Interview: Lee Ying-Shin

Lee Ying-Shin was a member of NewseForum and is a journalist that previously worked at Commonwealth. The following interview was conducted on October 31st, 2017.


Brian Hioe:  At the time of the Sunflower Movement you were studying at National Taiwan University (NTU). How did you begin to participate in social issues?

Lee Ying-Shin:  I went to college in Kaohsiung and after that I came to Taipei for graduate school. There was some classes in which I had to conduct interviews or where teachers asked us to go press conferences on-site. So I would participate in some press conferences and demonstrations.

For students like us without any experience, for it was easier to get closer to press conferences regarding social issues. There would also be a sense of having my eyes opened up after entering Taipei, because a lot of protests were occurring every month regarding social issues.

Gradually, you would naturally come to concern yourself with these issues. Because journalists would encounter news about social issues more than regular people. And you would start to become more concerned with these issues over time. But I felt more like an observer, instead of someone involved in the inner workings of a movement.

There were some opportunities, such as when I was seen as someone who had also come to protest, and organizers also looked at me as someone who had come to protest. But after one or two times, I would feel out of place, that I was still more used to being a journalist and not a demonstrator. So I took on the role of observing things.

Brian Hioe:  What were you doing at the time of the Sunflower Movement?

Lee Ying-Shin:  That night I had a fever, so when they charged in around 9 PM or so, I was watching the live stream from the computer room at school. It wasn’t very clear on the live stream. And I saw people posting that they had charged in on Facebook. I later found out that Peng Sheau-Tyng and others had charged in.

But because I wasn’t feeling well, for the most part, I stayed in front of the computer and went back to my dorm room to follow this. At the time, I thought they would be cleared out the next day. Although I continued to pay attention to this, when I went to sleep, I thought this would be over by the next day. So when the 318 Movement broke out, I wasn’t there.

The next day, I woke up and found out that they hadn’t been driven out, that people were still inside. And I worried about Sheau-Tyng and them. I went to the Legislative Yuan, where there were tons of people, and it was too crowded to fit in. I listened to the short speeches sitting there by Qingdao East Road. It was Huang Kuo-Chang, Wu Hsueh-Chan, Professor Lee Ming-Chong. In the first two days, it was like this.

NewseForum logo. Photo credit: NewseForum

Brian Hioe:  How did NewseForum form at that point? I remember that you seem to have organized through a Line group.

Lee Ying-Shin:  Yes, but that Line group wasn’t originally to write reports. At the time, another classmate of mine, Qiu Yuanyu wanted to make flyers to explain to everyone what the CSSTA was because at the time, many in society still weren’t very clear what the CSSTA was. What people were arguing about. So because printing this wasn’t expensive, we collected some money, printed this, and handed this out around Taipei Main Station, since this was close to Taipei Main Station. 

I thought, why not organize a group to contact people and add all of our classmates by the Legislative Yuan inside?  We finished handing out these flyers in two or three hours, and at night, we went over to see what occupation, thinking that we could contact each other if there was anything that happened. Because there were some bikers there and we thought it was a bit dangerous. We could stay in touch regarding news and who was on Jinan Road and who was on Qingdao East Road, what we saw and how we could contact each other. When we began to write reports, that became our news reporting group on Line. Originally, it was just a tool for communication

Brian Hioe:  What kind of feelings did you have then regarding deciding to form a group?

Lee Ying-Shin:  We decided to form a group then because we were lying on Jinan Road sleeping there that night, since I decided to sleep there that night. And my junior said to me that she thought this was a good opportunity to report or that everyone could making some reports.

At the time, I felt it was kind of difficult, because we all had class to attend, and some of us were writing our theses. And we didn’t know if everyone was interested. I said, yes, I thought it was worth writing about, but how about asking everyone’s opinions in the Line group? So she wrote that and posted in the group. Later on, because I only slept in morning that night, when I woke up it was in the afternoon and they had already started reporting by then. We wanted to interview a hundred people then.

So I felt that in the beginning, it was because my junior had proposed this. Everyone originally had some similar views, but they hadn’t stated this, so they thought we could try it out. We didn’t think that it would become so large-scale, it was just simply thinking that because there were a lot of strange reports then. Such as on people drinking beer or strange reports on what was going on within the Legislative Yuan.

That may have happened. But in terms of news, only reporting on this is strange. This is the first time that the Legislative Yuan had been occupied in history, ordinarily we would want to know what everyone’s demands words, given the circumstances. Such as how the legislators would respond. We may have all felt a sense of responsibility, since what we saw wasn’t like that, and we could write about this in our own way.

I remember that after I woke up, we were discussing where to post our reports. Since we had a few Facebook pages, there was a publication at NTU called NewsForum and NewseForum is its online version. I or somebody else said that because that page was viewed by more people, we should ask the junior of ours responsible for this, to open it up.

