Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

VIETNAM'S JOURNALISTS NOW READER-FRIENDLY Series: Return to Vietnam Sidebar Story

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

VIETNAM'S JOURNALISTS NOW READER-FRIENDLY Series: Return to Vietnam Sidebar Story

Article excerpt

The editor of the Saigon Times, this city's English-language weekly news magazine, is learning the ways of free-market journalism as his country rushes into capitalism.

"A few years ago, all newspapers and magazines in the country were subsidized," the editor, Tran Ngoc Chau, told a visiting American reporter. "It didn't matter how many copies they sold. Now, circulation is very important, and we have had to change the way we work."

In the country's new sink-or-swim economy, in which most newspapers must pay their own way through circulation and advertising, Chau and his colleagues have adopted the first rule of Western journalism: "The Vietnam press now considers the reader the king."

"So we have changed our methods," he said. "We choose carefully what to publish - what the reader needs, not what the government wants."

He added that sometimes what the reader needs is the same as what the government wants, but sometimes it's not.

Chau, a 45-year-old former Saigon schoolteacher, became a journalist when the communists won the war in 1975 and unified the country. Working for a young people's newspaper, he saw a change in the role of the press even before the government announced the start of its free-market policy of doi moi, or renovation, in 1986.

"We published articles criticizing education policy," he recalled. "We criticized a policy that discriminated between students who were revolutionaries and those who had supported the South Vietnamese government. As a result, the policy was changed, and personal origins were no longer considered."

He said the newspaper became very popular, but he questioned his visitor's observation that telling the truth about bad public policies generally makes a newspaper popular.

"A newspaper must publish not only truth but also information," he said. "Sometimes it is difficult for readers to recognize the truth when it is published, but they always must have information."

He went on to tell about one of his staff problems. …

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