Written by Hou-ying Li.
After five years of voluntary work, organising over 50 volunteers, continuously publishing 2-3 articles per week, and 50k online visits per month with 35k Facebook fans, Insight-Post (洞見國際事務評論網) was finally fully self-funded and committed to making Taiwan see the world. Founded in 2012 by a group of social science and liberal arts students, most of whom now have major roles across a variety of industries, Insight-Post was Taiwan’s first and most trustworthy international affairs news and analysis source of its time.
Gore, nudity, cute animals – this was the state of Taiwan’s international news media. Traditional media services peddled attention-grabbing content to maximise views. These low industry standards made it difficult to retain talented people and plunged the industry into a state wherein almost no one could write proper analyses of international news for Taiwanese readers.
Following my long held ambition to contribute to society and curate news that matters, I started Insight-Post after completing military service. Seeing how rotten the industry was, I was uncertain what impact I could have, and so pursued further study in political science .
While translating and curating international news for a research project, I noticed that after filtering out gore, nudity, and cute animals, the remaining content is mainly related to tech industries, the US, China, and Japan. I soon realised that decent international affairs news coverage was tailored mainly to the wealthy and aspiring rich. Such coverage not only distorts how Taiwanese people see the world, it also limited potential contributions to Taiwan’s public discourse.
I began with a weekly editorial curation of international news on a Reddit-esque forum. After gaining some fans and collaborators, our group of five people officially started Insight-Post.
We wanted international news analysis relevant to Taiwan in a unique way. We introduced events from around the world and shared how these events were relevant to Taiwan and how people in different countries approached solutions to their difficulties. We also introduced events that Taiwanese people were already familiar with and discussed why they did or did not occur in Taiwan.
Our fresh perspectives resonated with our audiences and rapidly expanded our fan base. Our fans were also frustrated with Taiwan’s poor selection of news and wanted to change their society and future. Even now I still receive emails expressing appreciation and stories of how our work caused readers to grow spiritually and professionally.
We also targeted professionals consuming international news for work purposes, be they national security analysts, teachers, diplomats, and yes – even journalists! This led to a bitter-sweet moment where as a non-profit and self-funded organisation, we helped train many journalists working for the news media industry. Some started rephrasing our content for their own publications. Others used our work to kick-start their own research. These circumstances could have easily translated into threats where well-funded news agencies built up websites and Facebook pages to bombard us with scaled productivities.
At this critical juncture we realised we had an opportunity to do something special and make it sustainable. However, we lacked funding and an effective monetisation strategy. In the end, we chose to stick to our values. We turned down a buyout offer and decided to rely on niche audience subscriptions rather than a business model dependent on advertising revenue. This was a brave decision, but it was one of the reasons for our failure.
We realised that to sell subscriptions to a niche professional audience, we needed to provide our team financial security to focus on research and product development. To do that, we needed a huge pool of funding to secure appropriate talent.
I assembled a team to produce weekly political risk analyses and deliver to readers our curated list of top risks of the week. We shared our perspectives, highlighted potential future developments, and considered alternative scenarios.
This product received excellent feedback from journalists, teachers, and diplomats. However, these consumers were not decision makers capable of awarding us the funding we needed. To capture the attention of those decision makers, we needed to project the image of a well-developed, legitimate business with access to many resources.
Although our endeavor to translate our vision into a self-sustained non-for-profit orgranisation did not come to fruition, I nevertheless benefited greatly through learning about entrepreneurship. I do not regret starting Insight-Post and sincerely thank the teammates who worked with me to make these great things happen.
Hou-ying Li is the Founder and Editor-in-chief of Insight-Post. He held a Master in International Economics at the University of California- San Diego. He is a media analyst and lives in New York.