On May 30, we interviewed Dr. Liulin Wei, the founder of media company Watchout in Taiwan. Watchout does not do traditional reporting but provides platforms for audiences to directly interact with politicians and policy discussions. Dr. Liulin is also the convener of Citizens 1985, the group behind a mass rally after the death of corporal Hung Chung-chiu, in late 2013.

During the conversation, Dr. Liulin chatted a bit about his vision for Watchout, and what media means to him, how media can change politics in Taiwan. However, less than one week after our interview, Dr. Liulin resigned from his position as CEO at Watchout, and soon he was found to have allegedly embezzled money while at Watchout, in addition to several other allegations and lawsuits from Watchout and Citizens 1985.

We here at KM have discussed whether to publish this interview, and we decided to put this out there, for our audience to decide for themselves, just as we do with everything else. This interview is not meant to comment on Dr. Liulin’s actions one way or another. Here is our interview.

 

Ketagalan Media (KM): Dr. Liulin, welcome to the show. Many people are interested in media, as the CEO of Watchout, can you tell us how it was started?

Dr Liulin Wei (Liulin): It started with the Corporal Hung Chung-chiu incident. We organized 250,000 people to protest, and even though the government did amend the laws right away, but the government failed in any sort of follow-up, since the 250,000 people are not protesting all the time. So I thought it was important to let the public know what’s going on, and that’s how Watchout was born.

Watchout is not jut a media house, we want to be a new public platform. We want Taiwan to be a good nation with good citizens, from a small nation with few citizens. The 20-30 year olds today grew up during the transition to democracy, so freedom, democracy, and independence are not really issues for us. Sure, we want formal de jure independence, but at least we have never been ruled by the PRC.

We believe in Jefferson’s words “information is the currency of democracy.” Currency has to be real, sufficient, and transferable, for the economy to operate. Same with information, it has to be real, sufficient, and transferable for democracy to operate. Therefore we want to first disclose information, starting from overseeing the parliament. Next we want to help the people to form meaningful discussions and reach consensus. Finally, we want to lower the barrier to participating in politics, to actually affect outcomes. So what we are doing is really “letting the Taiwanese decide the fate of Taiwan.”

Every politician knows to pay lip service to this, but once they are elected, they are in charge. We want to break that paradigm, so our programs are all intended to take public discourse to the next level, lower the barrier to entry.

KM: You mentioned Jefferson’s quote “information is the currency of democracy,” but the government prints money whenever it wants to, and it does the same with information. How do you convince the public to consume your information and not those of the government or mainstream media?

Liulin: Like counterfeit cash, information that is not truthful is useless. The economy cannot run on counterfeits. We are in the era of open data, the more data the better for the society. Raw data is hard to understand, so consumable information is important. When you provide information, it could still be complex, so we use graphics and interactive ways to help people understand. There are some horrendous content farms out there, using click-bait headlines to draw viewers. We don’t use that tactic.

We do three things every day with information: receive, engage, share. Like on Facebook, we receive what other people share, and we like, comment, engage with it, and then we share it. How do we promote the entire public to do that, how do we get people to engage and share, is how we will differ from mainstream media.

KM: So Watchout is often featured in so-called mainstream media like Apple Daily, but Watchout is also different. How do you explain that to people? Many media brands are also doing graphics and animation, how are you different?

Liulin: We want to be “Taiwan’s own public new media,” and there are some keywords here. New media means we want everything we do from production to engagement to be new. Media means satisfying our desire to know. In that sense, movies, even porn, is media. We want to focus on a few things, first one being “Taiwan’s own,” and to be “public.” We want to start getting paid subscribers, to have a large number of people each funding small amounts, that will help us in being more “public” as well.

KM: Some media brands are non-profits relying on donations to stay “public”, instead of relying on investors. Do your supporters want to see you go non-profit? How else do you stay “public”?

Liulin: If we have many people support us, we can avoid being overly biased. It’s important for media to stay independent. Many media will say they are objective and neutral, but we never believe in anything like neutrality. As long as there’s any work done on it by people, there will be biases. What’s on the front page, what news goes in the last page, what gets reported and what doesn’t, all these decisions have biases. So I think it’s ridiculous to say someone is objective.

