The Eng-Lite Program Lecture Series: Talk No 6


Topic:Let's Not be Outsiders to The World: A Panoramic Exploration of International New

Speaker:Mindi, The Founder of Mindi World News

Host:Fan-Ting Cheng, Associate Professor , Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University

Venue: NTUGITL R324, Guo Qing Bldg.

By Conrad C. Carl

The current international media landscape is incredibly diverse and difficult to navigate. We find ourselves asking: How do we become informed citizens? What are the tools at our disposal to responsibly sieve through the plethora of news outlets—each with their own agenda? Fortunately, on April 11, we welcomed to our institute Mindi whose professional life and everyday work is precisely concerned with finding answers to these questions and to inform the Taiwanese public on a regular basis about international affairs on the website mindiworldnews and in the podcast Mindi World News. Mindi started out with writing news articles but later on pivoted towards podcasts as the main medium.

Ahead of this talk, students were invited to pose questions and Mindi was kind enough to structure the talk accordingly. It is not surprising that one of the most pressing questions was: In the age of fake news, manipulation and tendentious reporting, what should we be wary of? What questions can we ask ourselves when we consume news?

Mindi shared with us some crucial insights in that regard. First of all, what can we infer from the headlines? Most media outlets make use of emotive language. In other words, if their intention is to spin the event that is reported on in a negative way, titles will often include adjectives like disastrous, appalling or tragic, while wonderful, heavenly or fortunate will be terms found in a more positively connotated headline of an article. In that sense, it is helpful to compare different news titles about the same incident and to remove those terms whose purpose is to elicit emotional reactions from the reader. This all boils down to one question that should be on our minds at all times. Stripped of any embellishments, what is the core content of the report?

Mindi was giving plenty of examples taken from real and existing sources helping us not only  identify all the possible ways we are potentially manipulated but also how to circumvent falling prey to this kind of reporting. Realizing that every news organization receives funding in some kind of way is another crucial point that Mindi highlighted. After all, whether we look at state media (e.g. Renminwang, one of China’s official media outlets, or Al Jazeera, which is partly funded by the government of Qatar) or other news media that receive funding from groups with vested interest, being aware of these backgrounds allows us to make more informed decisions  about whom to trust and to  what degree. Mindi noted that YouTube videos of news reports have started to implement a system where they disclose visibly if the video and channel in question belongs to the state media category. While  undoubtedly helpful, it remains pivotal to be aware of the funding situation of any platform. For instance, Fox News receives substantial funding from oil companies, a piece of information absolutely necessary to assess and evaluate the content of news pieces on climate change or renewable energy published by Fox News.

This ties in well with yet another reality of the general media landscape. Every news agency has its own standpoint. Depending on the issue at hand, the position of media outlets differs. Are they right-wing or left-wing? Pro or against China? Such fundamental differences  certainly influence the direction of the reporting. The crucial insight, Mindi underscored, is that every news outlet, every media organization has a standpoint—even Wikipedia where fierce arguments and altercations happen regularly between editors, who again, have their own standpoints. These guidelines can be followed  every time we encounter a piece of news and we will immediately notice their effect  on how we perceive them. But Mindi had another piece of advice for us that goes beyond that: the reality is change. News organizations not only report on national and international events but are also subject to their influence. Their standpoints and positions are not eternally fixed but can move within the overall spectrum of news media. That means, as Mindi stressed, we need to keep the long-term perspective in mind,  avoid getting complacent in our assessments, and become diligent observers of this dynamic.

Until this point, Mindi’s presentation focused on the relationship between us, the consumer, and the news,  as well as the organization behind it. But what about interpersonal relationships? How do we discuss events with others or convince them of the importance of paying attention to them in the first place? Mindi mentioned four things to consider. Firstly,  identify the crucial pain points that underpin the conversation, the dispute, the struggle. Secondly, become aware of your own position and of the fight you are  engaged in. Thirdly, tackle smaller problems first; you will not be able to solve the big issues in one go. And, last but not least, identify long-term partners in your quest.

Finally, Mindi shared some  routines that are helpful even for those whose work is not  related to news. Develop and ponder news reading habits, stay curious and  maintain a healthy level of skepticism about what you read. Keep asking questions and listen carefully to different viewpoints. Additionally, make use of advancements in technology. There are many useful applications available that compile news feeds from different online sources,  such as Feedly, or provide automated notes and transcriptions of audio files, like Otter.

After Mindi’s presentation, Professor Cheng Fan-ting concluded the event by emphasizing something that Mindi  may have been too modest to explicitly state. Implicit in all of the above is the idea that consuming news, cultivating a healthy attitude towards them and engaging in genuine discussions with peers and those outside our own bubbles will ultimately improve the society we live in—a goal we should all strive for.  It is only an informed public whose voice and strength will be felt and unrelenting in the efforts towards a better  present  future. And Mindi has been exemplary in this regard. We are very grateful for the insightful presentation and all the helpful tips and guidelines offered throughout.