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Henry on The Eurasian Face
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Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.