OPINION: Hope in Taiwan’s New Media Landscape

OPINION: Hope in Taiwan’s New Media Landscape
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

‘Complaining is not enough...People should refuse to read junk.’

In a recent opinion piece for the Chinese-language edition of The News Lens, a journalism student criticises mainstream media in Taiwan but is optimistic about the new generation of online media.

Du Yao-lin (杜曜霖), a student majoring in journalism at National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taipei, says traditional and mainstream media outlets commonly report instantaneous news of little significance, and that the items usually lack in-depth information.

“Mainstream media usually use this excuse saying that ‘serious topics do not attract the audience’ and ‘people do not have patience for long articles,’” writes Du.

Chasing high audience "traffic" is the prime driver for most mainstream media platforms. Therefore, organizations – which often lack resources – appear to be putting most of their effort into publishing a high volume of short news pieces.

The audience still wants substance

Du points to a long-form article published by Initium in April, which looked at the life of a convicted murderer. It was viewed more than 500,000 times in two weeks. Other media platforms such as The Reporter, a non-profit Taiwanese website covering different social issues, and News & Market, another outlet reporting mostly on food safety issue Taiwan, have also been producing in-depth pieces and their page views have been strong.

“This shows there is still a market for in-depth articles,” writes Du.

Moreover, a Pew Research Center survey suggests readers using mobile devices spend more time on longer articles than shorter pieces.

Jhang Tie-jhih (張鐵志), a cultural critic, says mainstream media’s value to society is shrinking.

“The elder generation may not realize that the younger generation is already working [to change the media environment],” Jhang says.

Decode Magazine, published by a group of young people in Taiwan, is an example of this. The magazine was launched via crowdfunding and commits to publishing in-depth news about Taiwan. Nearly 2,600 people participated in its funding campaign, raising NT$4.8 million (US$152,000). Decode's success has proved that people want to read more substantial reporting – and they are willing to take action themselves.

“It is not only the media that should be responsible for the media revolution, but all the people who are dissatisfied about it,” says Liou Mei-yu (劉美妤), founder of the magazine.

Du says that some new media outlets are focusing less on being objective. In the style of advocacy journalism, reporters will take strong stands on issues, which prompts a deeper discussion among the audience.

Mainstream media trapped

Du says that while the audience for new media remains much smaller than its mainstream counterparts, and the future market for in-depth reporting is not guaranteed, “there is no doubt that new media pose a serious threat to mainstream media.”

To survive, mainstream media companies will need to change, Du says.

“Their direction seems to be wrong," she says.

Mainstream media continue to publish short, low-quality articles that fail to provide sufficient information. Some may attract a high number of online readers, but are widely criticized.

According to results of a survey conducted in June, the China Times did not attract a significant online audience despite publishing the highest number of articles. This suggests the quantity of articles was not necessarily a big driver of traffic.

“In fact, it is the instant news that traps the mainstream media from reforming,” Du says.

For the public, taking action by supporting new media will help change the current environment, she says.

“Complaining about the low-quality news articles is not enough,” Du writes. “People should refuse to read junk.”

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole