'English-language media is like face of Korea to world’

Chris Han, April 27, 2016, 10:42 a.m.

The first thing Paul Shin, a veteran English-language journalist, asked during an interview in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, on Monday was, “What desk do you work at?” “The culture desk did not take up a big part of English-language newspapers back in my day,” he said upon hearing the response. 

“International audiences were more interested in the authoritarian regime,” said Shin, 76, referring to the period of the Park Chung-hee administration in the 1960s and ’70s. Now, stories on Korean culture, ranging from food to K-pop, are frequently reported on and widely read, he noted. “This change in what makes news reflects the changes in Korean society and how it is perceived abroad.”

Shin, whose Korean name is Shin Ho-chul, spent nearly five decades working in English-language media in Korea, exposing authoritarian regimes’ antics and reporting on embattled relations with North Korea. Since 1965, he has worked at The Korea Herald and global news agencies such as United Press International and the Associated Press. Shin retired from Yonhap News Agency as an in-house adviser for the wire service’s English news last year. 

This month, he released a book titled “How to Write an English News Article,” a compilation of tips for English-language reporters gathered through decades of working in the field. The book, written with Korean instructions and English excerpts, spans a wide range of topics, from general principles of journalism to specific rules for quality news writing. 

Shin said he wrote the book as a manual for those who aspire to work in English-language media, a field that will hopefully play a bigger role in Korea’s future.

“Korea’s English-language media might have a limited reach domestically. But it had more freedom to report on the authoritarian regime back when I started (in the field), and now, it has the potential to become more influential internationally,” he said. “People are more interested in Korea now. The crucial point is to tap into what kind of news the English-speaking audience wants to read.”
Food and tourism, for example, are areas that need more English coverage today, said Shin.

English-language media should strive to differentiate itself from Korean-language media, Shin added, as its role is to deliver Korea’s news to the world while also addressing the international population within the country.

“English-language newspapers need to target content that is not being covered by Korean media,” he said. 

“Foreigners often run into difficulties in Korea,” Shin said, citing cases of miscommunication and physical violence involving foreigners. “It’s important for English-language media to shed light on them and then continue to follow up.

“We need to hear foreigners’ opinions and views more directly, through their mouths,” he said. 

On the difficulties English-language newspapers in Korea are facing as the traditional print media readership dwindles, Shin pointed out the need for governmental funding. “English-language media is like the face of Korea to the world,” he said. “Korean governmental officials need to be aware of how important that is. The question of budget is important.”

Shin added that editors need to harbor a “broader perspective” when commenting on national events.

“Reporters and editors need to understand what kind of news is significant from a global perspective,” Shin said. “Simply reporting on a Cabinet reshuffle in the Korean government and what it means for locals is not enough for English-language media. We need to comment on the implications from a broader perspective.”

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