The difficult but ever-sought rank of a top reporter in N. Korea

Carrie Balle, July 16, 2019, 9:18 a.m.

North Korean photographers were captured on video overzealously snapping photos of leader Kim Jong-un during his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the border truce village of Panmunjom late last month. They trained their lenses right in front of Kim's face as he shook hands with Moon, prompting the North Korean leader to shoo them away several times until they were eventually ushered away.

The scene prompted some South Korean netizens to hail the "true journalistic spirit" of the reporters, who on some occasions risked their necks craning out of cars to get a better shot. But their enthusiasm was not motivated by a paparazzo's greed for the most candid shot but rather their desire to prove their loyalty to the supreme leader.

Only a select handful of reporters working for the official Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central News Agency are granted access to Kim, and their frantic zeal is explained by the evaluation they have to undergo after every event to see who took the best photos of him.

North Korean reporters are appointed by the Workers Party based not only on their abilities but their ideological zeal. A North Korean association of journalists rates reporters on a scale of one to six based on their seniority and achievements.

But more important than their ranking is their title. Depending on their achievement, they can earn titles like "meritorious" or "people's" reporter.

A reporter with around 30 years of experience at a major state outlet will be in his or her late 50s and can be given a three-room apartment by the state.

But a "people's reporter" can be given a car, an honor not even first-generation revolutionaries can always rely on.

Only a very small number make "people's reporter." Most barely earn enough money to make ends meet even though they are if anything more overworked than their South Korean counterparts.

Yet getting the job is a distinction in itself. Reporters either come from a privileged background or marry into a wealthy family. The Rodong Sinmun may appear to be repeating the same propaganda hailing and praising the leader and state, but their work needs to pass a rigorous vetting process. 

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