If It Looks like Baked Beans, Then It Must Be

Eye On Taiwan
Date: June 2, 2016
By: David Wang

Information overload is a phenomenon that has been talked about since the 1970s and a problem that obviously has only grown exponentially with the Internet, blogs, websites, smartphones, all of which are now also carriers of massive volumes of information. But some things never change and that is the quality of information, the kind that consumers, the public can count on as reliable, factual to make informed, optimal decisions to, hopefully, improve quality of life.

But at least one seasoned observer has commented online that the Internet, despite being a miraculous, modern invention to connect the world to enable sharing of information, is also a vast wasteland of questionable information (aka garbage), including news and advertising; while websites tend to be a convenient, deceptive tool to make many businesses seem bigger than life.

In short, the Internet may also be likened to, without offending the original creators of the concept and later parties who have tweaked the software and hardware to make it usable for millions worldwide, an galactically large public toilet down which the global population can flush just about anything.

But the news media in Taiwan, including the operators of cable TV channels, has irrefutably “profited” from the Internet, especially to enable them to cut cost by minimizing labor-intensive, costly investigative reporting, including personal interviewing and undercover work, to enlighten the public of truly influential, urgent news.

And it’s obvious to anyone regularly watching the cable news channels 50 through 56 in Taiwan that the operators’ motto is definitely not earnest, professional journalism, but a perfunctory, childish game of filling airtime while watching the clock.

Fresh news content of local events aired daily lasts maybe a few minutes, consisting of mostly video-caught traffic accidents, petty crimes as violent assaults, thefts, fires, while all the channels seem to agree to share content daily as the same news is circulated like a merry-go-round from one station to the next. The flooding of terminal 2 at the Taoyuan International Airport due to the downpour on June 2, 2016 was, for example, first aired on one channel and then spread like a bad flu to all the other cable stations, none of which bother to dispatch a reporter on-site to scope out more revealing details.

In fact Taiwanese TV news media, perhaps due to tight budget, rarely send any reporter to dig out locally interesting, informative content. For example, it would have been well within a dedicated, professional reporter’s range and milieu to have discovered something wayward in the structure of that condo tower before it collapsed due to the quake in southern Taiwan.

Instead there is clearly a streak of laziness, indifference among Taiwanese reporters to do the minimum. Which may be why there are so many on-site reports of small diners, cuisine for such coverage calls for juvenile level of technical expertise, which likely does not exist among Taiwanese reporters.

And the adoption of foreign correspondents and Taiwanese reporters based abroad to cover news on-site is even less frequent than the Black Friday sale stateside. Only one Taiwanese TV station seems to have a reporter based in Washington, DC who is occasionally seen to make a cameo appearance.

For example has a single Taiwanese TV station sent one of its own to cover the disastrous flooding in Texas, the massive forest fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta or the ongoing Syrian migrant crisis in Greece and Germany? Or has any Taiwanese media, as a professional outfit should, tried to post someone in SE Asia and China to investigate and break news related to the hundreds of Taiwanese scammers who have been busted in Malaysia, the Philippines and China?

Airing breaking news that has happened abroad by Taiwanese media seems exclusively someone else’s business. If scavenging news online from whatever sources available works, then why sweat it seems the mantra for Taiwanese news media. Verification of factual content is but a trivial detail that can be overlooked of course.

Or it could be due to lack of talent? As shown by the recently aired interview between a “seasoned” female Taiwanese reporter and the British entrepreneur Dyson that mostly exposed her incompetence in not only her English skill but her lack of preparation, when she even failed to understand the core breakthrough of Dyson’s vacuum cleaner.

But could it be a matter of professional ethics or lack thereof? That Taiwanese news media is simply trying to survive on cruise control. Why bother investing in on-site reporting when so much news is available for free via the Internet?

Besides it’s so convenient to rerun dated news, as seen on the morning of June 2, 1016 when one of the cable TV channels in Taipei aired a video of a Chinese customer insulted at a donut shop in the USA that had been shown months ago. Short-lived memory among consumers of the Information Age works wonders for cunning news broadcasters in Taiwan indeed.

So it’s evident that airing news of original content related to Taiwan and abroad is a low priority for Taiwanese news media, who also don’t care about factual content since they are merely rebroadcasting whatever news content they can get their hands on (mostly scavenged online), without knowing, nor care to know, the factual quality of such source.

For example, an irresponsible, junior reporter from Tijuana, Mexico is lucky to be sent on a cushy gig (junket) to cover the Indy 500 and files a report saying “drivers ride on slicks or racing tires without tread during rain to go faster by hydroplaning,” which would be copied and aired perfunctorily as “news” by Taiwanese media, whose reporters most likely don’t know “drafting” on a racetrack from a mechanical “drafting” pencil.

In other words, if a news “source” is shoveling loads of baked beans onto the Internet that look like baked beans, then the stuff must be fully trustworthy as genuine, edible and nutritious, without having to smell and bearing the density of baked beans.

Without as much alimentary metaphor, Taiwanese news media seems complacent to “source” online and elsewhere both video and textual content without verification to mostly fill airtime and demand for information that looks like “news.” Supplying and broadcasting secondhand news, without even citing the source frequently, is obviously acceptable “professional standard” in Taiwan.

And such mode of reporting and journalism seems also “acceptable” for at least one Taiwan-based operator of a well-known, branded website of information tech news.

This firm has a want ad on one of the job sites in Taiwan looking for a fully-English-literate person to “source” news, presumably online, over an 8-hour afternoon shift to then publish on its own site, including graphics work as making up tables and proofing copies (aka polishing the English).

The want ad does not ask for any other qualifications as even a modicum of IT knowledge, so this candidate, like the above-mentioned hypothetical Mexican reporter still wet behind the ears, only has to cut and paste IT-related news sourced online as its own, without knowing if such content is factual.

What’s wrong with distributing baked beans online as long as it looks like the crud? And if it has passed the expiry date, so be it.

¹Eye On Taiwan provides news and opinion articles as a service to our readers. Often these articles come from sources outside of our organization. Where possible, the author and the source are documented within each article. Statements and opinions expressed in these articles are solely those of the author or authors and may or may not be shared by the staff and management of Eye On Taiwan.

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