Tell us your wishes
I can’t guarantee you that I will fulfill whatever wish you have, our readers.
But I will try my best as managing editor of this newspaper.
You may think that I am saying what you have long taken for granted. After all, the newspaper business, in many ways, is like any other business ― if you can’t deliver what consumers want, you will be thrown out of it.
Don’t get me wrong. It is neither a statement of reader empowerment nor a veiled sales tactic.
It’s a sincere invitation to have your voice heard and opinion reflected in this newspaper. I believe this newspaper as much belongs to us ― reporters, editors and CEO ― as to the readers. In other words, we are in this together as stakeholders.
Here is one reason why I have decided to make this open invitation.
I often wonder whether the English-language newspaper should be different from vernacular newspapers in the manner and content of coverage.
First of all, we at the Times like to believe that we are the messenger of goings-on in Korea to the rest of the world.
Of course, there have been a growing number of other mediums ― Internet portals and trade magazines ― made available in foreign languages for non-Korean people to know better about Korea
But in content, we are far larger than any other source. We have been in this business for more than 60 years.
Our name ― The Korea Times ― is by far the most recognizable name for non-Koreans as the source of information about things Korean.
The strength of our paper has grown enormously since I first joined it 20-odd years ago, thanks to the Internet and Korea’s unprecedented rags-to-riches transformation.
Despite our enhanced status, however, we are still struggling with the same one problem that we had when I was a cub reporter.
That is whether we have to use moderation when we cover ugly things about Korea or report with warts and all and as if we were a vernacular Korean-language newspaper. In any other countries, Korean newspapers are ideologically biased and that spills over into news pages, although I can only guess whether that spillover is inadvertent or intentional.
One clarification is that we have not intentionally distorted the facts, although I can’t deny that bias in one form or another may have been reflected in our editorial policy.
I will take one example that captures the conundrum we face.
On the front page of our Monday edition, we used a photo of President Lee Myung-bak with a smile on his face together with leaders of China and Japan prior to their trilateral summit in Beijing, Sunday. A four-column article below explains their agreement to start three-way free trade talks.
We were alone in this. All other newspapers from the other two English-language newspapers to vernacular newspapers, conservative or progressive, used for their front page big photos of a melee between rival factions in the leftist minor Unified Progressives Party (UPP) that is splitting up. We didn’t ignore the story and used it with a photo for page two with a teaser in the front page sky box.
Besides President Lee’s front-page photo, we made an exclusive report that KT&G exported large amount of low-quality cigarettes to Afghanistan, knowing that half of them are smuggled into Pakistan. This story of the cigarette maker, still partially owned by the state, is, to say the least, not a pretty picture about Korea, because it casts a question on the firm’s level of corporate ethics and, by extension, can damage Korea’s reputation as a member of the international community.
By the way, I firmly stand by our decisions about these two cases.
One can dismiss these issues, saying that all things are covered in one way or another with no loose ends.
Another may say, “I didn’t even notice it.”
The third party of interest would be different by nationality. For a Korean, not using the photo of politicians’ slugfest on the front page saved the nation embarrassment but the KT&G article should have been used somewhere inside.
For a foreigner, the photo may feel underneath them because he or she feels they know enough about Korea to read between the lines about things Korean with or without seeing that melee photo on the front page. To them, reading the KT&G article would amount to a confirmation about their Korean skepticism.
I don’t prefer one type over the other. To us, all readers are important irrespective of their political, ideological stripes, racial backgrounds and nationalities.
The newspaper is like a marketplace where all kinds of people intermingle. I want The Korea Times to truly reflect this marketplace principle. I am inviting you to come and enjoy this spirit in the daily fair of this newspaper on and off line. It’s your fair so if you want to say something, don’t hesitate.