In terms of issues we focus on, to maintain the mantra “Taiwan deciding our own fate,” we first and foremost focus on Taiwan and China issues. We are a group of young people in our 20s and 30s, born after the second industrial revolution. We live in an era of new liberal economics, people and land are reduced to merely tools to be used. Therefore, we also look at labor, environment, distributive justice, land prices, issues like that.

As in how we present our information, if we are independent in our content, then having a lot of people support us will help us not be influenced by one particular source of funds. Instead if we are responsible to our subscribers and our own team, and we have a good contract in place between the management and the editorial staff, then people won’t need to believe in me personally; maybe one day I was bought up by the KMT, would be good if I cannot affect the editorial direction.

Finally I think we should have very good labor benefits for our team, to have our reporters unionize, so they can talk to management and the public, to be able to resist management’s advances. Through these things like funding structure, editorial independence and reporters’ labor rights, we prevent specific interests from taking over.

I detest the idea of an enlightened despot, I hate idol worshipping. If people put all their hope on one person or one group, it usually ends in tragedy. So we want to build a very good system and to always reflect on how to make it better.

KM: So as to create a model for the media industry?

Liulin: I don’t like the idea of a “model,” as if you have to be the same and other people simply follow. We want to be humble and ask what we can do the better change the society. We want everyone working at Watchout to not just work for their paychecks, but have everyone work because of their ideals. We all have this sticker on our computers that say “Labor For Your Ideals” to remind ourselves.

KM: Finally I want to ask, there are now many people writing and reporting online, especially after the student movement last year, internet media shops have increased exponentially in Taiwan. How do you think this will develop? Will Taiwan come to rely more on non-traditional media?

Liulin: I think many mainstream media are also now picking up techniques in new media, like Taiwan’s United Daily News, etc. Every “old media” has a “new media” department. It’s a trend. But at the end it’s all about competing for the eyeballs of the audience. The aggregate attention span of the society is fixed, and everyone is competing for a piece of this aggregate. We want to compete on a high level, by putting out quality content, stuff that people are willing to share. That’s where real influence comes from.

As a media, the ultimate goal is to have influence. Of course, there’s good and bad influence. If our existence is a net-negative for the society, then we should just go home. I think it’s a good thing to have many media shops crop up, we believe in the idea of open source. No one is there to tell you what’s the best or who you should believe in, as long as everyone is doing something the best solution will appear. I believe the point is in how to execute as a team.

KM: So open source is also a part of being a “good nation, good citizens?”

Liulin: The spirit of open source is important, when things are more open we can avoid a lot of hassle. When our stuff has a high public value, we are not afraid of other people copying us. If someone else can execute our vision better, that’s great. But I think not many people wants to work on the tough issues of making government more public, and the easy things have all been done.

KM: Definitely very in tune with the sentiments here in Silicon Valley. Thanks for all of your time and sharing with us your thoughts on media and the public.

 

五月三十日,我們訪問了「沃草」發起人與「公民 1985」召集人之一柳林瑋醫師。 我們談了他對沃草與台灣新興網路媒體的想法。

專訪過後不到一個星期,柳林瑋醫師辭去一切職務,隨後沃草與公民 1985 指控柳林瑋醫師侵占各團體財務,犯下「重大財務錯誤」,目前進入法律程序。

經過討論,KM 決定刊出這篇專訪,讓我們的讀者與聽眾自行判斷對於柳林瑋的看法。這篇專訪並不對於柳林瑋的爭議做任何的表達。

 

Ketagalan Media (以下 KM):歡迎柳林醫師,我們很多人都對網路媒體很有興趣,您是「沃草」的執行長,可否跟我們聊一下「沃草」一開始是怎麼形成?是什麼想法讓「沃草」從無到有?

