It was ten years ago today that I went down to my local 7-Eleven and discovered a brand new newspaper, the Taipei Times. I brought it instead of the Taiwan News* which I usually purchased at the time. Since then the Taipei Times has been my preferred newspaper in Taiwan.
A lot has changed in the last ten years in Taiwan. There has also been the rise of the internet in that time which has rapidly altered the business model for newspapers. It is doubtful that Taiwan can continue to support three English-language newspapers for much longer. The Taipei Times doesn’t carry much advertising and obviously survives via cross subsidisation from its Chinese-language sister paper the Liberty Times (自由時報).
The English-language papers don’t show many sign of adapting to the times though. Despite the importance of the internet, none of Taiwan’s English language newspapers have adopted any Web 2.0 features. None of the newspaper websites include any form of blog or have a Twitter account. The design of their websites vary from bad to atrocious.
Given that international media reports on Taiwan are so often filled with errors or lack of understanding of Taiwan’s position, it is important that Taiwan has its own English-language media outlets to reach out to the world. The Government Information Office recently launched Taiwan Today, a website to replace the Taiwan Journal. It carries translations of articles from the Chinese-language newspapers. As a government publication it is obviously going to select articles that paint a rosy picture of the government and its policies though.
Another major possible change that could take place in Taiwan’s media landscape is the increasing influence of media outlets from Hong Kong and China. These pose a real threat to Taiwan as they could potentially squeeze out Taiwan-based media as well as having a political agenda which threatens Taiwan’s freedom and independence. It is extremely important for democracy that the majority of Taiwan’s media is locally owned and represents the voices and opinions of the Taiwanese people.
With the changes taking place in the media it will be interesting to see which media outlets survive and what form they take in the coming years. My main suggestion to the Taipei Times is to pay some attention to their website rather than treating it as an afterthought. It might be difficult to generate significant revenues from a Taiwan-based news website, but printing newspapers with little advertising and low circulation is also a loss making exercise.
*Taiwan News changed its name from China News in 1999, but not sure of the exact date.