The mainland's worst shipwreck in 50 years made the front page of only a few mainland newspapers.
The Yantai Party Committee Propaganda Department said all statements about rescue efforts should come from Xinhua and state media was not allowed to sensationalise the tragedy.
The shipwreck was featured prominently on the front pages of the Beijing Youth Daily, Beijing Morning Post and China Business Times. But it appeared only at the bottom of the back page in the government mouthpiece People's Daily.
The Beijing Youth Daily showed a picture of rescue efforts after the ferry caught fire off Yantai and was prevented from returning to shore by rough seas.
China Business Times showed a photograph of one of the 22 passengers rescued from the wreck.
But the People's Daily had a picture of National People's Congress Chairman Li Peng meeting Chinese students in Israel on its front page.
The Beijing Youth Daily, China Business Times and many local newspapers sent reporters to Yantai, while most national newspapers relied on Xinhua reports.
Being on the scene, the Beijing Youth Daily was able to give a gripping account about a rescue boat that was dispatched 10 minutes after the Yantai Salvage Bureau received the distress call.
'We spent three hours just trying to get close to the boat, but the waves were too large,' said rescue boat officer Lin Zhixiu.
'The closest we got was 10 metres, but we still couldn't connect with the boat, even with the aid of a rope gun,' he said.