How often do you watch the news on TV? These days, there are many other ways to get the news such as online, radio, YouTube, and SNS. Therefore, there is a massive amount of information provided by people from diverse backgrounds. As an audience, we must hone our media literacy skills to determine whether such information is true or false. Two journalists try to convey the real issues of the world through the media and broadcasting. SMT met Jen Kwon (Kwon Saeun) and Kim Harim, who are active in the media representing the United States and Korea.
Before we start the interview, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Jen Kwon: Currently, I am the digital journalist for CBS News, one of the three major broadcasting stations in the United States. Before, I was the Asia Producer at Sky News (24-hr. news channel in the UK) Beijing office, radio host for a Beijing radio station, and freelanced/interned for AP Television Network in both Beijing and Seoul. Now at CBS, I mainly write articles or do radio news reports on the Korean peninsula or help produce content related to coverage on Asia.
Kim Harim: I am a journalist working in the Future Planning Department of TV Chosun. My career has been mainly in the economic field, and I focus on special reports of the economy and consumer complaints. I was a co-host of a program called 'CSI Consumer Expedition' that promoted a healthy consumption culture. In addition, now I am operating a YouTube channel called 'This Is Reporter Kim,' and recently started to cover the parliament, following updates on the Minjoo party and the upcoming presidential election.
You both graduated from SMWU. How have your studies and undergraduate activities helped you as a journalist?
Jen Kwon: I majored in the School of Communication & Media and developed an understanding and interest in journalism. I also took an English Language and Literature class in the first semester of college, where Professor Stephen Van Vlack taught entirely in English. Writing essays and getting feedback became my solid base in English. You can't get that valuable insight at prep schools or academies. The following year, I went to China as an exchange student at their best media university. That lead me to hosting a radio program for Beijing Bilingual Radio 774 in English and Chinese. Also, I was the vice president for Sookmyung Interpretation Volunteers; I learned how to be a project manager and did simultaneous interpretation while participating in various international events.
Kim Harim: I graduated from the Division of Law, but I joined SBS, the broadcasting system of SMWU. And from then, I thought of working in the media as my dream. The most helpful activity was a mentor class with a journalist from The Dong-a Ilbo. Jen and I met in that class, and we learned how to report and do research which helped me later when I became a journalist. Most of us now work as a journalist so being able to support each other has become our greatest asset of college life. Through various activities in SMWU, I wanted to be a person who brings a positive influence to society and speaks out, so I dreamed of becoming a reporter from then.
You both have worked as a journalist for a long time. What was your most rewarding moment as a journalist? Please tell us about your most memorable reports.
Jen Kwon: My work used to send me to crazy places. Sometimes they would ask me if I could cross the Amnok River. But I did go to Xinjiang, China, or flew to the middle of the Pacific for a typhoon story. Recently, I had a chance to interview Ryu Hyunwoo, the former North Korean deputy ambassador of Kuwait, whom every journalist wanted to interview. Another major network interviewed him, but I heard the interview didn't go smoothly. Therefore, I prepared additional questions to induce the interviewee to feel comfortable. After the interview, journalists from other broadcasting systems and CBS praised me, so I felt rewarded. Also, in my first year of work, I produced a documentary called 'The Defectors' which was filmed in Korea for a week. Later, I was very proud to find out that it had been accepted into the Berlin Human Rights Film Festival.
Kim Harim: I remember while covering consumer issues, we managed to change the cleaning systems of hotels. By installing a hidden camera in hotel rooms, we could record how the rooms were cleaned. We discovered that after the toilet had been wiped with a towel, cups were then wiped with the same towel. I interviewed the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism and talked about the hygiene of the hotels. After exposing this controversy, the Ministry eventually updated the sanitary conditions when judging hotels. Since then, hotels have changed their hygiene systems. Another thing that I was most proud of was an exclusive on the Jungin Case. Reports of the one-year-old had surfaced, but evidence of the abuse was unknown to the public. I succeeded in obtaining the CCTV footage of her adoptive mother violently abusing her. As it was the day before Jeongin's adoptive mother's trial, there was a huge uproar against her, and it was eventually used as trial data.
