Shanghai Oriental Post editors are High

Written by Julen Madariaga on May 3rd, 2010

First day of opening 200,000 people all High

A little update on the Oriental Morning Post. I know nobody is interested because nobody actually reads this paper (not even its editors), but for the sake of consistency I have to inform of their new exploits. Follow me in this new chapter of their fascinating spiral to hell.

The weekend’s Oriental had the following breakthroughs:

A front page headline stating that the “200,000 people at the EXPO opening day were all high”. I have no idea why they wrote that “high” in English, but it looks like a silly eye-catcher in the wake of the English Letters debate. I suspect the editor didn’t intend any double meaning, in spite of the photograph.

A 150% front page advert. When we thought the 100% front page advert was unbeatable, the Oriental strikes again. The Saturday edition had a full page advert on the front page, which turned out to be a FAKE FRONT PAGE and behind it there was the real front page with another advert of a different company. Genius!!

The May 1st edition had 18 pages, but apart from the advertisements there were 4 articles in total, all of them about the opening of the EXPO, and half of them copied from Xinhua. I am confident 1 writer/editor could have done this issue single-handedly in one afternoon.

Some Thoughts on Chinese papers

I am fed up of this Oriental Toilet Paper that comes covered in ads, and I plan to stop writing about it soon. But before I do that, let me share some thoughts that came to my mind tonight, as I went for dinner with a journalist friend:

The only real function of the Oriental is as advert-holder. The business is clearly not about journalism, but about stuffing the distribution channels with papers that go unsold, and then showing these distribution numbers to some PR agency that recommends the Oriental to advertisers as one of the mainstream papers in Shanghai.

The only possible reason why this business model works is that there are such big barriers to entry in the printed media business – mostly related to authorities permits – that nobody else takes the place of Oriental and Shanghai Morning Post. In parallel, there is a general lack of transparency, which means that nobody questions whether it is a good idea to pay money to put ads on the Oriental. I wonder how much longer this can last.

In the end of the day, this case that I treat as a joke is in fact a tragedy. The 50,000 Euros approx that advertisers pay the Oriental for one single front page are going straight to the pocket of a businessman who doesn’t give a damn for journalism. That money should be going to some much needed young journalists with principles and with true ideals. There are so many people writing better things on the internet for free, the whole thing is a racket diverting resources that should go to them.

Damn it, this is the last post I write about this. It is getting old, like Chinglish, except that the Oriental is not even funny.

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Comments so far ↓

  1. May
    3
    7:47
    AM
    Baoru

    Then I wonder why the advertisers still buy space if they can sense that not many people like the paper. Or probably the Oriental Post IS selling?

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. May
    3
    9:57
    AM
    Julen Madariaga

    Well, it does sell some copies for sure, the fact that they stuff the distribution channels (ie. they make sure they are on all the shelves in and around Shanghai), and the fact that their target population is so big means that someone necessarily ends up buying it.

    But you should see the previous posts on this series, where I give reasons why I think a big part of their printed copies don’t make it into the readers hands. The 400,000 circulation number they give has not changed in the last 3 years, and the quality of their paper is downhill. Also, asking around in a few newspaper stalls I see this paper very rarely sells out.

    For me the interesting question is: is this a actually sustainable model, or is it just the media group behind Oriental trying to squeeze out the last RMB from it before what they see as its inevitable demise?

    I have the impression that it is the second, and it will die soon. But who knows, we should never underestimate the attraction of Shanghai and the stupidity of advertisers who are ready to pay big bucks just to be on a Shanghai paper.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. May
    3
    11:53
    AM
    John

    Although you rarely see it in print, this use of “high” among young Chinese is quite common. Most of them are totally unaware that “high” can have a drug-related meaning in English. To them, it’s only the “high on life” high.

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. May
    3
    12:23
    PM
    Julen Madariaga

    Thanks for the clarification John.

    Kai just told me the same on the Buzz comments., and Thomas Morflew said it is also common to Japan and Korea.

    I am surprised because I never heard or read it before, and I usually keep an eye on internet expressions. I guess I am not really hanging out with the right people, I am getting old :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. May
    3
    12:29
    PM
    Julen Madariaga

    Anyway this changes nothing to the fact that, as an opening headline for one of the major newspapers in Shanghai, it is as dumb as it can get.

    I think it must be the same editor who put a couple of alpacas in the front page last month, another lame try to lure some young readers.

    One thing I forgot to mention in my series on the Oriental is their idiotic website. What the hell are those vertical lines supposed to mean under each headline? Anyone has a clue?

