Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

Signing Off (from State Media)

Jul. 24, 2014

By Tom Fearon


I walked up to the east gate
of CCTV in the summer of ’09,
when a soldier stretched his arm out
his white-gloved hand nearly touching mine.
‘Wow, he’s friendly,’ I thought, shaking his hand,
but he pulled it back and made a scowl,
“Please show your ID, young foreign man!”

I sat before my computer
its screen beckoned with a script,
a half-baked lede and awful stand up
in rich Chinglish did it drip.
So I stripped it back to its bare bones
and gave some spit and shine,
it went to air a few minutes later
while I wrote the new headline.

Morning, evenings, overnights,
days melted into each other.
‘Polish my story!’ ‘Voice my soundbite!’
each request followed by another.
The job was simple, so it seemed,
for a native speaker who could spell.
They even supplied an oversized room
at the luxurious Friendship Hotel

The ritual each day for work
ended just as it began;
a Volkswagen honking from downstairs
by Mr. Zhao in his black sedan.
He packed his car with foreign staff
driving between the hotel and TV station, 
English, Russian, French or Spanish,
Chinese media’s ‘United Nations.’ 

Sitting in the newsroom
filled with the tones of James Chau
as he read the news from the studio
about a speech by Hu Jintao.
“Hurt feelings of the Chinese people,” said deadpan,
 but nothing hurt quite as much
as another inedible hefan.

Most copy editors hated graveyard shifts,
but then some really didn’t mind
sneaking out between newscasts
to roast a Zhongnanhai.
Minutes crawled like the news ticker;
table sleeping until dawn
when the newsroom stirred back to life
with the smell of baozi and steamed corn. 

For an English-speaking cadre
your post was newsroom watchdog,
but for a laowai-loathing nationalist
you could host a show called Dialogue.
Behind the scenes working hard
toiled the talented young;
tomorrow’s newsmen and women
quite unlike Rui Chenggang. 

Media pals back home often asked
about life in the belly of the beast.
Curious about whether they too
should follow suit and head over East.
It’s not for all, that’s for sure,
but you learn to adapt and stylize
when writing another top news story
about China boosting bilateral ties. 

Two years came and went in a flash
it had been a decent stint,
but something pulled me back toward
the familiar, grubby grasp of print.
A new newspaper was on the scene
firing editorial barbs with spin,
headed by a mop-topped patriot
better known as Hu Xijin.

The pressure was higher than CCTV,
where news was shoveled out like coal
and a typo read out on the air
disappeared into a black hole.
But an extra space or missing comma
spells disaster in black and white.
All you can do is hope and pray
it doesn’t reach your boss’s sight. 

But now it’s time to stop the press
and end the journalism ride.
I’ve made some lasting friendships
and worked on stories with great pride.
I’ll miss the buzz of newsrooms
and dressing headlines with a pun.
But thanks for the memories, state media,
you’ve been a lot of fun.

See the original poem here.