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」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」。



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。



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。






















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


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.