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Expo offers a new way to handle the press

USING traditional hospitality and culture, the Shanghai Expo organizer is trying a new approach in the way it deals with foreign media. Yang Jian looks at what happens.

Tomoko Tanaka is the Shanghai correspondent for TV Asahi, one of the five largest TV stations in Japan. Every month, she sends news reports about Shanghai to Japan. When she is not working, Tomoko strolls along the streets looking for interesting titbits or just learning about the place.

But now she has a new place where she can go to either relax or get news. The World Expo 2010 Shanghai organizer, together with the Information Office and Foreign Affairs Office of the Shanghai government, has set up a foreign correspondents' center with the assistance of Shanghai Daily to keep journalists up-to-date on Expo preparations.

Journalists from the same regions will be invited together to the center where they will be taken on familiarization tours of the Expo site. Officials will be on hand to answer any questions they might have about the world fair.

These question-and-answer sessions will be quite different from press conferences.

Chinese traditional cultural performances will be part of the visits. A draft plan talks about musicians playing guqin, a plucked seven-string Chinese traditional instrument, and dancers performing the tai chi dance developed from China's tai chi. Journalists could also be part of a lucky draw for prizes or invited to perform on stage.

It is the Expo organizer's new method of handling foreign journalists. The journalists will have an enjoyable time as well as getting all the information they need.

The organizer intends to help foreign journalists with the center providing timely and detailed information on the 2010 event and making friends with them, said Xu Wei, spokesman for the Shanghai Expo, also the director of the Communication and Promotion Department of the Bureau of Shanghai World Expo Coordination.

There are about 88 overseas media outlets in the city, and every day more than 100 journalists cover news across the city.

The organizer held the first gathering of journalists at the center on February 18 when journalists from Japan were the guests. About 20 journalists from 12 Japanese media outlets in Shanghai, including the TV Asahi, NHK and Kyodo News Agency, attended.

Journalists could ask questions with ease and cameramen could freely film around the Expo site, Tomoko said. She said the center was well-organized and "very nice."

The organizer invited Japanese journalists to be the first at the center because the country has held five Expos and the Japanese people were enthusiastic, Xu said.

In the question-and-answer sessions, the Japanese journalists had their individual approaches.

Sonoko Watanabe, the chief director of Nikkei's Shanghai Bureau, wanted to know about Expo ticket sales. She asked how foreigners could buy tickets and whether overseas visitors could enjoy discounts.

Officials said that they would set up foreign ticket agencies around the world and people would be able to buy tickets easily. The organizer said the ticket price would be the same for all visitors but some travel agencies would sell tickets with local tourist attractions included to cut costs.

For some journalists the session was a chance to deliver messages from Japan. "Many Japanese volunteers from the 2005 Aichi Expo are keen to serve visitors at the 2010 Expo," said Reiko Suzuki, the Shanghai correspondent for Mainichi Newspapers.

Officials said they would welcome Japanese volunteers because there would be a large number of Japanese visitors at the Expo.

Officials expect about 70 million visitors to the Expo, of whom more than 5 percent will come from abroad. And Japanese are expected to be the largest group of foreign visitors.

Journalists also asked about issues on construction workers, the media center and corporate participants in the current world economic climate.

Until now the focus of Japan has been on the world economy, but with Expo coming closer, more people will shift their eyes to the 2010 Shanghai event, Tomoko said. She said she planned to do more TV reports on Expo for audiences in Japan.

"I had hoped the center visit would be longer so that I could ask more questions and the cameramen could film more," she said.

Officials are planning to have visits to the center twice a month. Journalists from North America or Europe could be the next group invited.


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