Today’s youth have a lot on their minds. They spend days or even years agonizing about an uncertain future and struggle to survive. However, there is comfort in the famous words of Victor Hugo: “The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible, for the fainthearted, it is unknown, but for the valiant, it is ideal.” Shin Dongyeol asks people to reflect on themselves before turning a look of reproach towards state and society. The Sookmyung Times met Shin, a 30 years professional journalist and youth mentor.
You would have likely been asked this plenty of times, but could I know what made you become a journalist? Also, did you have other dreams before embarking on this one?
Nothing special or in particular sent me on this path in life. In my younger days, I used to imitate announcers and sports commentators on television. I guess that naturally mapped out my path in life and my direction towards journalism. I graduated from university in 1988, and same year, I took and passed the employment entrance exam to ‘The Korea Economic Daily’, so I didn’t consider any other occupation. However, whenever I felt stressed at work, I imagined becoming a teacher. A dream, though it might not come true, becomes part of your life, which is why I believe I enjoy talking and spending time with young adults, especially university students.
For students preparing the same employment exam, there are typically two common questions they are asked: why do you want to be a journalist, and what type of journalist do you want to be. Would you please let us know what you think the ideal journalist is?
Journalists are innocent. Upon entering the media company, I was determined to be a truly innocent journalist, so I vowed not to learn or play golf as that is one of the ways to become corrupt. Even now, I don’t know the game. While this is my take on the ideal journalist, for youth of today, I’d like to say ensure impartiality. Although some journalists regard power as evil, whenever I lecture students, I encourage students to consider ‘underdogma’, the idea that the weak are always more moral and right than their suppressors like major companies that show their power. I think it is also a prejudice. Plus, journalists need good writing skills. Think of a singer who can’t sing. If you are considering journalism, work on developing your writing skills.
You’ve had a career of 30 years. What is your most memorable article?
I would have to say one of the cover story I wrote for ‘SaengGeulSaengGeul’, a newspaper for middle and high school student. The article dealt with homosexuality. It discussed Korean society’s view of homosexuality and whether Koreans, who once denounced it openly, are becoming more tolerant and accepting. The day after it was published, a homophobia wrote me a letter expressing great discontented with the article’s content. I respectfully replied, and the person wrote me again. Corresponding over several days, I realized Korean society was divided sharply because of ideology, thoughts, district, and so on. Nowadays, young Koreans are often heard saying being different is not wrong, but when we reflect on this new tone, it means that Korean society regards being different as being wrong. Society cannot advance with these ideas, and it was the coverstory article that allowed me to consider and realize this about society.
Few journalists make the jump to television reporting. How did you get your TV break?
Working in the international department at the media company, I was approached with the idea of doing news briefs on The Korea Economic TV. I lacked confidence at the time, so another person grabbed the chance I failed to take. It was 10 years later that I got another opportunity. I didn’t want to miss this chance, so I accepted. I realized something. If a door opens, you walk in. Though you are new and lack experience, do your best and adapt. If an opportunity knocks, open the door, grab the chance.
Throughout your book you emphasize reading and writing. However, at university today students are producing short quick sentences. Could you explain the reason why reading and writing is important?
University is just a warm-up for social life. No one can survive solely on warm-ups. You need to live and enhance yourself even after university. One simple item will help chance your life. It’s a book. Through books, people look back upon themselves. In society today, so many young people complain of tiredness and stuffiness. They need to reflect on their lives. After examining yourself and you feel you’ve done your best in life, then you can start to look at society and the system. However, unless you look inwards first, life will always be too much. Thus, to change your life, read. In an era of SNS, usefulness of writing is more important than in any other generation. 10 years ago good writers were overlooked. There was nowhere to show their ability, but now the time is right. There are more ways than ever to show your talent.
Writing well leads to opportunity and it is interesting. What tips do you have on becoming a good writer?
First of all, to be a good writer, you must first write. For instance, you cannot learn to swim if you do not get in the water. You cannot learn merely from a book on the shore. You need to get in the water. Like swimming, to be a writer, you need to write and write a lot. Second, always title your work. People read based on titles. Keep your sentences short and concise. Longer sentences may cause boredom among readers. Practice diving longer sentences into simpler and shorter sentences. Avoid the use of subordinating conjunctions like because, although, and so on. By following these rules, your writing will naturally become cleaner and quicker. Abstain from using the word ‘about’. While it usage will make writing easy, your writing skill will not improve. Avoid repeating the same word too often. For example, instead of ‘say’, you could use ‘tip’, ‘regret’, and ‘emphasize’. Also, use of credible quotations makes your writing carry conviction.
In your book ‘My life in 10 years’, you write, ‘Even though the social ladder is disappearing, There are still people who became rich of successful despite of their poor environment. ' However, wouldn’t it be better for youth to change a smaller stream to a river, to the sea , or to the ocean?
Yes, the social ladder is vanishing from society, but as faint as it is, the social ladder still exists in Korean society. While the past valued physical labor, today idea runs the world. If you are willing to get it, there are many opportunities for success. Think about Airbnb. Airbnb is a huge lodging enterprise, yet it doesn’t have any physical structures for accomodation. Widening smaller steams and creating rivers and expanding rivers into vast seas are the roles of society and a nation. In order words, whether it’s a stream, river, sea, or ocean, dragons do not solely occupy the waters. There are also plenty of fish and octopodes. In all societies and all generations, the strong and the weak will exist and must coexist. That is, one must work for their success.
What are your plans for the future?
Schopenhauer once said today is a small life. The value of today is important. I rate myself high when I do well in the place where I am. Because I’m working at SaengGeulSaengGeul now, I want to better its readability. While this is not a big plan for the future, it is my immediate plan. I also hope to read and write more, and before I am much too old to connect with young adults, I want to communicate more with them.
Though concepts like Hell Josun exist, there are a number of young determined adults struggling to make their dream come true. Would you please leave a final message or word of advice for them?
I would like to end our chat with the parody words of Victor Hugo: For those who prepare, there are infinite possibilities. Hell Josun is a gloomy portrait of Korea. I hope to hear the term Heaven Korea in the not so far future. The world has always been led by positive people. Soil becomes a masterpiece ceramic art piece when it is in the hands of a master artisan. I leave you and the readers with this last question to ponder: Are you going to live your dream or lay in bed dreaming?
- Graduate of the Department of English Language and Literature at Korea University’88
- Started at ‘The Korea Economic Daily’ on December 5, 1988
- General Manager of the Economic Education Research Institute at The Korea Economic Daily
- Production Manager of ‘SaengGeulSaengGeul’, a newspaper for middle and high school students