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Chinese newspapers don’t fear extinction

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government is flexing to show off its military and economic prowess at a parade on Tiananmen Square on Thursday to demonstrate that the United States’ power has been declining since 2000.

On another front, the Chinese media are proclaiming they are not afraid of the threat of the extinction of newspapers stemming from the rise of online media.

While there is an increasing number of closures of daily newspapers in the West, Chinese media know no fear of death. They are alive and well, and are financially robust, and have expanded their circulation.

The People’s Daily, the largest government-owned newspaper in China, prints 2.8 million copies daily, which are sold, not given free, to subscribers. Its sources of revenue come from subscription and advertising by prosperous business enterprises, many of them state enterprises riding a booming economy.

The People’s Daily has 30 branch printing establishments all over the country and 30 offices overseas. It publishes the China Daily, a national English language newspaper, and the Global Times, also in English. The papers serve as a bridge between the government and people, and as a window of China to the world.

China Daily and Global Times publish three pages of foreign news out of 20. The People’s Daily also publishes economy-focused newspapers. It sources its foreign news from Hsinhua, the national news agency, and the Associated Press.

Editors of People’s Daily in Beijing told a group of visiting Filipino journalists that they do not fear the extinction of newspapers due to competition from new media (i.e. online news) distributed free to Internet users. They do not share the concerns of their Western newspaper counterparts, who have pointed out that online news is parasitical, as it is derived from newspaper reports. From the Western newspapers’ point of view, online news undermines the newspapers because it is distributed free, therefore tending to cut newspaper readership resulting in the reduction of advertising revenue, the financial lifeline of the daily newspaper. Chinese newspapers are self-supporting, according to the editors.

The Chinese editors shrug off the threat of revenue losses, a condition responsible for the decline of newspapers. One senior editor told us, “Our readers want to read news in depth. Our readers want to read not only news but also news analysis. Online news does not provide this information.”

The editors said they were not excited about blogs or bloggers as sources of information. They agreed with the comment that bloggers are unreliable and undisciplined as sources of news. “Stories should be based on facts,” the editors said. They have created their own feedback mechanism to filter news and information coming from the people. They have media supervisors vetting news reports. “We receive lots of letters from the people every day, some critical of the government, but we know where the letters come from.”

It may be true that Chinese newspapers are owned by the government or the communist party and its provincial branches and therefore are mouthpieces of the party line. But the fact is they are financially independent of the government, and they earn revenue from subscriptions and advertising, and people buy them and read them. The Chinese are a reading people. The editors know their readers want to read informed interpretation of news, not just snippets of information provided by the bloggers. Blogging is anathema to the Chinese.

In Fujian province, formerly Amoy, in southern China, which we visited, the Fujian Daily group of newspapers has been the party newspaper for 60 years, printing 250,000 copies daily. Facing the Straits of Taiwan, Fujian is the regional center of China’s coastal cities. Taiwan is within sight. The Fujian media group, including a TV-radio network, makes no bones about the fact that they are promoting the unification of mainland China and Taiwan, or the policy of “one China with two systems.”

The Fujian media group operates six newspapers and six TV stations, beaming news from the mainland to 10 million overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia—including two million in the Philippines.

The most popular program (Monday to Saturday) airs information promoting ties between overseas and homeland Chinese. Instead of depending on blogs, the group has a feedback mechanism made up of reporters who interview people in the grassroots about their problems and views on events affecting them.

The Chinese media have made newspapers complementary to online news, without undermining the importance of the newspaper as a medium of news dissemination.

Gary Kamiya, in an article titled “The Death of News” in Salon.com, writes that the real problem “isn’t that newspapers may be doomed.” He notes that as pointed out by the Nation columnist Eric Alterman, “the real problem isn’t the impending death of newspapers, but the impending death of news—at least news as we know it.”

Kamiya points out that “What is really threatened by the decline of newspapers and the related rise of online media is reporting—on-the-ground reporting by trained journalists who know the subject, have developed sources on all sides, strive for objectivity and are working with editors who check their facts, steer them in the right direction and are a further check against unwarranted assumptions, sloppy thinking and reporting, and conscious or unconscious bias.”

“If newspapers die, so does reporting. That’s because the majority of reporting originates from newspapers. Online journalism is essentially parasitic. Like most TV news, it derives or follows up on stories that first appeared in print. Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll has estimated that 80 percent of all online news originates from print.”

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