柳林瑋醫師 (以下「柳林」):我們會做這件事情的起因是「洪仲丘事件」;在事件之後,雖然說當天有二十五萬人上街頭,政府在那個時候也回應的民眾的訴求,但是後續的修法配套與其他議題,支持度這麼低的政府都沒有繼續去聽從民眾的意見,因為二十五萬人不會一直都在街頭上,所以我們覺得讓民眾知道事實的真相是什麼很重要,這就是我們做「沃草」的原因。

「沃草」想做的事情不是純粹的一個新媒體,而是一個新的具有公眾性的平台,「沃草」的概念是我們希望台灣是「好國好民」,二三十歲世代的這群台灣人都在民主化的過程中長大,民主、自由、甚至獨立都不是一個議題,當然還是有爭取國際法理獨立的聲音,但現狀就是我們實質是獨立的,至少台灣沒有一天是被中共管轄的,「小國小民」是一個既成的事實,那就想應該進一步成為「好國好民」。

「沃草」信仰的一句話是Jefferson 說過的:「資訊之於民主,就像貨幣之於經濟」,貨幣必須「正確、足夠、可流通」才能讓經濟運轉,民主也是一樣,沒有達到「正確、足夠、可流通」的資訊就沒有辦法讓民主運轉下去,要解決民主碰到的問題我們需要的是更多的民主,所以我們做的第一步就是揭露資訊,從監督國會開始提供「正確、足夠、可流通」的資訊,做完這件事情後下一步是協助民眾、引導民眾去做有意義的討論,如果沒有辦法根據事實去做有意義的公眾討論而流於人身攻擊,社會沒有辦法達成共識,達成共識之後的第三部是降低民眾參與政治的門檻,進而實質得去影響政治,所以整個來看「沃草」在做的事情,就是「台灣的未來,台灣人來決定」。

這件事情很難,雖然是一句很簡單的政治口號,馬英九、蔡英文都會講,可是這些政治人物未必真的在做這些事情,「台灣的未來,台灣人來決定」口號喊出來後,票投給他們,接下來就是政治人物自己的事;「沃草」要破除這件事情,所以「國會無雙」就是在提供「正確、足夠、可流通」的資訊,「公民學院」的專案則是在引導民眾做有意義的公眾討論,還有之前的「市長給問嗎?」、「國會無雙」下面的「立委線上」,還有我們年底會做的「立委入口網站」等等都是在降低民眾參與政治的門檻,與實質影響政治。

KM:剛才講到Jefferson說:「資訊之於民主,就像貨幣之於經濟」,貨幣不夠的話政府可以繼續印,那資訊不夠的時候政府也可以印給大家,是不是這樣的資訊都是比較對政府有利的?像「沃草」這樣的民間組織要怎麼去說服大家看你們的資訊,而不是看政府或是主流媒體的資訊?

柳林:剛剛有說資訊必須要是正確的,如果政府拿出不是事實的東西,基本上就是假的資訊,也就像是偽鈔的概念,如果一個自由經濟市場到處都是偽鈔,那經濟是沒有辦法運作下去的;現在是一個open data的年代,data對民眾來說是過多的,原始的資料沒有辦法幫助人理解,所以information才是重要的,才讓人可以去理解事情,當information被提供的時候,有些information還是很複雜,公眾議題還是很複雜,所以需要很多方式去讓民眾更容易理解這些資訊,我們會做很多資訊視覺化、資料新聞,不同的呈現方式像是互動式的網頁、單張、組圖、動畫,這些都式呈現方式上的改變。所以我們除了在提供正確的東西以外,我們也競爭民眾的眼球,有些內容很爛的內容農場,會用很糟糕的標題續吸引讀者點閱,我們不會這樣騙點閱。

我們一般每天在做的事情有三樣,「接收資訊」、「參與資訊」、「分享資訊」,像在facebook上我們都接收朋友分享的東西,跟這些資訊互動、按讚、留言、討論,最後分享這個資訊;要怎麼讓民眾接收到資訊,根固到民眾手上,要怎麼讓民眾參與在這個資訊裡面,花的互動時間越多越有機會吸收這樣的資訊,接下來是分享,做到後面這兩件事情才有辦法真正達到網路的效果:「病毒式的傳播」,網路厲害的地方就是這個「病毒式的傳播」,如果只是單向的推向大量的人,沒有後來的參與與分享,這其實跟傳統媒體在做的事情沒有兩樣。

KM:講到傳統媒體,大家可能對「沃草」的認識是從蘋果日報等等的地方得到資訊,但你又提到他跟一般的媒體不一樣,甚至可以說他不是媒體,那這個觀念你怎麼跟一般人解釋?視覺化跟動畫有許多傳統媒體也有在做,你們跟他們的差別是立場嗎?是目的嗎?

