A few thoughts on handling online corrections, and the NYT’s memory hole.

Over at Bill Bishop’s new Sinocism blog, there’s a very interesting post and discussion about how the New York Times handles corrections to its online edition. The example in question concerns a switch in a China-related headline, from “Beijing Police Beat Artists Protesting Evictions” to “Evicted Artists Protest After Attack in Beijing,” once somebody at the paper realized that the first one was inaccurate. Bishop’s concern – and it’s one that I share in the comments – is that the correction was made on the fly, with no correction or apology appended for running an inaccurate headline in the first place. [UPDATED: Three days later, following Bishop’s widely-linked post, a correction has been appended to the online version of the evicted artists story.]

The case in question is China-related, but this is an issue that gets at a phenomenon – I’d characterize it as a problem – that I’ve noticed, and a number of my colleagues have noticed, over the last couple of years. And that is this: inaccuracies and outright mistakes that would have been corrected if they ran in the print edition of the NYT, are routinely erased from the online NYT, without note. This, despite the fact that the online side of the NYT is far more widely read than the print side.  I’ve touched on this phenomenon at Shanghai Scrap, a couple of years ago, here; I’m surprised that other reporters have shied from it. Continue reading

On money sloshing down the streets, and being misquoted by one of the world’s “premier” newspapers.

[UPDATE: I’ve received an email from an IHT editor assuring me that a correction is being prepared for online and print.]

[UPDATE 2/26: The digital version of the story mentioned in this post has been corrected. Many thanks to the editors and writer who helped the process along. I appreciate it.]

Late this afternoon I began to receive emails from friends pointing out that I’m quoted extensively in a story about Shanghai blogs in today’s International Herald Tribune. Ordinarily, that’d be a good thing, something that I’d be proud to hear. Unfortunately, most people were emailing me in response to this passage:

Mr. Minter chose to make Shanghai his home because of “all of the money sloshing down these streets,” a testament to the entrepreneurial vibe that pulses through the city.

For the record, and for what it’s worth, I’d like to point out that I never made that statement. Somebody else did, and I merely quoted it in the written answers that I provided to a reporter’s questions. Below, the specific reporter’s question, and my answer, as copied from a February 16 email:

16. Talk about the changes to the city since you first moved there, physically, socially, economically, etc.

[My answer] The physical changes are dramatic. I’ve watched with real regret as the city’s historic architectural core has been demolished in favor of modern high-rises. That’s a pity.

Economically, the city has become visibly more wealthy. A friend recently referred to “all of the money sloshing down these streets.” I think that’s accurate – and it’s recent.

Shanghai remains the same cultural firmament that I first experienced seven years ago. Constant flux. And yet, despite the flux, I haven’t sensed much change. The Shanghainese still maintain their traditional value and culture – despite tinkering at the edges.

To summarize – I did not move to Shanghai due to all of the money “sloshing down the streets,” and neither am I the author of that quote. What might have motivated the authors of the IHT piece to manipulate my answer is beyond me. But they did it, and I not only noticed, I have a copy of the original emailed interview … you little bastards. [temper, temper, apologies, apologies]

[UPDATE 2/26: My admittedly intemperate comment above (since crossed out) shouldn’t obscure the fact that I’ve been extremely impressed with with the professionalism exhibited by Maile Cannon and the IHT editors. They communicated with me promptly after the mistake was pointed out, and they really did attempt to correct the situation to the best of their abilities. Worth noting, too, that Maile has a self-effacing sense of humor – a good quality in anyone, but especially in a journalist.]

On the bright side, some of the emails that I’ve received as a result of this debacle are keepers, with the best one beginning: “In the years we’ve known each other we’ve been in the presence of money sloshing down the streets on several occasions and you managed to miss all of them.” Uh, thanks.

[UPDATE 2/26: Of the many emails I’ve received in regard to this article – 95% of which reference that quote – this is my favorite: “I did, however, obtain a needed dose of amusement today by imagining you telling some IHT reporter that you moved to Shanghai because the streets were sloshing with money. A modern update to the immigrant tale where the streets are paved with gold, but more tangible and more liquid.” Indeed.]

In the trenches, sorting scrap.

Sheepishly, I concede that this is the second or third post in which I’ve promised to get back to regular blogging shortly. But, you know, Chinese New Year leads into a new year of work, and now I’m bogged down in a couple of projects that require my fixed attention. In the case of one project, it feels a bit like sorting scrap – fines, to be precise, the exceedingly small pieces of mixed metals that come off metal shredders and are exported to China and other low-cost labor countries for hand-sorting. Below, an image taken at a facility devoted to this kind of recycling in Guangdong Province.

In the interest of dispelling some stereotypes: being able to identify, by sight and feel, various metals, is a skill, and the women who do this work – and they are mostly women – are highly sought by Guangdong’s recyclers, and highly compensated (by Chinese labor standards). For example, the woman in this photo is paid between RMB 2000 (US$291)and RMB 2500 (US$365) per month, for a forty-hour week, and she would have no problem finding another job, tomorrow, for similar wages, at a similar facility. Entry-level white collar workers in the same town would have a very hard time finding similar pay.