He first gave administrative privileges to me and then I opened it up to a lot of people, and everyone submitted in that way. It was originally only 900 likes or so, but it had a steamroller effect. And we also borrowed equipment from the Department of Journalism. Because I lived in a dorm near the Department of Journalism, I brought some equipment over. So it was a very spontaneous activity and a bit naive, not thinking too much and thinking that we could do something. We began that way.

Photo credit: NewseForum

Brian Hioe:  How did you divide work then? Because traditional media may be more top-down, but you used Hackpad and Google and similar platforms to collaboratively divide workflow. Some people view you as pretty avant-garde in that respect in terms of online media.

Lee Ying-Shin:  I think a lot took place organically. Because at the time, we didn’t think too much, so we thought that after two or three days it might end. We didn’t think beyond that. Whoever had time would work on something. So we would use our shared Line group and Facebook page to post things. And so everybody would post things, but it would be different in format. So it was spontaneous and there wasn’t too much organization.

Using Hackpad or similar tools, it’s surprising to me that people feel this is special. For us, it’s just a tool we use everyday. It has to do with how our generation may feel that using the Internet is a ordinary thing, but for people in the media in their forties or fifties, they would be like, “Wow! You’re so amazing!” And I didn’t know how to respond. That includes what you said about us not having top-down hierarchies. We weren’t an organization to begin with. So we didn’t think about using an organization.

Later on, Sheau-Tyng and I helped organize administrative duties. That was because it was unavoidable. Every day, we had twenty or thirty people running around outside. You needed records and a division of labor and some administrative work. Including some teachers that donated lunch boxes to us and how to hand this. These miscellaneous forms of work needed to be taken care of. That’s why later on, there was division of labor, but in terms of reports, it was more like you would report on whatever you wanted to report on. Including dividing up who would go to Qingdao East Road and who would go to Jinan Road and who would stay inside. But that was a very naturally developed process.

Brian Hioe:  How do you look at what you did during large-scale events such as the Executive Yuan incident on 324 or 500,000 people taking to the streets of Taipei on 330?

Lee Ying-Shin:  During those two incidents, I was more backstage. On 324, I was on-site, organizing many news reports. I didn’t experience what the journalists at the front lines did in terms of seeing the water cannons or violent actions by the police. At the time, my personal feelings was, “God, what’s happening?” It was the feeling that something very serious was going on ten minutes walking from where you were.

But at the time you had to sit down and take care of editing. If we dropped this, the work of the journalists on-site would be wasted, seeing as what readers read was what we had edited. So at the time, it was like having a blank mind and being very busy. If you don’t put a distance with your own feelings, you can’t keep going.

And I also felt very tired. Because on 323, I had stayed up an entire night and wanted to go home and sleep. But I didn’t go home to sleep because this took place and the Executive Yuan incident then took place. So for two days, I didn’t sleep. Because we knew that 324 would take place before hand, I was confirming with people who could come and who would go to what place, such as Jinan Road or Zhongshan South Road. It was organizing how to divide work. I was taking care of these administrative duties, so I didn’t think too much about it, running around doing the work of a journalist.

I also think it’s because I never thought of myself as a member of the movement. My mood could be more distant. I think that was a good thing, because if I was affected too much emotionally, such as by the fluctuations of the movement, I wouldn’t really be a journalist. So I was there more from the perspective of an observer. And I felt I was useful in this respect. That my ability as a journalist or taking care of administrative duties could shine through this, without really being a participant. Because I didn’t want to be a participant in this movement.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  What about when the withdrawal happened? There was discussion about whether to continue or not with NewseForum after the movement.

Lee Ying-Shin:  I sort of don’t remember our discussion then. But looking back, our discussion was regarding that we felt NewseForum was something very rare. We had done some things that we felt were important and quite good. You wouldn’t want this organization to dissolve. But at the time, we didn’t have too much media experience and we didn’t have any connections, such as where to find money if we wanted to establish a media outlet, or regarding what kind of reports we wanted to write, or how to distinguish our media from other media outlets.

At the very least, I think that my abilities weren’t sufficient to take care of this because there might be no problem running around on-site taking care of interviews, but to allow an organization to survive over one or two or three years, discussing this near the end, I didn’t have a solution. Because if you haven’t done this before, you can’t really come up with something.

Likewise, the withdrawal took place in the beginning of April. I was planning to study abroad in Inner Mongolia in September. Because I had decided on this the year before, I knew that not much longer, I would leave for half a year. I also felt that around April or May, when we were trying to figure out the next step, I also continued to participate but I also thought that I would have to stop at a point. If I participated halfway and then disappeared, this might lead to difficulties for other people. When they discussed things, I remember in Yilan, I didn’t go. Because I was writing my thesis then.

