The Earth Times (Beijing Editions Editorial )
13 Sept. 1995
A Day in our Life at the Beijing Conference for Women in China
Beijing: In China, the typical day for Earth Times journalists begins with a breakfast meeting at the Hui Tian Hotel at 8 AM. The modest menu of toast, jam, coffee, and boiled eggs mirrors the unpretentious setting of the hotel, which is next door to the Worker’s Daily, the newspaper where daily editions of The Earth Times for the Fourth World Conference on Women are produced and printed. The hotel’s staff were put through a special English-language course in anticipation of the foreign guests, and the day starts with apologetic smiles from the young Chinese men and women serving breakfast, and also the visiting editors and reporters who frequently consult English-to Chinese phrase books to get their requests across.
By the time the Earth Times editors and reporters have assembled at breakfast, three things have happened. Pranay Gupte, the editor and publisher, has signed off on that morning’s edition at around 4 AM at the cavernous printing press of the Workers Daily
(Gongren Ribao in Chinese). Gupte has also said “Good night” as well as “Good morning” to Han Baocheng, senior editor of the Beijing Review, who is assisting The Earth Times in China and who joins Gupte in the night vigil at the printing plant to answer any questions that the non- English-speaking Workers Daily production crew might have about page sequences, or whatever.
The third thing that has happened by breakfast is that correspondent Elizabeth Bryant has already run five miles. It is a ritual that the Florida-based reporter-who ordinarily works for the Fort Myers Sentinel-has faithful1y followed wherever The Earth Times has turned up.
The Earth Times’ presence in China continues two traditions: Publication of daily editions at major United Nations conferences—Rio, Vienna, Barbados, Cairo and Copenhagen and cooperation with local newspapers. In Rio, for example, the New York-based paper produced its daily editions for the 1992 Earth Summit at Jornal do Brasil; in Cairo, the local host was Al-Ahram Daily for the 1994 International Conference on
Population and Development; and in Copenhagen, Dagbladet Information offered space and production facilities during the 1995 World Summit for Social Development.
According to Chinese officials, The Earth Times’ presence represents the first time that a foreign newspaper has been given permission to publish a daily edition in China in cooperation with a local paper. Gongren Ribao’s daily circulation is 1.3 million, and
500 people work at the newspaper’s plant on Ande Road, just north of the Asian Games Complex. And The Earth Times’Beijing circulation? Gongren Ribao need not fear competition.
After the day’s stories and schedule have been discussed at breakfast, the staff takes off in a rented van for the Beijing International Convention Center. From here on, the boss is Ashali Varma, executive publisher of The Earth Times and a veteran journalist. The reporters-Jack Freeman, C. Gerald Fraser, Helen Abby Becker, Vir Singh, Mathilde Camacho, Daniel Shepard, Elizabeth Bryant, Salone Mehta, Vivek Menezes, Hille Linders, a Dutch intern, and Kyu-Young Lee—check their assignments with Varma, and it is she who monitors the progress of stories on an hourly basis.
Photographer Anna Grossman consults Varma as well, in between trips to a local photo-processing shop. Varma is the one most often called by sources offering ideas or requests for articles, and she is the one who carries the flag for the four-year-old newspaper overseas as well as in New York, where The Earth Times is normally published twice a month. People tend to get upset if Varma takes off a few minutes for lunch.
While Varma and her correspondents are scouring BICC (The Conference Center), the production staff, led by Tebzeeb Ansari, is preparing for another day’s work at Gongren Ribao. Ansari’s team consists of Gregory Taylor, who has taken time off from the New York Daily News where he is a systems engineer; John Napolitano and Cynthia Spence both layout editors; Andy Rodriguez, who scans pictures; and Louis Silverstein, the design editor. Ansari’s first priority is to mark which stories go on which page, and Silverstein—who helped invent the modern four-part daily New York Times—then creates the design for Page One and other pages.
It is now 6 PM, Gupte is furiously editing stories that have been sent via modem from BICC to Gongren Ribao. Taylor is overseeing the smooth flow of copy from modem to
Apple computers used by Gupte, Napolitano and Spence, to the IBM computers from where laid-out pages will go into another machine that manufactures the film of those pages. All this activity takes place in two rooms crowded not only by Earth Times people
but by Gongren Ribao staffers who are busily producing their evening edition. From time to time, the Chinese journalists assist the visitors in solving technical problems. Plenty of good cheer here, despite the deadline pressures for everybody.
Dinner arrives at 8:30 PM. This consists of meals bought from a local Chinese restaurant or an Indian joint. Virtually, everybody shows up–editors, reporters, production personnel. This is like breakfast revisited, except for the fact that some of the Gongren Ribao staffers join in to nibble a t the dishes.
At 9 PM, Mong Yong Gen walks in. He is Gongren Ribao’s business manager, and he wants to make certain that tonight’s production goes off well. Han Baocheng translates Mong’s words of concern. Gongren Ribao’s technical staff by now are working on scanning pages of Beijing Watch, the daily newspaper, the daily the newspaper produced by Women’s Feature Service and offered as an insert in The Earth Times (an arrangement requested by China).
By 10 PM, Editor Gupte is fulminating over the fact that The Earth Times pages aren’t being sent fast enough for film-making. Every minute’s delay means that Gongren Ribao’s printing schedule would have to be revised, a costly and unnerving matter.
At midnight, the eight pages of The Earth Times and another eight pages of Beijing Watch are locked up in film. Ansari checks the film for errors. If there aren’t any, then the film goes down from the fourth-floor newsroom to the second-floor plate-making department. There technicians tape the film in reverse and put the pages through a machine that makes aluminum plates for the presses. The huge plates are then fixed on German-made presses, which can turn out several thousand copies a minute.
It is now 3AM. With a great grunt, the presses begin to roll. The smell of ink suffuses the huge room. The Chinese staff examine early copies to ensure that there aren’t any printing problems. Copies that are deemed unfit for circulation are carefully set aside for recycling by thepaper supplier, Guangzhou Paper Limited of Guangdong, China.
And so another edition of The Earth Times is out.Gupte and Han carry bundles of the newspaper next door to the Hotel, while Gongren Ribao mailers tie up stacks and put them on a trolley. A van will collect the papers from Gongren Ribao within a few hours and take them to B1CC. At the hotel, Gupte plays newsboy and puts a copy outside the staff’s doors.
These doors open shortly before 8AM and the journalists troop out. It is time for breakfast and another day in the life of The Earth Times.