Friday, November 22, 2013

Exit stage: Leaving the ‘Taipei Times’

After more than seven years, it’s time to move on…

It’s been a little more than seven years since I began work with the Taipei Times, arguably Taiwan’s top English-language newspaper. Seven years, or seven-eighth of my entire time in the country, which has become my second home.

During that period I was a copy editor, editorial and op-ed writer, book reviewer, journalist, and since June 2010, deputy news editor, which is about as high as a foreigner can get within the organization. Over the years, the Times ran about 300 of my unsigned editorials, about just as many op-eds, and close to 200 news articles and features. Several of those articles were quoted or referenced in various works, such as the annual U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report or the latest book by Richard Bush of the Brookings Institution.

With a bit of luck, my work at the paper may have had a modicum of influence, or at a minimum left its mark. Without doubt, my articles in the Time led to greater things by helping me build enough brand recognition that I could start contributing to larger and more influential publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, Jane’s Defence Weekly, The Diplomat, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Global Military Balance report, among others. For that alone, I owe a lot to the Times, even if senior management didn’t exactly always appreciate how hard I had to work.

In the past year or so, however, things got from bad to worse with the managers, as we clearly had major differences over what the newspaper should be and the direction it should take. Soon it became apparent that my views were simply not welcome and that what was expected of me as a deputy news editor differed markedly from my understanding of the responsibilities that came with the title (tellingly, whoever replaces me will now have the grand title of “news desk rewriter”).

Furthermore, for reasons that are far too complex to detail here — read my upcoming book Officially Unofficial if you’re interested in finding out what happened — my relations with my supervisors became poisoned in the past 10 months, so much so that it was impossible for me to continue doing my job as a reporter. It appears that I had grown too “big” for them, which made them uncomfortable and insecure. While I regarded my fame, if we can call it that, as a good thing for the newspaper, management chose to see it as a threat. I wanted to be out there, and repeatedly asked to be made a full-time reporter; they blocked me, sought to kill my access, and wanted to keep me locked in a cubicle.

So after fighting for months and going nowhere, it’s time to leave. Today, Nov. 22, is my last day with the paper. Many people have told me that seven years was already too long. I feel no anger at this point, no regrets, and no sadness. Only relief.

Thank you to everybody who supported my work over the years by simply reading my work, or by encouraging me to get better at it. Many people have told me I was the only reason they were still reading the paper. I think it’s far too generous of them, but I humbly accept the compliment.

I’m moving on, but I’m not disappearing. I will seek new challenges while continuing to tell Taiwan’s fascinating story to the world to the best of my abilities, as are many others in the often-frustrating trade of journalism.

By coincidence, my friend Edd Jhong of PNN very deservedly won the Award for Excellence in Journalism today. Everything is in balance... (Photo by the author)

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