柳林:「沃草」想要做「台灣人自己」、「有公共性」的「新」媒體,這幾個關鍵字很重要,新就是不管產製的過程、撥出的過程、後續的互動都是新的一個媒體,媒體的目的是滿足人「知」的需求,只要能做到這件事情就符合媒體的定義,影劇的新聞、A片也都是這樣滿足人「知」的慾望,窺探人隱私的慾望;「沃草」想要專注在幾個點,第一就是他是「台灣人自己的」,要代表台灣人自己的聲音,第二是「有公共性」,公共性不光是他關注的議題是有公共性的,我們下半年會開始開放民眾訂閱,很多人小額付費的訂閱也會加強媒體的公共性,因為「Money Talks」誰給錢誰影響你,如果是非常多的台灣人共同給了一點點錢來支持一個媒體,他的公共性就會很強,第三就是剛剛說的「新」,我們在製作的方式、呈現的方式、後續的互動都會用到越來越多的新技術,我們在做的事情就不會是傳統的媒體,雖說我們依然覺得自己是一個媒體,因為我們滿足了「知」的慾望,還是符合媒體的定義,只是我們運作的方式跟人員配置就不會這麼像一個傳統的媒體。

KM:我想要再多了解一下「公共性」,有的媒體是靠捐款、非營利法人的方式來經營,這樣他們就可以說自己是很具有公共性,不是靠金主或中資之類的,那在背後支持你們的人是希望這個媒體「公共化」嗎?或者是你們做出來的東西要怎麼跟公眾互動?

柳林:沒假設有很多民眾支持我們,就會避免像你講的偏差,一個媒體有沒有自己獨立自主是重要的,很多媒體都說他們是客觀公正的、中立的,但我們從來不相信有中立的這件事情,只有經過人的意識運作就會有人的意識在裡面,什麼東西要放報頭,什麼東西要放報尾,播報什麼不播報什麼,這些都是有主觀的意識在裡面,所以說自己是中立的我覺得邏輯上是不可能出現這樣的事情,這樣的說法很好笑,沒有任何人是真正中立的。

「沃草」的核心關懷是像剛剛說的建立「好國好民」,「台灣的未來,台灣人來決定」,因為要讓台灣人決定,我們必須擁有主權,所以「沃草」率先關心的是台灣跟中國的議題,兩岸的議題是我們核心關注的,沃草的組成是二三十歲的年輕人,這個世代年輕人關心的是在二次工業革命之後,新自由主義的狀況之下,我們越來越不把人當人看,人越來越工具化了,我們也不把土地當成我們要永續生存依附的環境來看待,只把他當做一種資源來開發,所以產生了很多問題;我們注重勞動的議題,勞權、環保、分配正義、房價,這類都是「沃草」的核心關懷,這是我們戰術上的考量,因為世界上沒有資源無限的地方,在我們資源有限的情況下我們會優先關注在這些議題。

至於在呈現的方式上面,一個媒體如果有完整的言論自主,錢的部分如果由很多民眾投入就不會受到單一的影響,媒體做得好壞會直接影響到訂閱者願不願意繼續支持,我們對訂閱者負責也對自己的團隊負責,編輯室會不會受經營階層影響都需要好的編輯室公約,大家也不用相信我個人,說不定哪天我被國民黨給收買了,那我手插不進編輯室,媒體就不會被影響到。

第三個就是媒體應該要有很好的勞動權益,維護記者權益的工會,讓他們對經營者與對公眾都有談話的空間,也強大到讓經營者沒有辦法把手插進去,進而去影響到媒體專業的自主,透過剛剛這幾個機制,錢、編輯室公約、記者的勞權設了很多層的防護網,讓機制上不會產生媒體被特定人插手的可能性,這是我希望、期待能建立的一個目標。

我非常不相信明君聖主,討厭偶像崇拜,如果把所有的希望都寄託在一個人或是組織身上,結果往往是悲劇收場,所以我們要想辦法建立非常好的制度,時時反思制度有沒有可以改進的地方,才會避免可怕的事情發生。

KM:想要成為這個產業的典範?

