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.