U.S. media company seeks to court China’s middle class but has two social media accounts suspended for several days
The New York Times launched a Chinese-language website on June 28 in the latest overseas media bid to court China’s growing middle class.
But two of its social media accounts were suspended for several days, underscoring the difficulties that foreign companies face as they seek users in a vast but heavily censored internet market.
Attempts to access the project’s account on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo brought up a warning that the user did not exist and its Sohu microblog was also unavailable.
The Sina account became available again a few hours later, and another microblog account, on the popular Tencent service, remained accessible throughout.
Craig Smith, who is overseeing the business side of the Chinese-language service, said the site, cn.nytimes.com, had not been affected and the strong traffic it was receiving was “evidence of a healthy appetite for New York Times journalism in the Chinese-speaking world.”
The Sina account has already amassed more than 13,000 followers.
The New York Times Chinese service will be hosted on servers overseas, meaning that it does not have to abide by Chinese censorship directives — but it could be blocked by the country’s “great firewall.” Authorities are more anxious about Chinese-language material than the English equivalent, which cannot reach such a wide audience.
The New York Times’ Media Decoder blog said that the site would “follow the paper’s journalistic standards.”
Joseph Kahn, the paper’s foreign editor, said that while the Chinese government occasionally blocked certain articles from nytimes.com, he was hopeful it would be receptive to the Chinese-language service.
“We’re not tailoring it to the demands of the Chinese government,” he said. “China operates a very vigorous firewall. We have no control over that. We hope and expect that Chinese officials will welcome what we’re doing.”
The New York Times site will publish around 30 articles a day on national, foreign and arts topics, in addition to editorials. Kahn said that two-thirds of the content would be translated from New York Times articles and one-third would be written by Chinese editors and local freelance journalists.
The New York Times has hired 30 staff for the project, most of whom are working as translators and editors. The site will be run by Philip Pan, assistant foreign editor for the New York Times, and managing editor Cao Haili, previously a reporter with the respected Chinese business magazines Caijing and Caixin.
The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal already run Chinese-language services, with the FT boasting 1.7m users. Kahn said he hoped the Times project would be a vigorous competitor.
Denise Warren, the chief general manager of nytimes.com and chief advertising officer for the New York Times, said the site had already attracted advertisers, including Bloomingdale’s and Salvatore Ferragamo.
While the site is currently free, a paywall was “something that potentially down the road, we contemplate,” she added.
In 2009, the Guardian launched a collaborative experiment with community translation site Yeeyan, which published a selection of Guardian stories in Chinese. That was shut down by Chinese authorities after several months. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012