IN the summer of 1999, a dozen newly graduated Chinese university students squeezed into a small office on Huqiu Road and began work as reporters on the first issue of Shanghai Daily, an 8-page trial published on September 18 to coincide with the Fortune Global Forum.
Like the forum, Shanghai Daily was a monument to the city’s emergence on the global stage. In the short space of 15 years, the newspaper evolved into a highly respected 48-page daily chronicle of the life and times in Shanghai. Its reach extended throughout the Yangtze River Delta.
Many foreign visitors were initially surprised to find an indigenous English-language newspaper in Shanghai. The publication has helped shape their perceptions of the city and the country.
“My grandpa couldn’t stop talking about it,” says American businessman Jeremy Carter, who moved to the city four years ago. “When he came back from a 2-month business trip in China in 2000, he kept telling us how amazed he was to see an English newspaper. Back then, we didn’t know much about China.”
Carter’s grandfather especially loved the sports pages because he had no other convenient means of keeping up on the latest baseball scores. He also said he appreciated stories about Shanghai culture and economics, which allowed him to surprise and amuse his Chinese colleagues and business partners with his knowledge.
“It’s the same today,” Carter tells Shanghai Daily. “The reason I like Shanghai Daily better than other English newspapers in China is that I can read real news and interesting local arts and culture, and it’s not just propaganda. It’s more like what I am used to reading in a newspaper. There’s more human interest. And I am amazed that it’s actually written by an all-Chinese staff.”
Many of the founding staff of Shanghai Daily came to the paper having majored in journalism, but they lacked any real experience working in the sector. They received intense training from more experienced Chinese editors and from a handful of “foreign experts.” Mostly they learned by doing.
At first, it was hard to establish credentials. Few people knew what Shanghai Daily was. Interviewees were often reluctant. Reporters had to keep telling them that the paper was not simply a translation of the Chinese press, but rather its own resourceful entity.
The goal of writing Shanghai news in English and in a Western style was certainly daunting. But as the newspaper clawed its way to recognition, reservation turned to admiration.
At the dusk of a millennium, Shanghai Daily became the city’s “window to the world.” It was launched when the city’s gross domestic product totaled 403.5 billion yuan (US$65 billion). That figure expanded at a double-digit pace for the first decade of the new century, fueled by government development policies and investment from abroad.
In 1999, many multinationals were opening representative offices in the city or negotiating joint ventures. China was still a mystery to much of the developed world.
In 15 years, the staff of Shanghai Daily have logged the city’s dramatic changes. The paper has undergone several redesigns to present the news in the most reader-friendly format. Its coverage has become wider, deeper and more sophisticated.
Shanghai Daily has explored the city from the top of the tallest skyscrapers to the depth of the underground Metro.
Foreigners working in the city have been interested in the Metro’s development. Many of them commute on the trains. In 1999, the Metro Line 2, connecting Puxi and Pudong, started operation.
Shanghai Daily has been traveling along in the system’s tracks, reporting every step of how 17 planned lines created the world’s largest rapid transit system. Coverage didn’t stop with the infrastructure. It went into the trains to cover the lives and attitudes of passengers.
Where readers pondered, Shanghai Daily responded. Another popular coverage topic has been women’s issues.
“I have witnessed tremendous changes in the past 15 years regarding women’s issues,” says Wang Luning, a standing member of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Shanghai, who has worked in various government departments on women’s welfare.
The city’s social environment is friendlier to its female citizens, she says.
“Today, I don’t see any industry or kind of business — even traditional male bastions — that hasn’t been opened to women. As a woman and a mother, I can say the imbalance between career and family life has been eliminated.”
Shanghai is ever changing and Shanghai Daily strives to be ahead of the curve.
It actively solicits feedback from readers on their interests and their opinions. It invites foreign commentators to write columns.
It provides analysis of the news to delve into major issues from all angles. It publishes special supplements exploring important issues such as the momentous creation of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone — an economic innovation that has caught the attention of foreign investors and businessmen.
Understanding complex policy decisions is never easy, but Shanghai Daily hasn’t shirked its duty to present them in language and concepts that foreigners can understand.
Nor has the newspaper ignored the emergence of new media formats and technological innovations that have revolutionized how we receive and share information.
Shanghai Daily has also been ahead of the game in the era of new media, with a base website, a lifestyle-focused site to provide local entertainment options, apps on major platforms and accounts on both overseas and domestic social networking sites.
“It is the best of times, it is the worst of times,” says Wu Zheng, current editor-in-chief of Shanghai Daily, who served as business editor when the paper was founded.
“No matter what it is, we still take it as our mission to report Shanghai to the world. The development of Shanghai in the past 15 years has exceeded the imagination of many people. As the city’s premier English-language newspaper, we approach the next 15 years with the same dedication to news coverage and an unfailing commitment to our readers,” she says.