Monday, February 20, 2006

World's greatest rumor-mill

Anyone who I've ever talked to about the rapidity with which information crisscrosses China will have heard me describe the country as the world's greatest rumor mill. There is a series this week in the Washington Post talking about the challenges and opportunities facing China as more and more Chinese log onto the internet.

Yesterday's story
was about the China Youth Daily, one of its editors, and his boss. There was quite a hubbub last fall over proposed changes to the newspaper. The editor wanted the paper to follow a line more likely to line up with party-leaders' interests, and the editor wanted to be closer to average people's interests.

While it's not yet clear whose side will win, both men have lost: they were both fired last week. That is an outcome to be expected--fire the one because he challenged the system, and fire the other because his failure to take care of the situation only exposed the system to greater criticism.

The remarkable part of the story is the way the internet--and other forms of telecommunication--were used to spread a message, and congeal an opinion. In less than two hours, a 13,000 word letter was posted on hundreds of sites and read by thousands of people. In an unusual reversal, the newspaper reversed it's position on the proposed pay-scale that gave rise to the opposition--because of the public support for the reporters at the paper, and the fact that they were attempting to cover news as it is, not as the powerful want it to.

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