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Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 27 News List

The 'Taipei Times' grows up

Five years after launching, the paper has raised the bar for news culture in the country, but not without its share of obstacles along the way

By Laurence Eyton

Part of the problem is that Taiwan might have press freedom, but the idea of a fourth estate is chronically weak. Traditionally the media in Chinese societies have been seen as organs through which to disseminate propaganda, an attitude that prevailed in Taiwan until the late 1980s. Even here at the Times, reporters look askance at me when I remind them that authority is their enemy. The legendary British press baron Lord Northcliffe said that: "News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising." Taiwan's news culture is still dominated by "advertising" and rail against it as we might at the Times, we can no more be free of it than anyone else.

In short, while the Taipei Times has had its successes, of which we can be justifiably proud -- and this is reflected in the fact that almost since our first day of publication we have consistently sold 30 percent more papers per day than our two competitors combined -- the answer to Anthony's question "how hard could it be?" is "a lot harder than we, or perhaps anyone else, thought." In our vanity we believed, all those years ago, that a paper with enough people who knew what international-standard newspapers were and enough fire in their bellies could simply ignore the limitations of journalism as practiced in Taiwan. We found out the hard way that that could not be, that we could not override Taiwan's news culture nor could we remake it, though we have significantly raised the bar. Having learned to survive over the past five years, perhaps only now can we start work to achieve the visionary goals we set ourselves back in the autumn of 1998. Running a new daily is rather like being a parent for the first time, the infant needs to be constantly fed, constantly cleaned up after and you lose a lot of sleep. Every task has to be carried out for the first time and you find out only by trial and error how things should best be done. But after five years, the infant can pretty much take care of itself. The parent faces a different set of problems revolving around education, explanation and understanding. So do we.

Laurence Eyton is an associate editor in chief of the Taipei Times.

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