柳林:我個人很害怕「典範」這兩個字,好像是你不能常有改變,別人會一直跟隨,但其實我們是抱持著謙卑的角度;這個社會環境到底發生了什麼問題,我們有沒有施力點可以改變?我們希望沃草團隊的人都不是抱著混口飯吃的心態,大家要能夠有自己的理想性,做這個工作才有使命感,才會快樂,目前的沃草團隊也維持著這樣的感覺,這也是我覺得這個團隊應該驕傲的地方,大家不是為了工作而工作,我們是「為了理想而勞動」,同事們的電腦上都也貼著「為理想而勞動」的貼紙;我們也常常挑戰自己,每天感到疲憊挫折的時候都會再看看這個共同的目標。

KM:最後想請教一下,台灣現在除了「沃草」以外,特別是在學運之後雨後春筍的出現很多網路上寫文章的人,部落客,做網路媒體,在facebook上面寫評論,甚至是更盛行的ptt,我感覺這對傳統媒體很有焦慮感,那你覺得之後的走向會是什麼?台灣會越來越依靠網路這些非傳統的媒介嗎?

柳林:很多主流媒體都在想辦法朝新媒體的方式去做,包括像聯合報系,你都會看到積極的在做,幾乎可以說所有媒體都有新媒體的部門,這大概是一個很明確的趨勢,傳統媒體一直在下降,新媒體一直在上升,那最終還是會牽扯到如何去競爭民眾的眼球,所有民眾注意力的總和是固定的,大家是一起在競爭這個總合,我們期待自己做出來的東西不是透過比較劣質的方式來得到民眾眼球的關注,而是做出夠好的東西來讓民眾願意分享出去,那才能產生實質的影響力,而且這樣的影響力才是真正正向的影響力。

做媒體不外乎是想要影響力,影響力當然有好的有壞的,如果我們的存在價值對整個社會是負面的價值,那我們就收收回家就好了,這不是我們要做的事情;所以很多的媒體如雨後春筍般的產生,我覺得這是一個好事,我們相信的是開放原始碼的精神,不用去跟人家說你是最好的,或是誰是最好的,我們大家想做什麼事就做什麼事,在自然的狀況下,最好的解決方案就會浮現,我們相信除了有很好的想像力跟理想以外,執行力也是很重要的,團隊還是要打組織戰,能更存活並持續的做出好的東西,繼續擴展正面的影響力,我想這是所有人面臨的共同挑戰。

KM:所以開放原始碼也算是你說的「好國好民」其中的一部分?

柳林:他是一個精神,開源這件事情,當他是開放的就可以避免很多不開放造成的麻煩,特別是我們做的東西非常具有公眾性時,我們不是這麼擔心別人把我們的東西做走,如果沃草的理想有別人用更好的方式幫我們做掉的話,那就太好了,但我們也相信,第一因為政府的公眾性的問題不是這麼多人想做,第二是「好做」的好事大概都已經被做完了,不會留到現在還沒做,所以當我們每次想到好事情的時候,做之前都覺得好像很簡單,但我們都提醒自己應該事實上不是這麼簡單,不然早就被人家做掉了。

KM:這跟我們矽谷這邊開源的精神很像,所以聽來覺得很有共鳴,那今天的時間先到這邊,非常感謝柳林醫師跟我們談得這麼多台灣的新媒體與媒體公眾之間的互動,謝謝!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(Feature photo of Dr. Liulin Wei during our interview, by Chieh-Ting Yeh.)

 

About The Ketagalan Project

History and culture are the frames that prescribe how we understand the world around us. Our co-hosts present in-depth interviews on how art, culture, history and politics intertwine throughout time and space to connect us. Find out about the cosmopolitan modern Taipei downtown in the 1920s, regional trade, the future of aboriginal culture and more.