Later on, we started to crowd fund. It was very tiring and we raised 1,544,957 NT. I felt that for everybody then, it wasn’t something very easy. Because during the Sunflower Movement, those twenty or so days, on the one hand, it was because the situation on-site could move people too emotionally. You would feel, “This is historical, I have to stand on the frontline and watch this.” So a lot of people would support you skipping class or dropping your thesis and going on-site.

But after the withdrawal, when you return to your everyday life, there might be twenty or so days in which you didn’t turn in your homework. And skipped class. Then your thesis had to be delayed. There were these realistic considerations which had to be made when things were calmer. You would have to decide whether to continue with NewseForum or work on your thesis.

I also confronted the issue of that I had to write my thesis. The proposal was in two stages, so I wrote it in a rush because I didn’t have time, and then I went to study abroad.

Brian Hioe:  Three years later, how do you look back on this event?

Lee Ying-Shin:  I tested for the Department of Journalism because I wanted to be a journalist from the beginning. But I feel that the educational system in Taiwan is not one which allows people to pursue their dreams. So I was not totally certain I wanted to be a journalist, but I think it is very difficult for people to decide that they want to do something for the rest of their lives very early on when they are young. After going through NewseForum, this made me feel very certain that i want to be a journalist.

Looking at it from one year later, I was still working on my thesis. The second year, I hadn’t been working in Commonwealth for too long. Up to now, I’ve left Commonwealth for awhile. I would feel that the influence NewseForum, at least in my personal life, is more and more clear. It’s already something in the past. If I hadn’t that experience, I maybe wouldn’t be so certain that I want to be a journalist. It strengthened my motivation.

The media environment in Taiwan right now is quite poor. There are some people who, like me, graduated from the Department of Journalism and after one or two years, they felt the environment was too bad, and left. Even if they were very talented reporters. I think it’s a pity. I think that I could stick it out because of my experience in NewseForum. Because at the time, whatever you wanted to write on, you could write, and a lot of people would read your writing.

And the readers would all post comments thanking us, saying that what we were doing is very important. That sense of support is very direct. Because of experiencing this, you know that if you write good news reports or when there is a group of readers behind you supporting you, even when you know that there are difficulties to be faces, you know that these difficulties may just be temporary and that if you endure it for a few years, things may become better. Although it might not, because the media in Taiwan isn’t making money. But because of this good experience, this would give you motivation for the future.

Regarding the Sunflower Movement, I don’t have too many views now. I think that for participants, their lives may change somewhat. But as for the movement as a whole, if you look at it now versus back then, I don’t think the meaning has changed very much. Although I’m not a  specialist in social research. But the views of this generation towards the China factor and our sense of Taiwanese identification is quite clear and after the Sunflower Movement, this has become strengthened.

My junior told me that before the start of NewseForum, because she went on-site to listen to speeches on Qingdao East Road, she counted the people that went up to talk—although the Sunflower Movement was opposed to the CSSTA, the proportion of those who said “I am a Taiwanese” was higher than those who said, “I oppose the CSSTA.” In reality, that sense of Taiwanese identification quickly slips out on-site. This sense of identification will influence Taiwan’s relation with China in the future. In the next ten or twenty years, I think that this can be looked into. I think that this is still not fully clear.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that what you did could influence Taiwan’s media?

Lee Ying-Shin:  I don’t think so at all. They may just look at us as a group of small kids. Because we were just students then. Newcomers. They might think that we are cute, pat our heads and clap, and say, “You’re so great!” But although they might be surprised that we use tools from the Internet, they won’t learn how to use it themselves.

And because we had a very freeform structure, anyone could change anyone else’s reports. At the time, our group we posted for urgent news events, and whoever had time, would look at it. This is something that traditional media can’t accept because traditional media has seniority. Who has is more experienced looks over reports. But veterans may not understand many topics.

I think that it is unlikely for NewseForum to have any influence on traditional media. Including some seniors saying that, proportionally speaking, NewseForum’s earlier reports were breaking news updates. They would say that’s only spreading information, not news, although later on we had special issues. On some level, I agree that our ability was very limited then, but I think that at the time what readers wanted to see wasn’t long commentary, but news reports which hadn’t been censored or filtered or distorted. Such as news reports on drinking within the Legislative Yuan. Traditional media continues using its traditional methods.

But everyone now is doing different things. It’s not just me. I’m sure that many people, because of experiencing NewseForum, are very sure that they want to be journalists. And I think why they would stay in the media is to try and influence different organizations. But up to now, I don’t know. Many people may have entered The Reporter. The Reporter had more space. So I’m not sure if this is the same as us influencing organizations, because The Reporter is more open regarding its editorial content. But although I don’t think there’s any influence, I believe that if this group of media stays in the media, looking back ten or twenty years from now, we can look back on this issue.