For two Milwaukee, Wisconsin, natives, Taiwan has served as a stepping stone to international attention by being citizen journalists for CNN’s popular iReport news program.
Joe Seydewitz, 39, and Michelle Senczi, 27, have lived in Taipei for the past two years and a recent news video they sent to CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia was picked up last month for an international news program.
Now the US couple are looking for more stories to send in to CNN about life in Taiwan.
In a recent interview, Seydewitz, who has taught international business at a Taipei college for the past two years, explained how the CNN gig came about.
“Michelle and I happened upon a Free Tibet rally near our apartment on Zhongxiao East Road in Taipei,” Seydewitz said. “The rally’s message was directed firmly at China, particularly Chinese President Hu Jintao [胡錦濤]. Chants included: ‘Stop the Killing’ and ‘Free Tibet’ and what sounded like ‘Who’s the killer? Hu Jintao!’ Michelle was the cameraman and I was the street reporter. We had no idea it would eventually air on CNN, but it did.”
The rally was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising and support for Tibetans’ struggle for freedom.
Seydewitz said that along the route of the protest rally he spoke with a young Tibetan man who said that since Taiwan is free of Chinese Communist Party control, “the rally and its message rang loud and clear.”
Seydewitz said the man “seemed quite proud to be Tibetan, as well as pleased to have a forum to speak openly in.”
Asked if the iReport was his first one for CNN, Seydewitz, said: “Yes, it was. I watch CNN often, mostly to keep-up on US political and economic news, but also for global current events. So I’ve watched the iReport program on CNN several times and was intrigued by the possibility of doing my own story one day. I really like the format and the endless possibilities. I sent the Tibet rally video to CNN as my iReport because I had the feeling, by being there in the streets that day, that it was a serious story about an intense, globally recognized political situation, and I thought iReport would at least consider using it.”
Seydewitz said he has felt like a citizen journalist for several years.
“When I was living in the US, before coming to Taiwan, I wrote some comedy material for a comedy group in Chicago. I always considered myself, before this, to be an ‘observer’ of people and life, and humor was my main interest. As a so-called citizen journalist, I’m still observing things, but not exclusively to find humor now.”
Asked what was next, Seydewitz said that with the first iReport aired worldwide last month, he and Michelle were excited about future story ideas.
“It’s hard not to keep thinking about potential story ideas now,” he said. “I am evaluating everything that I see and think about here in Taipei now, based on a quick assessment of its newsworthiness for the CNN audience. I’m considering doing a video story that relates to the global economy as seen from here in Taiwan.”
Errol Barnett, a 29-year-old Briton educated in California, hosts the iReport program on CNN. When Seydewitz was asked how CNN contacted him and Michelle about using their video submission for its on-air show, he said that a CNN employee first e-mailed him to confirm his identity. Later, he spoke with a CNN producer in the US.