Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Homer Simpson/Xinhua incident: The take-down is explained!

I have an interesting follow-up to last week's entry, Homer Simpson's brain, or why Xinhua continues to have a credibility problem. One of Xinhua's English "polishers" (Xinhua's title for copy editors) has revealed on his blog how Xinhuanet was notified of the mistake: He phoned them up and asked them about the inclusion of Homer Simpson's X-Ray in a serious health article. The conversation that followed is quite amusing.

The blogger behind Beijing Newspeak also discusses the prevailing institutional attitude at Xinhua. It's a place where departmental rivalries matter more than editorial quality or Xinhua's overseas image, apparently:
The entire organisational structure of Xinhua is flawed to the core. Each department within Xinhua exists independently, each scoring performance points for the release of reams of often meaningless words, or losing points for an individual’s mistake eg writing China and Taiwan in a headline. The departments compete with each other to secure as high a place as possible in the end-of-year league table which ensures there is absolutely zero cooperation between them. It is each for himself which means that if Xinhuanet uses a picture of Homer Simpson’s brain to illustrate a MS story, and in doing so tarnishes the reputation of the whole news agency, no one cares. As long as it doesn’t affect our department. Which is why it took a phone call from a foreign polisher, whose pay and reputation is not affected by the points system, to cause the removal of the picture. Many of the Xinhua “leaders” do not read English or simply regard the non-Chinese services as trivial.
I encourage anyone who is interested in the inner workings of China's state-run news agency to read the many other posts in Beijing Newspeak. The author has a lot of interesting observations about the New China News Agency and Chinese journalism. It's one of the few accounts I've seen from a foreign editor working at Xinhua, outside of the recollections published in Robin Porter's 1992 book, which date from the late 1970s and 1980s. Some starting points: Transformers: Xinhua reporters in disguise ("I have come across a number of occasions on which Xinhua reporters in the provincial bureaus around the country have treated breaking news with contempt") and Practising what they preach? China’s journalists’ association on bun conundrum ("It is common practice to surf local news websites, copy some titillating nugget and upload it to the central department. I have seen some of my colleagues rightly reject stories by regional journalists that are based on one comment from an Internet forum.")

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