Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dana Ter on the changing media environment about Taiwan

The Miaoli 16, pure pleasure...

Dana Ter writes in the Taipei Times about the changing media attitude towards Taiwan...
Up until recently, the international media’s coverage on Taiwan has been either super serious (politics, cross-strait relations) or superficial (cat cafes, toilet-themed restaurants).


There’s been more of these stories on Taiwan in the international media in recent years — stories that look beyond sensationalism. In terms of travel, there’s the occasional New York Times story. “Taiwan, an island of green in Asia” (Dec. 3, 2014) talked about eco-tourism and referred to the Beitou Library (臺北市立圖書館北投分館) and Da-an Forest Park metro station (大安森林公園站) as must-see sites. A BBC article from March 4, 2013, titled “Hiking the landslide capital of the world,” shared a couple of good hiking spots. It also discussed the history of these various sites and included practical information for hikers.
I too hate those toilet-themed restaurant and similar garbage stories and never link to them. Ter's explanation...
Taiwanese millennials are creating more time for leisure activities such as surfing or brewing craft beer. While their parents came of age in an authoritarian era, when hard work and long hours got you ahead, this ethos is becoming increasingly irrelevant to young people who grew up with disposable income in a time of political stability.

Since there are more people partaking in leisure activities, there are more journalists writing about them. Contrary to what has been said about millennials — for example, that we have short attention spans — it’s stories like these that speak to us. While social media has a tendency to disillusion, it’s narrative-driven, human interest stories that gain our trust. Ironically, a Forbes.com listicle puts forth this argument quite persuasively (“3 reasons why millennials want long form storytelling over ‘snackable’ content,” March 8, 2016).
Well, perhaps. She contacted me to chat about this story. I had never formally sat down and thought about it, but there are actually several major categories of stories about Taiwan: tech, finance and economic, politics (but only cross-strait), and travel and lifestyle. The first three are fixtures, but it is the last category that has really evolved. The deeper travel and lifestyle stuff that has emerged in the last decade is I think related to several trends beginning in the late 1990s...
  • The end of martial law and especially, KMT rule at the end of the 1990s meant that people here and abroad could talk about Taiwan without fear of retaliation.
  • Taiwan became a known destination for foreign English teachers, which meant guides and a mass of knowledgeable foreigners came into existence to promote the island, especially on the internet
  • A critical mass of foreigners writing on Taiwan as a travel destination emerged: people like Steven Crook, Robert Kelly, and Joshua Brown, among many others, who could credibly pitch travel narratives outside the mainstream.
  • The Chen Administration began promoting "Taiwan" as a thing in itself overseas and the Taiwan government began promoting Taiwan relentlessly as a travel destination. This also led people to ask what was this thing called "Taiwan." Later the Ma Administration continued this policy. This "Taiwan is a thing" idea also helped create a market for Taiwan centered articles, a virtuous cycle of growth in interest.
  • In the academic world, scholars began treating Taiwan as a thing in itself, which in turn helped create a market in the lay world explaining what this thing called Taiwan is
  • The "ZOMG TAIWAN IS TENZ" political narrative also led to interest in what this thing called Taiwan is that was causing all this trouble.
  • Several writers produced general works on Taiwan for educated reader, Melissa Brown and Jon Manthorpe, among others.
  • Until a few years ago, the major media organizations all had reporters stationed here who had to churn out stuff, and churn it out they did
  • As Ter notes, Taiwan itself changed: there is more to write about.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Jenna Cody said...

There is a really good story about boat burning in Donggang in this book ;-)


Anonymous said...

I would like to point out the success of Freddy Lim with international press. Taiwan has unique stories to share with the world once we drop the shackle of ROC.

David said...

Michael, you have also played a significant role in shaping the narrative about Taiwan. It is a pity that some journalists fail to give you the credit that you deserve.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, David.

Anonymous said...

Dana Ter -- male or female? -- will be gone soon. As always they come and go, spouting nonsense.