Trista di Genova-CHANG, Wild East magazine, Taiwan Bureau Chief
I’ve worked as a newspaper/radio & TV journalist for many years. So let me tell you all about what it was like working at The China Post, as an example of how lame the media actually is.
The China Post hails itself as the most widely published newspaper in Taiwan. It is true, they stock copies of it at the US Department of State, for instance.
But most people in Taiwan don’t read it; or if they do, it’s usually for the funnies (which young Taiwanese learn English by in school), or not surprisingly, the Crossword Puzzle, which the Taipei Times doesn’t have. Right around that time, Taiwan News — the third English-language newspaper in Taiwan at that time — transitioned to being online-only. Basically, it went belly up! There’s only so many people who want to read English-language news in Taiwan, so they couldn’t compete for the small audience anymore.
The China Post is a Huang family-run enterprise. Their family matriarch established The China Post decades ago now, & the rest of the family, males, are slowly auto-piloting it into the ground, over time.
The real problem is the decline of journalism & newspapers worldwide. With the advent of the internet, most people now get their news online. So I worked at The China Post during this long period of decline, although I contributed to Taiwan News & several other publications (Taiwan News never paid me for my stories, by the way!).
The China Post was GREAT at exploiting free labor, by having young college students do all their copyediting. This is clever, to capitalize on the newspaper’s reputation to keep labor costs low! All but skeleton staff were laid off long ago.
I got that job because the salary was so low – 48,000NT/mo – that their first choice, a guy, turned them down, in disgust! That salary is EXACTLY as low as they can legally get away with from the Department of Labor (DOL), by the way! Guess Heidi in accounting knew her job well!
When I was there in 2008 or so, there was managing editor — a super-cranky old man named Mr. Chen (an entertaining character who’d been there for decades!); one senior copyeditor (myself) to train all that free intern labor — at no cost to the paper, of course; an accountant (Mr. Chen’s wife); a local news writer who became my ‘uncle’ & ‘mentor’, Ken, who was retired chief of United Daily News. A true professional, I think he was just there for the intellectual stimulation of it all, & because he’s a scholar & a gentleman. Born in China, he definitely passed muster with this ‘blue’ paper.
Everyone was paid THE BARE MINIMUM, & worked 6 days a week, with a midnight deadline. Right around deadline, Mr Chen would typically shriek something terrible at someone, literally making up some problem if there weren’t something for him to yell about. I learned to be stoic about his outbursts — keep me head down & act conciliatory but distracted, for the most part!
A former China Post editor, Roseanne told me he constantly drove her to tears, & it took her years to get over the trauma of working with him!
The first time I met Mr Chen, it seemed to me he had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) because he was so damn testy!
But this old guy worked like clockwork, perhaps the last Real Newspaperman in Taiwan. I respected him because I respect my elders. He would walk to work & back home every day, held this same routine many years. Mr Chen LOVED schmaltzy old American tunes that were mega-hits in Taiwan in the 80s & 90s; anything like BeeGees, Unchained Melody, & so on. This was actually something we bonded about; after yelling at me for nothing, we’d often end the evening on a positive note, by singing an old classic.
The interns, lone staff newswriter & myself were responsible for writing stories, on top of our editing duties.
The rest of the paper was at least 90 percent WIRE STORIES, which means we’re spoonfed what news to spoonfeed YOU.
The lone photographer, a hard-working Filipino paid slave wages, paid for all his equipment & repairs himself; transportation costs, too. There was a bank of 3 or 4 page designers, also fresh out of college, paid slave wages (I think it was about US$500/mo they were paid!). These poor girls (literally) spoke no English, but I took that as opportunity to improve my Mandarin.
Nobody came to clean; there was dust a half-inch thick in some places around the office. The management purposely put no toilet paper in the bathroom, that’s how cheap they were/are.
Mind you, this is in Taiwan, which has national health insurance & the best medical care in the world; so on that front, everybody is fine!
The China Post is well-known to be KMT-leaning — like our conservative Rethuglicans in the U.S., but FAR less virulent, these days at least! By contrast, the Taipei Times is the ‘left-leaning’ English newspaper in Taiwan; the ‘DPP’ rag (Democratic Progressive Party). I also worked there, but that is a story for another article!
There was a newspaper form of ‘payola’ in existence — paying to get coverage. Say the lucky artist who became a one-hit wonder came to town- like ‘Had a bad day’, remember that song ICRT used to play all the time?
The ‘artist’ came to town for a ‘concert’ around this one tired single, & took out an ad in our newspaper. So we – the interns & I — were tasked with writing several stories about it!
Otherwise, I had a lot of freedom to choose my features stories, which ran once a week. I enjoyed this very much, & was promoted to Community Page Editor (of course no pay increase!) But I loved my job, & I started to get some notoriety & acclaim from doing such a great job. People would tell me ‘they actually read the paper now’. I vastly improved the Foreign Community Page to tone back some of the boring crap, & introduced ‘Expat Chat’ & interviews with de facto ambassadors & leaders of the expat community. Good times!
Maybe in a future article I’ll spill the beans about My Last Day at The China Post!
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MR CHEN SIPPING A COFFEE! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnsMgnVOEvw