For a foreign correspondent based in Asia, particularly a one-man operation with perhaps a news assistant, the value of a press club cannot be overemphasized.
I am presently an Absent Member of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong where I became a regular member in 1962. I still carry card No. 044.
When I left Hong Kong at the end of 1979 for reassignment in Washington D.C. I had a wife, two infant daughters and a Cantonese baby amah, Nancy, in my entourage. I joined the National Press Club and found that I was assigned Card No. 19. One of the earliest members of that esteemed club had died at age 98, and I inherited his card.
Returning to Asia in 1986, my new card at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan had the uninspiring number NRO-238. I had been a member as a "boy correspondent" in 1960-62 but that was before correspondents' accounts were numbered. However, one clerk remembered me and found that I still owed \2,500 (US$22) in unpaid chits from 1962. In 1962 that amounted to about US$7. At the 1986 exchange rate it was over US$20. But I paid it happily so I could be a reinstated member instead of a New Member, which would have involved payment of a new initiation fee.
One of the criticisms by Chinese of the way Americans and other Westerners covered their activities was that the reports filed were too much with the American reader or audience in mind, rather than what was the gist of the real story.
During a post-election seminar in Taipei in 1996 a college student rose from his seat to ask a well-known American television reporter how he could report on the election campaign for two weeks without mentioning the opposition candidate by name.
The American correspondent answered lamely "Of course I know the candidate's name but our desk didn't think it was important for our audience."
My own experience with shaping the news to fit the perceived audience came years earlier in Hong Kong.
The United Press International bureau chief asked if I would do a telephone report to London because his voice was unusually raspy. I agreed to do the three "spots" under the pseudonym of Ralph Yardley.
"This is Ralph Yardley reporting from Hong Kong. Radio Peking today said that as the Cultural Revolution widened, Chairman Mao Zedong called in Premier Zhou Enlai and asked him to intervene in the case of Liu Shao-chi and Deng Xiaoping."
"Hold it right there, Ralph" said the voice from London.
He said they had a rule that in 15-second radio spot only two Chinese names could be used because listeners became confused with the unfamiliar sounds.