    UPDATE: OK, don’t bother to answer this, I just found out by myself. Should have known before their site is for ie6, no good in FF or Chrome.

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. May
    3
    2:17
    PM
    jdmartinsen

    Try their electronic edition. It’s actually quite usable. Although maybe it’s not the same as the print edition? The May 1 issue may be all Expo related (after all, the big event opened on a holiday, when papers are usually fairly light in the news department), but I see 20 pages and count more than four articles on the Expo, most of which are written by the paper’s special Expo correspondents and interns.

    Ads on the front page are not an innovation. Well-regarded papers like The Beijing News and Southern Metropolis Daily regularly run half-page ads on the cover and sometimes leave room for just a single headline. TBN came in some real-estate wrapper one day last week, I believe, and a WV wrapper the week before.

    Content-wise, I don’t pay all that close attention to their overall news coverage, but their culture section is top-notch (books, publishing, world outlook, etc). And little things like this report listing all the names of mining victims read off by US President Obama, are pretty clever.

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. May
    3
    3:26
    PM
    Julen Madariaga

    No, Joel, there are exactly 4 double-page articles (with some small subcolumns) on the May 1st paper. What you see on the site is not what the paper edition has. You are counting the EXPO NEWS supplement which comes together in the electronic version. As for the 50% Xinhua, it is a reasonably fair assessment give or take. All the first double page is entirely “综合新华”, the second and third double-page are half Xinhua, another big chunk is just “seen on TV”… No, actually it looks like it is more than 50%.

    Stop to think of it, this is a Shanghai Newspaper covering one of the most significant events in Shanghai for years!!

    Regarding the 200% front page advert, read the post carefully, I don’t mean a full front page cover. I mean a Double Full front page cover. This means that there is a front page (call it “wrapper” if you want, but it is an exact imitation of the real front page), and then there is another front page with another half page ad. Again, you cannot see this in their website, only the paper version has it.

    I have been reading the Oriental quite closely for the last 2/3 months, and more loosely for the previous year. I have not yet been impressed one single time, unless you consider copycatting internet memes once in a while is some impressive feat of journalism. I think any comparison of this paper with the Souther Metropolis Daily is a joke, in spite of the interesting article you link to.

    Regarding the literary supplement, yes I have see they have that. I will look at it more carefully if you say it is so good, last time I read a review of “Freakonomics” that seriously failed to impress me. In any case, this supplement is not a core function of a major metropolitan newspaper like the the Oriental.

    If your point was that the Oriental is “not so bad” compared to the average Chinese newspaper, then you are probably right. But this only speaks of the sorry state of Chinese printed media, and not of the health of the Oriental. It doesn’t change anything to the fact that it is a terrible newspaper.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:

    PS. I guess it would have been more correct to call it a 150% front page advert, because the second front page only has a 50% ad (which is what you see in the electronic version).

    I correct this in the post.

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. May
    3
    6:03
    PM
    jdmartinsen

    Here are some other wrappers. I have to peel off a wrap-around advert from The Beijing News at least twice a month (it’s usually branded but not with the full nameplate); the Beijng Youth Daily is about the same (it often has a fooled-ya front page design). Most of them are lousy, although sometimes they can be clever, and while most are pretty much a vehicle for advertising, they’re sometimes used to break the mold of the front page layout to be more eyecatching for newsstand display (and that usually means more ads, too). Chinese front-pages are already far more ad-filled than what I grew up with in the US, so I don’t see bumping up the ad space as much of a problem, so long as it facilitates good journalism. Unfortunately, in the case of the Oriental Morning Post, it looks as if that might not be the case.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:

    I see where you are coming from in your previous comment. My critique of the Oriental is not fair from the point of view of the general state of Chinese media. I am sure the Oriental is not even one of the worst papers out there.

    The problem is I am not judging the Oriental in that context. I am judging it as the main non-party paper of a city that is one of the Word’s metropolis, that is hosting the largest EXPO ever, that wants to lead a new image of China (as HuJintao said in the inauguration speech of the EXPO),etc. And also in the context of a paper that attracts $$$ adverts from Western brands like Montblanc.

    I think it is a terrible newspaper, and I think that money should not be going where it goes.

    However, I will try to keep an eye open for signs of intelligent life in it in the future. And I do plan to read more carefully the literature supplement from now on, your comment made me more curious about it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. May
    3
    6:30
    PM
    transliterationisms

    “Anyway this changes nothing to the fact that, as an opening headline for one of the major newspapers in Shanghai, it is as dumb as it can get.”

