A very smart person who liked to portray himself as otherwise — yes, I’m talking about you, Rob Daumeyer — once told me the secret to business reporting: All stories are business stories. Find the money angle and emphasize it enough to satisfy your boss, then tell the rest of the story. A good story is a good story; don’t get in its way and all will be revealed.
That’s a wise outlook, and it’s one reason I enjoy my night-shift editing job, surfing the great digital media landscape in search of stories of interest to our corporate clients, who are in the health-care trade. Many of these are four-graf snoozers on ABC Biotech being bought by XYZ Pharma, but several times a night I find real gems, great stories that just happen to be health-related. As Rob pointed out, almost every story has a money angle. That’s also true for health-care stories. If a doctor appears somewhere in the story, you’re good to go. Every hospital in your town is more crammed with pathos, humor, greed and plot twists than any newspaper can carry.
All this by way of pointing out one I found last night, from The Hindu, an English-language paper in India. It’s about the elephant in the Chinese living room, which coughs and smells like an ashtray:
Eyes shining and lips aquiver, the bride stands along with her family at the entrance to a five star hotel in downtown Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province. Outfitted in layers of meringue-like white lace, she hands out welcome gifts to the wedding guests who pull up in a steady stream of flashy cars.
The gifts consist chiefly of cigarettes. Later on in the festivities the bride lights the cigarettes of all the male guests, a common ritual at Chinese weddings that is supposed to auger well for the newlywed’s ability to have children.
Would you not kill to see this? I mean, can you even imagine the sight of a bride making the rounds of her own wedding with a Zippo? I wonder if this is done casually — if she mingles through the guests, lighting everyone up — or if it’s more of a ritual, with all the men lining up with a Marlboro dangling from their lips, and she flits, bride-like, down the line. We could spend all day discussing how this became a ritual in the first place, how putting flame to a tube of a known carcinogen somehow became a fertility ritual. (I suspect Hollywood, and all those post-coital cigarettes.) Or we could just enjoy the essential weirdness of our big world, and feel grateful that we live in it, at a time when you can read The Hindu online.
The rest of the story, by the way, is about what happens when all those guests have been smoking for a few decades:
Chinese society today is in a crisis. The crisis is to do with the health of the world’s most populous society and the culprit is tobacco. With an estimated 350 million smokers, China is both the largest producer and consumer of tobacco, accounting for a third of the world’s smokers. According to official statistics, the country sells around 1.6 trillion cigarettes a year.
The WHO says smoking related diseases kill one million Chinese annually and if unchecked this number could double by 2020. With incomes in China rising steadily over the last few decades, so has the average daily consumption of cigarettes per smoker from around four in 1972 to 10 in 1992 to nearly 15 today. Smokers are also beginning to develop the habit at ever younger ages with a staggering 100 million smokers estimated to be under the age of 18.
But despite the alarming evidence, many in the Chinese government claim the country cannot afford to quit smoking, given the value of the tobacco industry to the Chinese economy. Cigarette companies not only generate tens of thousands of jobs (up to 100 million Chinese are directly or indirectly dependent for their livelihood on the tobacco industry) but are also among the top tax payers, contributing $30 billion or eight per cent of total central government revenue in 2005.
It’s the oldest story in the world: Oops, we did it again.
So, some bloggage:
Yesterday I said I love the internet. Sometimes I hate it. The story of Allison Stokke is one good reason to. It’s about a teenage athlete of some accomplishment who has become the new Cindy Margolis on the strength of one photo of her looking very pretty (or hawt, as you kids like to say) at a track meet. And then, well…
Three weeks later, Stokke has decided that control is essentially beyond her grasp. Instead, she said, she has learned a distressing lesson in the unruly momentum of the Internet. A fan on a Cal football message board posted a picture of the attractive, athletic pole vaulter. A popular sports blogger in New York found the picture and posted it on his site. Dozens of other bloggers picked up the same image and spread it. Within days, hundreds of thousands of Internet users had searched for Stokke’s picture and leered.
The wave of attention has steamrolled Stokke and her family in Newport Beach, Calif. She is recognized — and stared at — in coffee shops. She locks her doors and tries not to leave the house alone. Her father, Allan Stokke, comes home from his job as a lawyer and searches the Internet. He reads message boards and tries to pick out potential stalkers.
Argh. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, I considered not linking to the photo. But what was the first thing I did after reading that story? Look for the photo. And what is the one thing my editors used to do that drove me insane when I worked in newspapers? Decline to publish something widely known/available elsewhere, on the grounds of moral or ethical purity. I try to live in the reality-based world. Anyway, I looked at the photo and said, “That is a girl who takes great care of herself.” Your reaction may be different.)
Fortunately, though, we can console ourselves by turning our attention spans, now whittled down to a sub-toddler level, to more amusing pictures like this. Look, something shiny and funny!
That’s it for now. Tune in tomorrow for our semi-whatever salute to “Ode to Billie Joe”!