In any case, I’m sorting facts and figures (though I’m hardly as adept as a good south China metal sorter), sentences and paragraphs, and hoping to be free and clear in a day or two.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me in wishing the China Beat – one of the truly great China blogs – a happy third birthday. Even if you don’t visit China blogs on a regular basis, the anniversary post is worth reading as a quality guide for how and why to blog as a group. Very impressive.

Resumption of Transmissions …

The Chinese New Year holiday is coming to an end, and so is this blog’s reticence on a range of issues. We should be back to full-strength – or pretty close – early next week. For now, one quick Chinese New Year item that I meant to post before the holiday, and forgot. Here’s the deal: back in January, World Expo 2010 organizers told Shanghai Daily that nearly 20% of the more than 100 pavilions to be built for the massive event would not be ready for the opening on May 1. Part of the problem – and it was a big one – was that much of the migrant labor force required to build the 2.5 mile fair-ground and its pavilions was planning to take two weeks off to enjoy the New Year holiday. Below, some of those laborers enjoying a break outside of the terrific Dutch pavilion.

Anyway, a few days before the Shanghai Daily story ran, I happened to be at the Expo site, visiting one of the incomplete national pavilions (to be clear: not the Dutch pavilion). While there, someone associated with the structure told me that – out of fear of losing the structure’s two-hundred man labor force – New Year bonuses were being offered. According to this person, the regular daily wage at this particular pavilion (can’t speak for the others) was/is RMB 200, or roughly US$29.00/day. That’s one hell of a good wage for a Chinese construction worker, but – apparently – not nearly enough to keep a migrant worker with leverage – in this case, incomplete Expo 2010 pavilions – in his back pocket. And so, according to the national pavilion official with whom I spoke, cagey/homesick migrant laborers rejected offers of RMB 400 (US$58), RMB 600 (US$87), and RMB 1000 (US$145)  per day to work during the two-week Chinese New Year. Those are serious wages for white collars in Shanghai, much less a migrant construction workers, and I hereby offer my sincere respect to whomever was responsible for the migrant side of that negotiation. Alas, I didn’t manage to follow-up on what the ultimate outcome/wage was, but – with labor rates like that – I suspect that more than a few migrants called home to ask that the fireworks be lit without them.

Year of the Tiger blogging, coming next week.

Animal Cruelty and, of course, Carnaval.

First things first: yesterday Foreign Policy published Rich Dog, Poor Dog, my take on China’s proposed animal cruelty law. In it, I suggest that animal protection is a Chinese-style wedge issue, dividing opponents and supporters by region and socio-economic class (read it here). For the record, I think not enough credit is given to magazine editors when they come up with topics … so let me take a moment to thank Christina Larson, a contributing editor at FP, for thinking that I might be the right person to write this piece. It’s a subject that’s long interested me, but quite honestly it never would have occurred to me to propose an essay to a publication if she hadn’t asked. Larson’s very useful twitter feed can be found here, and her blog can be found here.

Those following my twitter feed know that I’m in Rio de Janeiro – on assignment, mind you – and it just so happens that my assignment coincides with Carnaval. Funny that. Anyway, tweeting and blogging will continue to be light through the middle of the week, at which time I’ll resume somewhat regular posting. For now, a photo taken in a Rio-area recycling plant partly devoted to recycling the flood of aluminum beverage (read: beer) containers that this region generates – especially during the raucous Carnaval season. Continue reading

Scrap on the Beach

The staff of Shanghai Scrap has been traveling for the last week or so – three continents, 15,000 miles, in a week or so, actually – and thus posting has been light to non-existent. But, thankfully, we have found a port to call our own: Guarujá, Brazil. We’ll be spending a week on assignment here, meeting members of the local recycling industry – including this gentleman, whom we found on the beach this afternoon. According to him, aluminum cans are going for $.75/lb., roughly, and he’s not happy about that market at all.

While traveling I’ve had the time to read Michelle Mercer’s terrific Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period, a careful examination of Mitchell’s work from Blue, to Hejira (Shanghai Scrap’s all-time favorite recording). It’s not a music biography, though, so much as a careful consideration of how memory intersects with imagination to create art. Highly, highly recommended – whether you’re a Joni fan or not.

Posting to be intermittent for the next few days.

How Scary is the Daily Beast?

I’ve been facing the working journo’s version of a devil’s cocktail: multiple deadlines mixed with lots of travel. But despite my burdens, I was still able to take note of Daily Beast’s over-the-top effort to render recent diplomatic spats between the US and China into something … scary. Specifically,  a (re)package of stories that it labels “How scary is China?” Below,  the very picture of mindless fear-mongering (click to enlarge).

Now, I happen to think a package of stories that examines recent diplomatic difficulties between the US and China is a fine idea. And I’m all for flashy headlines. But if, say, someone were looking for proof that certain elements of the US media are reflexively anti-China (define as you see fit), headlines that ask how – not whether – China is scary, would be a fine place to start. Me, personally, I don’t find anything particularly unusual about the recent US-China flare-ups – except for the amount of coverage they’re receiving from US and Chinese press compared to, for example, past coverage of Taiwanese arm sales. And, generally, I think that’s a good thing: it means more people are paying attention to US-China relations. A pity, though, that the Daily Beast”s contribution to that generally positive development is a headline unworthy of a high school newspaper, much less a news organization that fancies itself respectable. Way to go.

[Thanks to Anup Kaphle for pointing out the Beast package via one of his tweets.]