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Golden Memories
Special> 50th Anniversary of Beijing Review> Golden Memories
UPDATED: March 21, 2008  
Reporting Under Crisis
Beijing Review's commitment remains strong during SARS

When I first began working as an editorial consultant and copy editor for Beijing Review in January 2003, we seemed ready for a year of change on the magazine. What we didn't expect was that changes were in store not just for the publication, but also for the city and for all of China. Our burgeoning efforts to transform Beijing Review into a world-class news magazine would be quickly tested by the public health crisis of SARS.

Before the epidemic, we had made a number of significant achievements with the publication. Our early issues featured new columns, and in-depth features on China's challenges and progress in bringing 1.2 billion people along on a drive for modernization, trade and economic growth. Beijing Review's new look and design reflected the new economic and cultural awakening of the country. I did harbor some doubts however. Could this near-50-year-old State publication truly work on behalf of the public good? Could it offer an objective look on both the benefits and problems that development would bring to the country? And the work left to be done?

When SARS hit, my fears abated. Though the Beijing City Government was criticized for not being forthcoming with the true impact of the epidemic, Beijing Review did not shy from reporting on how the public health crisis was affecting city residents. Though the editorial staff had their own fears and personal concerns during the crisis, they worked even harder to provide first-hand accounts from the heart of the epidemic. I was so impressed by the dedication of the staff, who were truly committed to continuing to work toward journalistic excellence even under pressure.

I was also impressed with the care and concern shown toward all of the staff during the crisis. As news of other publications being locked down into quarantine following the discovery of new SARS cases, the leaders of Beijing Review took care to equip the staff with facemasks and vitamins and restricted access to the building to essential editorial staff. Though working from home was a new experience for many, business continued and the magazine continued its publishing schedule throughout the crisis. Often as a foreigner working in China I felt as if my superiors avoided telling me bad news, and kept me in the dark about what was really going on. But at Beijing Review I never felt that way. Senior staff and executives were forthcoming about the public health crisis, the magazine's strategy for business continuity, and any other information that I needed to know.

After SARS ended the magazine continued its progress. We covered the opening of the Three Gorges Dam project, China's first space launch, and the transition to a new president Hu Jintao. We didn't go unnoticed. Rosemary Righter, economic columnist for the London Times wrote:

"In A Beijing hotel this month I picked up an issue of Beijing Review, once a turgidly forgettable publication, but now a much livelier magazine aimed at foreign investors. Its cover had caught my eye: a giant crane, a maze of scaffolding and the bold headline: "Stop Wasting Money."

Had the U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow -- in town at the time to talk the Chinese into revaluing the yuan -- glanced at a copy, he would have learnt more than his hosts were ever likely to tell him about why revaluation is off Beijing's radar screen."

Now, I work for Beijing Review again, as a freelancer for the New York bureau. If someone had told me four years ago that the magazine would be a multinational, leading news publication I would have found it hard to believe. I've seen features from everything from the challenges of being gay in China, to environmental protection efforts, to hard-hitting economic analysis. Many of the people I contact for interviews are initially hesitant to appear in a government-run publication, but once they see the website and the type of stories covered by the magazine, they express surprise and pleasure at the quality of work and issues covered. Now, though, I believe the magazine can do just about anything, and I look forward to watching further developments.

I have nothing but the deepest respect for the entire staff at Beijing Review. I am constantly surprised by the quality of work produced, and offer my best wishes for another 50 years of being the window for the world into China.



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