Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reflections on Blogging

A couple Friday mornings ago, just before I flew off to LA, I squeezed out an hour to sit down for a chat with Taipei Times feature reporter Ron Brownlow for the feature article he was writing for the Taipei Times on local blogs and websites about Taiwan. He had quite a bit about me in there....

Michael Turton was seeing too many reporters parachute into Taiwan and write what he felt were slanted, ill-informed stories. He had enough of "Beijing propaganda" and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT, 國民黨) "handlers" framing the debate for Western media discourse on Taiwan.

So the 43-year-old university lecturer, who has a master's degree in international affairs, started the closest thing Taiwan has to an A-list English-language blog. His comments on the country's life and politics (michaelturton.blogspot.com) are widely read by journalists, and several of his posts have featured prominently on DailyKos.com, the largest Democratic Party-leaning blog in the US.

"I like to see myself as presenting sides of Taiwan that most people ordinarily wouldn't interact with, especially overseas," Turton said. His Web presence has earned him a small degree of fame and notoriety that, in his words, "reflects a tremendous hunger for knowledge about Taiwan that's going unfulfilled in the traditional media."

Our talk ranged over a bunch of topics that have become issues for bloggers all over the world. One is censorship, including self-censorship. For example, out of fear of lawsuits, I have reframed many stories, and left out certain things. The example of Singapore and its successful program of suing people for criticizing the ruling party has spread to other nations -- during the 1980s it was an option considered and used in certain cases by the KMT. Recently much attention in the Asian blogosphere has focused on two Malaysian bloggers who are getting sued by a local newspaper for their political commentary. At the moment, a blogger has been incarcerated for 169 days by the US Attorney General in San Francisco for not turning over video data. So I blog with many different legal possibilities in mind.

Brownlow also asked about what I saw in the future for blogging. For me the major challenge is going to be bringing the Chinese-language and English language blogospheres together, because they have much to say to one another, and because Taiwanese bloggers need to get more recognition. The English-language Taiwan blogosphere is puny by comparison; the most popular Taiwan blogs get thousands of hits a day, the most popular English language blogs about Taiwan, Scott Sommers' and my own, get several hundred.

Another issue we're all dealing with is the information explosion. Bloggers are generally not news investigators; we're commentators, from a personal slant. When a specific event happens, say, the anti-Chen protest led by Shih Ming-te last year, it generates many articles in the international media, as well as commentaries, and then a vast array of commentary on the primary reports and commentaries. Keeping up with the commentary on the commentary presents serious problems, especially as errors propagate around the blogosphere. The nature of communication is such that error propogates faster than accuracy; it is generally simpler, whereas accuracy requires work and understanding. There are plenty of tools out there, feeds and news aggregators, to keep track of the world, but in the future, with the number of blogs doubling at alarming rates and all repeating and elaborating on each other, Darwin's dictum that a bad theory soon disappears but a false fact never goes away, is likely to become the global mantra.

Ron asked whether I plan to make money from the blog. At the moment, I have no such plans.

All in all, it is always an interesting experience to be interviewed, even if interviews are like marriages -- interview in haste, repent for what you said at leisure. Ron was a professional, informed, friendly, and knowledgeable about his field. It was a good learning experience for me, and I thank Ron for the opportunity.




5 comments:

Anonymous said...

congrats...you've found your niche

riko said...

jia yo!!! ^___^ I hope ur blog gets many many hits!!! ( ^ - ^ ) It's nice to see a non-china slanted blog!

Anonymous said...

there's no niche like a good niche...

Scott Sommers said...

I agree that bringing together Chinese and English language bloggerss would have a major impact on blogs here. The fact this is so much trouble is one of the great mysteries of the blogsphere. Many of the top Taiwanese bloggers speaker flawless English and I know my blog has a large number of Taiwanese readers. But I am continually frustrated by their lack of contribution to public discussion. I genuinely would like to hear the opinion of the Taiwanese and other Asians who read my blog.

But you're wrong on one thing. Your blog is more popular than mine. And I have the states to prove it!

Mark said...

I've actually gotten quite a bit of participation from Taiwanese readers on my blog. I would guess that about 300 or so of the 1600 comments on my English blog last year were from Taiwanese people.

On my Chinese blog, though, it appears that only 4 out of 290 comments were made by foreigners (excluding me).