Alternative Media

by on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 Comments

Five young journalists who work for alternative media share their working experience, their family life, their dogged persistence in the face of challenges, and their hopes for the future. They discuss their career as well as their home lives, describing the process of deliberation they faced over working in the media, including their self-doubt and their self-confidence.


More space on alternative media

Independent media, also known as alternative media, refers to media which differ from the commercial and market-oriented mainstream media. Alternative media often develop from discontent with existing media forms, and so new technology and new resources are harnessed often in based around a particular community . In regard to content, they provide an ideology which is contrary to that of mainstream values. They often challenge existing modes of production and organization within news media by emphasizing collective production and participatory democracy. The internet is an important platform for this new form of media. The interactive structure of the internet provides more opportunities for people to enter into dialogue through public media. News reports act as but a starting point for dialogue, other information or points of view not dealt with in the original report can be supplemented through comments added later. This kind of opinion forum can effect some influence upon the institutions that are the subject of the report once it comes to their attention.

“I knew other journalist from Pots Weekly (《破週報》), so I knew that I would have free rein to write what I wanted to write, there was a lot of communication and even arguments between my boss and I. I would tell them the topic I wanted to do a report on at the weekly meeting. The sales department would have some material from advertisers at the meeting too, but if I didn't think it was appropriate, they would find another way to go about it." Weizhen Chen.

"I was happy to write for POTS Weekly and Cool Loud Net (《苦勞網》)but found it a lot harder at United Daily News (《聯合報》). Working in independent media you were allowed to undermine or even struggle against social norms, this is not permitted in mainstream media. We would have to write about the Taipei Flora Expo, the Taipei Lantern Festival and even report the drivel of politicians, this was completely different to Cool Loud Net, where we were allowed to write what we wanted, it was great. Commercial media are bogged down in the law and administration, they talk about the law and conform to social norms, if you want to question something, you have to question it from a legal standpoint." Anjia Kuo.

The Role and Standpoint of the Media

In the mainstream media the value of an item of news comes from whether it represents accurately the phenomenon as seen by the journalist, and whether or not it presents a balanced report of the different views involved. However, within the culture of alternative media reporters often frame their reports as direct feedback on social protests, and as a way of promoting the participation of the public on certain social issues. This leads to the question of how the reporter can report the truth, whilst at the same time attempting to maximize the interests of the interviewee.  To put it more succinctly: how can the journalist distinguish between their role as a reporter and their role as an activist?

“As a journalist, it’s unclear how to maintain one's role and judgment. Should we compromise the truth for the sake of the appearance of a united front or write down the truth as it is, warts and all? Even if it seems that a story I am engaged in writing has no advantage to anyone, it's necessary to look further than the here and now, and not make the decision based on recent events; in five or ten years time, when it is looked back upon, it can stand as evidence. To hazard this kind of guess in a decision is something that requires vision and experience.” Yirong Lu.

The Opinions of Family Members

Due to their persistent adherence to lofty ideals, alternative media journalists are often strapped for cash. The amount of donations to Cool Loud Net are not enough to pay the journalists' salaries, the same is true of other independent media organizations, monthly wages often only come to twenty or thirty thousand NT. Journalists are often not supported in their career choice by family because of the long working hours and the relatively low rate of pay, often without annual bonuses, holidays or opportunities for promotion. Although they get to realize their ideals, they often meet with pressure and a lack of understanding from their parents. They all face the daunting task of trying to prove their commitment and achievements to their families.

“I didn't tell my family when I worked for an independent media firm, because they were too conservative. They are still not satisfied, since I now work for the United Daily News, a KMT leaning paper, as they are the DPP supporters.” Anjia Kuo.

“My parents are KMT supporters, they could not understand why I wrote reports about the Taiwan Science Park criticizing government policy. They couldn't understand why I would get myself into the situation I was in,  to them it seemed like I'd been volunteering since graduation from university, and not earning my keep. They would ask me questions such as “Who will pay our medical expenses when we're older?” and “Who will look after us?”. The fact that I'm an only child pushed me to explain to my parents the rationale behind the things I had done and the choices I had made." Weilun Chen.

“They were opposed to me becoming a journalist in the beginning. When I had just started at the Lihpao Daily (《台灣立報》), my father sneaked some job fair fliers onto my desk for me to look at. After he googled some of my articles and discussed them with my mum, after a period of time, he don’t bother me anymore. When they watch some big news such as the issue of Guoguang petroleum industry on television now, they will discuss with me and want to know my opinion or inside story.” Yirong Lu.

What Next?

Faced with the exigencies of real life, what is the next step for these young journalists who employ words and images to realize their social ideals?

“I hope I can write a book. As our organization’s provides only very limited resources, it trains you to become stronger and more self-reliant as a journalist. Because of the limits imposed by the organization in terms of perspective and breadth, the opportunity to become more familiar with a certain topic, or to develop one’s thinking towards it, are curbed. In terms of the cases I’m involved in now, I often have only a narrow understanding of the issues based on that particular case . I want to adopt a more holistic approach, to provide a record of a generation.” Yirong Lu.

“As a journalist and as a writer, I want to establish more links to the 'people', whether they be marginal groups or activists. I hope to have more understanding of other people's life experience." Weizhen Chen.
“I want tell the stories of those in poverty, stories of people who are from the same class as I am, stories of people who I care about. However, as only the United Daily News wanted to hire me, I have to find a balance between their more logical approach and the things I really want to do.” Anjia Kuo

Translated from the Chinese by Yang Zi-jie.
Proofread by Conor Stuart.

The following video is an extract from a larger discussion. In the following extract the journalists discuss how they deal with a conflict of ideas or interests within an organization that they are interviewing, and how they evaluate choices or decisions made by these organizations.

Interview by Yang Zi-jie, Yang Zi-xuan, Chen Shih-ting.

Video edited by Yang Zi-jie, subtitled by Conor Stuart.


Zijie Yang (楊子頡)


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