    I disagree. I think trying to appeal to young people and making the newspaper a little hipper and more youthful is as fine a strategy as any when facing a readership that has numerous options. The “All the news that’s fit to print”, doubling down on eternally serious strategy of papers like the New York times doesn’t seem to be going so well. The 蘋果日報化 of the Taiwan and HK markets seems to show that the way to get eyes is to fill a newspaper with sensational, youthful, celeb-style news. I think your experience at tianya also shows that’s what drives the eyes to some extent in China, even if it’s not as clear in the less flexible print market.

    TW features extensive english, and zhuyin for Taiwanese in both headlienes and copy in all varieties of print. There seems little doubt barring a frankly impossible to enforce order restricting english usage, that this kind of usage will increase in print media, possibly spreading from places like HK, Beijing or Shanghai, or just continuing to spread organically from the new standards driven by the internet.

    High is 家常便飯 in TW, and though it may sound silly to some people, perhaps particularly foreigners who find much of the english usage in chinese “interesting”, as it doesn’t match up with much native english usage, at all, that’s certainly not how it’s received/understood by the parties using it. On the one hand, I want to say, it’s their language, newspapers, etc, on the other hand, I still want to criticize people who do shit like “There’s an old confucian saying…. (not actual confucian saying at all), see Mair’s latest LL post). The difference is, I’m criticizing the the nonsense “old chinese proverb” stuff as a insider in the culture/language, is that something relevant to consider? We report, you decide.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:

    I did a barbeque tonight where the Oriental has proven for the first time useful: I used it to start the fire.

    I was just asking a few of my Chinese friends that where there and they all confirmed they know the “high” thing, but they think it is a more northern or Taiwanese expression, not so used here. In fact I never came across it in 3 years in Shanghai, but again, perhaps I am not dealing with the right demographic.

    Regarding the headline, it is a matter of opinion whether you think that a serious newspaper should write like that or not. I absolutely think it should not, and your comment has not managed to convince me. I wonder what most Americans would say if the NYT did that, but again, it is a matter of personal taste.

    And anyway, bear in mind that my critic of the Oriental is not based on those silly headlines, that was just a gimmick to give some humour to my post. My critic is based on more profound reasons, such as for example: that I haven’t read anything interesting coming from it in the last year. See the previous posts for more reasons.

    The weekly literary supplement may be an exception (I trust Joel for that if he says so) but frankly speaking you need a bit more than that to make a newspaper in a city like Shanghai.

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. May
    4
    9:08
    AM
    gregorylent

    add sexy personals, it will be a huge success

    [Reply to this comment]

  11. May
    4
    10:23
    AM
    Julen Madariaga

    More on the “high” headline. Not looking to create controversy, but I am just very interested in these things.

    From what I have managed to clarify with a few Chinese friends, this word probably came from Taiwan a few years ago, and only a certain kind of people would use it (by no means all young people, my friends are post-80s and they said they would never use it themselves).

    It is not a generally accepted word, even among the young. I would not oppose a newspaper writing DVD, or using expressions like 酷! or even 晕!(in their youth section) because these are really part of the language and I have seen them online and offline a thousand times.

    But “high” is in a different category, together with “slim”, “OMG” and the likes. I see some commentator above would like the media to use all these terms. Allegedly this is a very good thing to attract the young, as if the young people were so stupid that they will go and read anything just because it has some old buzzwords and memes that are not even hot anymore.

    All that is lame, like an old person trying to be “cool”. It does NOT work. A paper should do its job properly, and then intelligent readers will come, regardless of their age.

    Finally, regarding the language and foreign loans: I already wrote the post on language protectionism so I will not repeat it all here. But I thing I gave strong reasons, from a purely linguistic perspective, of why the media should be careful with foreign buzzwords in the context of cultural colonization.

    [Reply to this comment]

  12. May
    4
    6:31
    PM
    Wukailong

    Apart from “high,” I’ve also seen quite a bit of “out” recently, but one of the more bizarre ones is the verb “social”, as in “social一下”. It often seems to be pronounced like “shoushou,” so it’s more like 收收一下.

    [Reply to this comment]

  13. May
    4
    6:42
    PM
    Julen Madariaga

    Wow, I never heard that one. Was it in the context of internet and social media? From what I have seen in some events, the people in that field are particularly fond of using English expressions. In many cases it is justified, as they are used to express concepts that didn’t exist before. For example: Guge yixia, or boke, etc.

    Hey, related to the language protectionism thing, I was wondering how it works in Sweden. Is there any policy by the media to avoid English buzzwords, or not? Are there English words taken indiscriminately into the language by some groups?

