Friday, July 20, 2012

On how I got started in mainstream journalism: Remembering FEER

Cover of July 14, 1978 issue
Irvine - It was the hard-hitting Far Eastern Economic Review that gave me my start, as it were, in mainstream journalism. Not that I did much after that in the mainstream, beyond occasional op eds in the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. I am more an advocate of alternative media, and have written [or reported] for decades for ethnic and alternative press covering a host of topics, most profusely at one point for the OC Weekly, now owned by the Village Voice chain. My Los Angeles Times op eds can be found with other publications on my UCI 'faculty' profile page, which also posts UCI librarian's profiles.

FEER, for decades the pre-eminent news magazine to cover the Vietnam War and the rest of Asia, ran my piece at the bottom half of a two-page spread in its July 14, 1978 issue.

My piece, Home Truths from History under the header HONGKONG, focused on the following, as the FEER wrote in its table of contents page: "Had the China's communists tried to take Hongkong in 1949 the United States would not have come to its rescue, according to US secret papers which recently came to light."

In those pre-WikiLeaks and pre-Internet days, I didn't have a Bradley Manning or a Julian Assange, as a source, or Google as a search engine. It fact the documents from which I quoted were officially declassified, and made available in microfiche, as I indicated in the article, through Carollton Press, and discoverable in the major academic libraries.

The editor at the time who accepted my freelance piece was Derek Davies, a Welshman who had once worked as an MI6 agent in Vietnam I would later learn. At FEER he expanded the staff to make in the news magazine known for its superior coverage of the conflicts in IndoChina and of Asia in general.

I don't know why he agreed to accept a contribution from someone totally unknown to him. I am sure like all newsmen he had an eye for what was newsworthy and thought my piece fit that.

Ironically the cover of that same issue in which my piece appeared featured the growing tension between Vietnam and China, much as in today's climate, Vietnam and China are again at odds, this time specifically over the South China Seas. One big difference, no FEER to cover the current crisis.

The cover story, by noted FEER correspondent Nayan Chanda, focused on "Danger of a War by Accident," as the headline went. An accompanying piece, "David on the Defensive," by another well-known correspondent, David Bonavia, discussed how China was viewing Vietnam in the context of the latter's ties with the Soviets, and also on how the "overseas Chinese" question came into play, with Bonavia writing that China's main position was that the Chinese being repatriated from Vietnam were Chinese nationals, not Vietnamese of Chinese descent.

It was sad to see, in the 2000s, the slow demise of the newsmagazine. Reduced to a monthly, moved from Hong Kong to Shanghai, and with its foreign correspondents let go, it was doomed to die, and guess who is the culprit? News Corporation, the currently scandal-plagued conglomerate, whose Wall Street Journal subsidiary eventually killed FEER, in a "corporate killing of diversity" as FEER's Philip Bowring so correctly lamented. FEER, which begain in 1946, died in 2009. [ADDED 7/21/2012: The Economist however, attributes its ultimate demise to the end of Asia as an isolated entity.]

For me, I am glad I was associated even in a tiny way with this publication. - Daniel C. Tsang

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