Taiwan 'English' newspapers struggling to stay afloat

By Trista di Genova
The Wild East Op-ed

On an island sporting a tiny foreign community of 500,000, all three English-speaking newspapers here — Taiwan News, Taipei Times and The China Post — are battling to stay alive amidst severe budget cuts and a dwindling readership. One might even question, “How have they so far managed to survive bankruptcy?”

The leading, green-leaning Taipei Times, a relatively new publication in print for a decade, put a hiring freeze in the past year on all but one position for a Taiwanese reporter. It is only thanks to its parent publication/company the Chinese-speaking Liberty Times, the fact it has Chinese-language reports to translate, and a few hard-working, talented reporters over the years such as Jimmy Chuang, that it has managed to maintain some semblance of local coverage — relying heavily on the appeal of an award-winning design layout.

The halcyon days of its greatest rival, The China Post (founded in 1952), are also long over. Under new management by a younger, indifferent member of the Huang family and Chinese GQ-trained chief editor whose interests rest primarily in the fashion world, The China Post recently cut all local coverage that might be of interest to the foreign local audience (Taipei Times also cut their Community Compass page), finally updated to a Quark layout system (from “Newspaperman”), and began to employ often inane-to-the-point-of-being-risible, tabloidy headlines (eg. subject + verb + “SHOCKER”). Needless to say, no one’s impressed.

The quality of The China Post’s “content” is negligible, since it relies on a constant turnover of malleable, unpaid part-time interns and inexperienced ABC college grads, who are eventually allowed to work up to subsistence wages. Potential foreign editors frequently walk away when they hear what the salary is for 6 nights a week — it’s the lowest possible wage. Besides cutting everything to even toilet paper in its employee restrooms, the “Chinglish Post” has managed to stay afloat by selling out many, many times over to United Daily News so it would remain under “blue” or KMT control, relying heavily on its long-term subscriptions abroad, by U.S. diplomatic missions and the like.

As for poor Taiwan News (formerly China News), it’s been near-impossible to locate a hard copy of the DPP mouthpiece in convenience stores for some time. They were bought up by food manufacturing giant I Mei, whose Chinese-language publication goes by the same name. Although no longer starving for advertising (!), it is chiefly online-only now, and they can’t even afford to hire native English-speaking editors, according to its chief editor, Mei this afternoon by phone. They have “2 or 3” Taiwanese doing the job, and have no plans to hire a native-speaking editor “until the financial crisis is over.”

So it is no wonder they constantly have headlines and articles riddled with mistakes. I called Taiwan News to note the headscratchingly embarrassing quality of their editing in every day’s missive. Here’s an example of today’s editorial disaster, with the dubious headline teaser: “Taiwan singer Jolin pays tribute to Madonna in her Voguing album”:

“As the sensational Lady Gaga is accused to add a touch of Madonna’s Vogue in the MV of her Alejandro, another Taiwanese super singer Jolin Tsai is determined to catch up the trend in his new album entitled “Voguing” in order to pay a tribute to the legendary recording artist, actress and entrepreneur.”

Huh? Could they make less sense, or more proofing mistakes? Their “reporters” might as well put their string of Chinese flatulence into a Yahoo Babelfish translation!

By cutting local coverage and primarily relying on wire stories to fill their pages (material readers can easily get online) — and shoddy translations to boot — it’s no wonder Taiwan newspapers are generally considered obsolete… and flirting dangerously with extinction.

So what do people here buy a local newspaper for? In my informal ‘surveys’ over the years, foreigners were just as likely to say they bought it for the crossword puzzle or comics than for local or international coverage. Perhaps more so.

12 thoughts on “Taiwan 'English' newspapers struggling to stay afloat

  • November 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    hello,nice to meet you.i come from LA.new to here.

  • November 13, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Drinks? Cool. You can talk to Joe Hung who was at The China Post for ever, basically, and taught at Georgetown, was the ambassador to Italy at one time. Now he’s at CNA. Call and ask to speak to him, he’s usually quite accommodating about these things and can ‘brief’ you.

  • November 10, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    I’m doing my Master’s in Communication thesis at NCCU and its on Taiwan’s English newspapers. Why does (did) Taiwan have three English newspapers and was the content and business structure?

    Anyone know where I can find background info on the China News (Taiwan News) and China Post? I want to document (?) what their relationship was with the KMT and why did Taiwan have two English newspaper after 1952.

    I’ll buy the drinks if you can point me in the right direction.

  • September 18, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I find it annoying that even the Taipei Times has plenty of mistakes! I read it cover to cover daily, so I spot mistakes all the time!
    I never get The China Post as it is mostly a KMT propaganda tool!
    I used to read The Taiwan News, but as mentioned above, it is hard to find a copy!
    Although the Family Mart by my house carries it, I don’t have time for it after going through a TT!