    I would imagine Swedish being relatively close to English, many of these loans fit in quite seamlessly, no?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Wukailong Reply:

    @Julen: I first heard about it from Chinese students abroad, so I thought it was limited to that area, but when one of my colleagues (who’s never been abroad, unless you count Hong Kong) also said “social一下” I realized it must be a widespread saying. It doesn’t seem to have any specific relation to internet or media.

    As for Sweden, there’s been some debate over whether there’s too much English coming into the language, but nobody has proposed anything close to the French or Chinese media rules. These words usually fit into the language, as you said, but many people think they are diluting the language. My main problem is when somebody uses a Swedish word and interprets it in an English way. If it makes people worse at their own language, then I’m all for a media campaign.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:

    I see. In Spanish we are relatively free of anglicisms (apart from domains like computer science which I consider justified). For example, nobody says “OK” or stuff like that, which they say all the time in Latin American Spanish.

    On the other hand, we should not forget that there are many many English expressions that come in the form of calques, and most people don’t even realize. Very common things like “politically correct” are most often American imports.

    I don’t think this is bad in itself, as long as it is kept within reasonable limits. In my opinion the rough criteria should be that an import is valid when it introduces a concept that didn’t exist before.

    Regarding your “campaign”, I am not in favor of campaigning for these things because it is easy to go too far and spoil the efforts (besides, many young people would deliberately use the banned words). But I do think it is justified to keep an eye on it by reasonable people, especially at the level of the mass media, which has an enormous influence.

    In fact, we speak a lot of the French, but I am quite sure many other European countries have some sort of control at the level of the mass media. Not in the form of bans, but as Style Guides and stuff like that, at least for the serious programs. This is not something strange at all, even the BBC had until recently strict requirements for “pure received pronunciation” presenters.

    [Reply to this comment]

  14. May
    13
    3:29
    PM
    transliterationisms

    “serious programs” really? Are we in Europe or something? Can we bring back the monarchy and class system while we’re at it? Oh wait, Spain never did away with monarchy in the first place!

    Jokes aside:

    I’m going to try not to get into a debate here on a lot of things, especially since my following comment doesn’t have a great deal to do with the post, but here it is anyway.

    “I wonder what most Americans would say if the NYT did that, but again, it is a matter of personal taste. ”

    1. Most Americans don’t read the NYT.
    2. The principle of asking your audience what they want is extremely problematic.
    3. Not asking the public is also extremely problematic at a place like the Times where they decide to borrow literally billions of dollars from moral icons like Carlos Slim at make-Islam-ban-usury style rates.

    OK, one final thing. Word formation in Chinese has changed. The era where you get people appropriating/creating new characters like 酷 for “cool” may be over, or it may only be applicable where the sound is found in Chinese (博客, which obviously didn’t have to be 音譯’d anymore than “email” did). The fact is there is an incredible amount of english coming into the language in technical and non-technical areas, and nothing is going to stop it. It’s odd that you think 酷 is fine, since it was railed against by the establishment (and still is rejected in many places), for exactly the same reasons you dislike “high”, so I suppose the principle is just “achieves widespread adoption” despite major sources rejecting it. Everyone is entitled to their opinions.

    Ok, one more.

    “All that is lame, like an old person trying to be “cool”. It does NOT work. A paper should do its job properly, and then intelligent readers will come, regardless of their age.”

    For a paper to do its job properly it has to be appealing and attractive to people. A newspaper is a product, and the media is a business like any other. It does not sit on high and be serious and feed the ignorant masses “the news” anymore. Of course this model still exists in some places, but the internet will kill it. You convince people to buy your paper (people have never paid for news, advertising has (or a govt), GIANT PROBLEM!), read it, care about it, or people go to other places. You do this by appealing to them, and appealing to them by saying “we are going to do this in a stuffy language that doesn’t reflect hip, current, modern, active, usage, but rather a stiff order issued from above” probably isn’t going to cut it. Intelligent readers don’t cut it. You don’t get margins, you get things like newspapers and magazines collapsing, being replaced replaced by organizations 1000 times smaller than they are.

    [Reply to this comment]

  15. May
    13
    7:33
    PM
    Julen Madariaga

    Too many different things, I cannot answer to all.

    Just one point, to summarize and go back to the main topic: I would be OK (more or less) with things like “high” on the front page, and I wouldn’t have criticized the Oriental, if their strategy actually worked.

    But it is obvious that it doesn’t work. Just like it didn’t work when your old auntie got a baseball cap and started calling you “bro”.

    Just look at the lame way the Oriental tries to promote discussion in its website forums. Average number of comments: 5. Author: 1 (the editor, re-posting five times and waiting for readers). In one word: Lame.

    [Reply to this comment]

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