Jen, what do you think is the difference between the overseas and domestic media environment?
One of the cultures that I like about the Korean broadcasting company is that the seniors guide the junior reporters. In Korea, it's possible to get advice, but when I asked for feedback in the United States, all I heard was "this is not a school, we hired you as a specialist, no one has time for feedback." I felt stuck and alone, wondering if I was going in the right direction. Another difference is that there are some limits in Korea when reporting. For example, I undercover reported in Xinjiang, China which is a dangerous area so there is a possibility of getting detained. Our team was able to report various stories from the region and was the first foreign media to do live news from Kashgar. Reporting in Xinjiang is not encouraged in Korea, and there might be pressure as diplomatic ties with China are safeguarded.
Harim, through the YouTube channel 'This Is Reporter Kim', you cover issues in the social, economic, and cultural fields. Why did you start the channel and what is your main goal with it?
I think that the media is very one-sided, and the credibility of the Korean media is very low. So, the younger generation mostly gets their news through YouTube. Therefore, I wondered how young people would react to issues and wanted to communicate with them. That's why I started my YouTube channel. Also, I thought it was necessary to verify fake news spread online. I deal with issues that are not covered by the television news such as famous influencers. I think I have achieved my goal as there are more than 30,000 subscribers and most of the subscribers are from teenagers up to those in their 40s. It's good to learn by encountering new media and getting various feedback. My biggest goal is to put out a valuable message and influence society through YouTube.
Then, what is most difficult about working as a journalist and how did you overcome it?
Jen Kwon: CBS is an enormous organization, but I am the only journalist working in Korea, so it's hard for me to be in charge of all of the Korean Peninsula's news. It is difficult to obtain and verify data on North Korea by myself, but since the articles have my name on them, I need to take responsibility. For example, recently, Kim Jongun lost weight. I can't blindly quote local media or write claims that he went under surgery. I have to cross-check videos or photos of him walking, the length of his watch, and wrinkles. I need to be creative to build up my ground.
Kim Harim: The biggest concern is that since articles come out under my name, I have to have confidence in the information. Like the saying "the pen is mightier than the sword," it is essential to recognize that pens can save or kill people. I sometimes get criticized by others, but I solve these difficulties by talking to my colleagues and advising each other.
Please tell us about your value as a journalist and your future goals.
Jen Kwon: What I must not forget when reporting and writing articles is that records remain forever. Videos of my reports will be uploaded on YouTube, and there will be students studying while watching the news. Therefore, I should keep a balance while writing so that I don't write incorrectly or exaggerate, and I must double-check facts and figures. I am not sure what the future will hold, but currently growing as an amazing journalist roaming around the world, building bridges between different cultures is my goal.
Kim Harim: The role of a journalist is to convey information. When I write an article, I try to write it so that even second-grade middle school students can understand. Conveying important information in an unbiased way that people can easily understand is what I aim for. Therefore, my goal as a journalist is to play a role in correcting unknown or wrong information.
Last, do you have any final words that you would like to leave for Sookmyungians?
Jen Kwon: It's necessary to make allies. It is precious to have people who support you and who can constructively tell you your faults. I hope Sookmyungians can make such precious ties at SMWU. After all, it's great to have women supporting each other. Another thing is to celebrate your small success. You don't have to start grand, but with your sweat and tears, you will build your career. Keep your people by your side while rejoicing your achievements along the way so that you can push forward.
Kim Harim: The process of exploring yourself through various activities seems to be the most important. Sookmyungians will be looking for activities outside of SMWU, but in fact, our school has prepared more than you might think, so get as much from college as you can!
- Freelance Journalist in various media companies (Seoul, Beijing) (2007~2021)
- Second Host of Beijing Bilingual Radio 774 (2008~2012)
- Asia Producer in Sky News, Beijing (2012~2015)
- Digital Journalist in CBS News (2019~)
- TV Chosun (2012~)
- Political Department of TV Chosun (2022~)
- YouTube Creator of 'This Is Reporter Kim' (2020~)
- Awarded 'Reporter of the Month' from Journalists Association of Korea (2014)