  • September 4, 2010 at 12:06 am

    I tried to register on cruisy, wouldn’t recognize me…

    Thanks for comments, mum, Mr. Star; ironically, this sort of article would DEFINITELY not be carried by any of the local newspapers, although it’s a topic that people obviously want to discuss. My surly editor at The China Post always used to accuse me of pitching articles out of ‘personal interest’, as if I benefited personally or financially somehow out of covering issues that seemed relevant to all. Actually, this must have been a fair bit of projection on their part — they rarely want to cover anything unless there’s a commercial ‘carrot’ at stake. Hence the boring tosh on their pages. Long live The Wild East! We publishit.

  • July 31, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    If the China Post isn’t what it should be, it’s because they not only didn’t keep you but they should have given you a major position in decision making, along with a very large salary. They just didn’t have vision.@@
    Also, since you have already painted the Buddhafish, maybe now you should try painting the Babelfish!!!:)

  • July 18, 2010 at 6:35 am

    There seem to be no native-speaking English editors at the China Post, either.
    The fun continues:
    This is on China Post “editor” Alan Fong’s own website: http://web.me.com/alannlfong/Departure_Lounges/2009/Entries/2009/4/13_Getting_the_headline_right.html

    Recently my newspaper is experimenting [sic] a more attention-grabbing style. As a weekend late pages editor, it is my responsibility to give [sic] the headlines for A1 main story. [sic]

    My boss requires the cover [sic] headline to meet these conditions: it must catch attention instantly, it must be no more than 4 words, and it must not exceed 6 syllables. Upon this [?] I add one term of my own: it has to be subtle, not offensive or cheek-in-tongue. [sic….hahahahaha woo hoo! good one, worth quoting]

    Striking the good balance [sic] is not the easiest task to say the least, but getting it right (at least to [sic] myself) can be a rewarding experience.

    The biggest news on Saturday was the siege of Pattaya by the “Red Shirt” protesters and the subsequent cancellation of the Asian leader summit in Thailand. [Phew! Actually got through a correct sentence] Asian leaders had to be evacuated, some airlifted out of the beach resort. It was a huge embarrassment for Thailand’s prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

    After a few feasible but unattractive ideas (“Summit cancelled,” “ASEAN called off,” “Leaders evacuated” ), I came up with “Get them out.” [WOW! CLEVER … not]

    Get them out, these three words are simple, eye-catching and forceful. They suggest action and drama. More importantly, they subtlety [sic] capture the intensity of this event.

    “Get them out” can mean three things in three different contexts. First, it is red-shirters trying to get Abhisit and his party out of power; second, it was the Abhisit administration’s wish to get the demonstrator [sic] out of the summit venues; finally and what turned out to be the true event, Thai government had no choice but to get the Asian leaders out of harm’s way.

    I still believe the most important mission of a newspaper is to deliver authentic and unbiased news, so as long as I am entrusted with the creation of eye-popping headlines (they are huge!), I will do my best to make them both intriguing and right.

  • July 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    But. all that said above, if you asked me why i buy the Post of China (sic) and the Taipei Times, I’d say I buy them both every day and read them cover to cover and love them both for the local news, the international news, the feature news, the editorials, the front pages, everything. I love newspapers and support them 24/7. NT$15 is a small price to pay. I hope all three papers survive as news outlets, although sure, they might go online-only in next ten years. The future is digital. I depend on both papers, the Post and the Times for reading material since I am Mandarin-challenged and it’s all busasa to me. These papers do serve a purpose, and one important one, don’t forget, is as a communication chain to the local diplimatic corps here. So think of the expat papers here as PR vehicles for intl relations, nothing else. On that level, they work. Japan’s expat papers are the same, mere PR tools.

  • July 17, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Good story on the local expat rags here. The Taipei Times won’t die. It’s funded as a tax write off by Lin Ron San, the megrich guy who owns the Liberty Times, the Union Bank and a ton of construction firms. It’s a tax write off. Period. But it will survive. The China Post needs to change its name first of all to Taiwan Post and get rid of the Macao editors who took over. It is so poorly edited now that it is egg on Taiwan’s face. And they don’t care. As for the Taiwan News, I just don’t get it.

  • July 17, 2010 at 2:04 am

    I’d like to pay to support an English newspaper but this whole paper thing seems to be a thing of the past. Paper medium, other than books, has always seemed wasteful to me. Funny you mentioned crossword puzzles, as that’s one experience that’s difficult to duplicate in an online format.

    Anyway, I’d love to pay for online content if it helps keep them afloat, but I believe that’s a complicated matter itself.

  • July 17, 2010 at 1:58 am

    Interesting read. I totally agree that the quality of newspapers has gone down.


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