As NYT prepares for global growth, WSJ censored in China

The New York Times’s decision to rebrand its international sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, is the latest step in the paper’s plans to present the NYT brand as a truly international entity. By relaunching the Paris-based title as the International New York Times, the New York Times Co. hopes to bolster the title’s world-wide audience figures by stressing its ability to produce internationally pertinent content. But as the Wall Street Journal saw its Chinese-language site censored by China’s government over the weekend, questions abound as to how successful attempts at true global reach will prove to be for Western news organisations confronted with radically different media markets.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | August 5, 2013

Of course, the ‘otherness’ of non-European markets could be something of a boon to Western newspapers. Far from experiencing a drop in circulation and loss of advertising revenue, newsprint is still going strong in Asia. WAN-IFRA’s annual World Press Trends survey, presented two months ago at the World Newspaper Congress in Bangkok, shows that while print circulation continued to decline in ‘mature’ markets, print newspaper circulation was rising.

News markets beyond the European and US also play host to a readership that Western advertisers are keen to engage. Indeed, when it was revealed last year that the NYT had set up its own account with China’s version of Twitter, Sina Webo, and launched a Chinese version in beta, China’s “growing number of educated, affluent, global citizens” was cited as one of the key reasons for expansion into this market.

Similarly the synthesizing of the NYT with its international title seeks to endear the streamlined product to advertisers. According to IHT publisher Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, the rebranding exercise will make things “simpler for advertisers. At the moment, we have the IHT team selling NYT products. They often have to explain that the IHT is the global edition of the NYT and get through all that. To present one global mono brand is easier.” In becoming the International New York Times the IHT will find itself at the centre of a process of expansion taking place throughout the NYT’s overseas operations. With 10% of the NYT’s digital subscriptions coming from outside the U.S, the focus will fall on convincing readers beyond North America that the NYT carries the kind of in-depth reporting on international events that is worth paying for. To this end a fair amount of editorial control has already been extended to offices in London, Hong Kong and Paris, AdAge reports.

Nor is the International Herald Tribune the only prominent news outlet undergoing a process of repositioning for the digital market. Only last week The Guardian’s online offering moved to a new global domain,, in a move aimed at capitalising on the significant levels of international traffic had begun to attract.

Yet there can be no denying that further global expansion will produce myriad obstacles for news organisations already established in Western markets. Though far from being representative of the whole of Asia, China and its relationship with American and European publications has proven to be cause for some concern. On Saturday the WSJ’s Chinese-language site was blocked for users in China, according to Le Monde and South China Morning Post. For the time being no details as to why access to the site has been forbidden have emerged. The WSJ’s English-language version in China is apparently still accessible. Far from this being an isolated case, the WSJ is the third American news organisation to find itself on the wrong side of the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’. In the 2012 alone both Bloomberg and the New York Times fell foul of Chinese censorship laws after publishing details about the finances of current President Xi Jinping and his predecessor Wen Jiabao. Meanwhile the NYT’s Sina Weibo account was briefly censored only 24 hours after its launch.

Questions of editorial quality and freedom are crucial concerns for any newspaper company hoping to publish in China. In an excerpt from his memoir, posted by The Atlantic, journalist Mitch Moxley reveals that opinion pieces at China Daily would be proof-read for “political mistakes”, in an attempt to ensure that the country’s biggest English-language title did nothing to attract unwanted political attention.

The fact that the NYT has placed servers for its Chinese site outside of the country and has a bureau in Hong Kong (which as a Special Administrative Region is largely governed by a separate government) suggests that the title is more than aware of the difficulties it may face in extending its international influence. However, it remains to be seen whether Western news publications as a whole will find a satisfying solution to the kind of restrictive actions that touched the WSJ’s Chinese operations this weekend.

Sources: Le MondeThe Guardian, AdAge

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