Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What I am doing with time

The Time internship (latest in an apparently infinite series) is nice because it does allow me to survive in Hong Kong (barely), and though it doesn’t feel particularly inventive or exciting so far—mostly we’re collecting quotes and numbers for the “Numbers” and “Verbatim” sections, and taking care of minor research—a journalism job lets you make of it what you will. I’m not sure what I will make of it yet, though I’ve got some ideas. So far here’s what I make of Time: Once I was an intern at Time Asia’s distant, more gossipy cousin Entertainment Weekly, an exciting if sometimes tedious and mindless job which gave me an idea for the corporate style of AOL TimeWarner, a sense of the grueling hierarchical structure and strict attention to popular taste and format concerns that are not nearly as common at newspapers where I’ve worked--not that those too didn't have their faults; everything does. Though Time Asia feels a far cry from all that, if because it’s so far away from World Headquarters in NYC, and because it’s dealing with a more mature, less pop-culture-oriented audience, the place has recently felt the tightening of its corporate ties. Ad-selling is out in Europe and Asia, budget cuts and lay offs are in. Along with the bureau chiefs in Beijing, Moscow, London, etc. of the editors in the Hong Kong office had been let go (they’re aiming at the most expensive people first). During our first week, we encountered a lot of edginess, a bit of gallows humor. One of the editors, the ever-bemused Zohair, came through to offer a quote from Tolkien ("You come with tidings of grief and danger, as is your wont they say...") hours before international editor Michael Elliott arrived from London to hold a Q and A. We weren’t invited but word was that the answers were cryptic. But for now at least, contrary to some rumors, Time Asia will continue, and it will remain not be squished, 21st century style, into some watered-down Time International.

Michael and other editors, some of whom David and I have had lunch with, believe that there is more than enough interest in this part of the world in what Time has to say, both what it has to say as an Asian news gatherer with a western perspective, and as a deliverer of western news to Asia. I think that’s reasonable, and I think Time is pretty good at it. Even though it borrows many stories from the American magazine, I think it’s much better than that version in general, which often feels about as deep as a television newscast, heavy with “news you can use,” another way of saying “not news at all, but you’re certain to want to read this rather than something about the Iranian nuclear program!” I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the region gets People Asia, or Entertainment Weekly Asia. Tabloids are all over the place here, the Hollywood-style entertainment industry is growing (I’m proud to say that my cousin Jonathan is the Hollywood Reporter’s Beijing correspondent), and if those magazines are the company’s biggest money makers, as I think they are, why not extend them here? Let’s not answer that question, and instead take solace in the fact that Time’s a pretty good representative of the west over here, and it also does a pretty nice job of reporting on Asia. (Maybe someday North America will get its own version of Time Asia.)

But there’s always more to report, there’s always a million little Asias that aren’t being talked about and should be—things probably more worth our attention than lying memoirists and celebrity births—and even though I may not get to write those stories, I should probably stop writing this now and go look for them.

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