The Korea Times 칼럼

신문의 운명: Fate of newspapers (2011년 5월 7일)

divicom 2011. 5. 7. 08:47

April ended with a marriage ceremony and May began with a killing or death as far as newspaper reports were concerned. The front pages of Korean dailies, like their fellow publications overseas, were splashed with photos of British Prince William and Kate Middleton during their ``wedding of the century” on April 30. Owing to their efforts, Koreans could see his upper lip pressing her philtrum and his lower lip between her lips.

The first papers of May had everything about Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader shot dead in hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Sunday by a “brave yet small” team of Americans. The front page previously occupied by the royal couple carried the solemn portrait of bin Laden or the American crowd celebrating his death on Ground Zero, where al-Qaida planes cut through the sky high Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, claiming 3,000 innocent lives directly or indirectly.

While some readers found the photos and articles on the marriage and the death fascinating, others, especially those concerned about the future of print journalism saw the latest editions as yet another telling sign of why it is dwindling. It doesn’t mean that they were unhappy with the news; both came after 10 long years of waiting for more than a few readers on the globe.

The point is newspapers cannot compete with Internet or Twitter or even television, let alone have leverage over them, if they continue to work as now. They can’t beat the news on-line or the so-called social network in terms of speed or sensationalism. Think about the news of bin Laden’s death which was first circulated via Twitter.

Sometime in history when life was simpler than now, newspapers could thrive by fulfilling the basic requirements called 5W1H: who, what, where, when, why and how. Today, however, papers need to do more in order to just survive. They need to ask ``why” louder and more tenaciously, because that probably is the only way by which they can sustain their raison d’etre in this era of Internet and social connections. They also need to ask one more, if not the most important, question to retrieve the respect the olden-day papers used to enjoy and that is ``So what?”

The wide coverage of the wedding of Prince William and Middleton might be natural for the papers in Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations and even the United States for obvious reasons. But why would Korean papers devote that much space to the ceremonies? Even the so-called progressive papers like Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang dailies did the same thing. Okay, the ceremonies were flawless and splendid, so what?

There is more than one ``why” to ask about the death of bin Laden, too. Did the U.S. team have to kill him? Weren’t they capable of catching him alive and bringing him to justice? Was it ``just and fair” to throw the dead body into the high seas? It is widely believed that the United States is a nation governed by the rule of law. Did President Barack Obama have the notion in his mind when he declared “Justice has been done” in the end of his remarks reporting bin Laden’s death?

As Obama aptly warned, bin Laden’s death won’t mark the end of al Qaida operations. Likewise, no big event would end the necessity for serious journalism. News stories are like mayflies in that they usually die in one day. Some may wonder, therefore, why journalists should bother so much about what to put in their papers. They may point out that newspapers are ``news papers” today but will be disposable tomorrow.

The funny thing is what journalists write today becomes history someday. When a big article and photograph consumes a big portion of the newspaper whose inches are limited unlike the Internet, there inevitably will be casualties ― smaller articles on smaller people yet with their own justifiable positions in the pages of history. That is why journalists need to be serious about the allocation of space in their papers. They shouldn’t determine the size of an article by the volume of information or the length of press releases they are fed.

As for the royal wedding, a photo and a related article on the international news page would have been sufficient if it didn’t forget to mention that the British royal princes serve their nation in military uniform, compared to the many sons of the rich and powerful in Korea.

I hope Korean journalists will remember the founding spirit of ``Dongnip Sinmun (Independent Newspaper)” launched in 1896: ``let the people know about the government affairs in detail and let the government know about people’s lives for mutual benefit.”

There is a saying that your character decides your destiny. If the newspapers want to dismiss prophets of their doom, they need to return to where they have come and when they knew what to say in how many words.


4월은 영국 윌리엄 왕자의 결혼식으로 끝나고 5월은 오사마 빈 라덴의 죽음으로 시작되었습니다. 이 두 대조적 사건에 대한 기사와 사진은 우리나라 신문들의 1면 톱을 차지하고 여러 면을 장식했습니다. 1면에 클로즈업 되어 실린 왕자와 신부의 키스 장면을 보며 생각합니다. 왜 이 두 사람의 입술이 어느 위치에 있는지 우리가 알아야 하는 걸까?


우리나라는 영국도 미국도 영연방 국가도 아닙니다. 소중한 신문의 지면을 남의 나라 왕가 결혼식에 그렇게 많이 써버릴 필요가 없습니다. 우리 신문이 이 '세기의 결혼식'을 다루는 가장 타당한 방식은 '국제면'에 사진 하나와 기사 하나를 넣는 것입니다. 이 타당성을 잊고 지면을 낭비함으로써 우리나라 신문들은 스스로 3류 옐로우 저널리즘의 기수가 되었습니다.


빈 라덴의 죽음도 신문의 지면을 쓰나미처럼 휩쓸었습니다. 우리나라 기자 중에 빈 라덴 가까이 있었던 사람도 없고 빈 라덴 살해를 결정한 미국관리들과 막역한 사람도 없으니, 기사는 모두 외신에서 받은 것들입니다. 


문제는 이 두 가지 사안이 이렇게 많은 지면을 삼켜버리면 꼭 들어가야 할 작은 기사들이 잊혀진다는 것입니다. 어떤 일에 대한 정보가 많고 보도자료가 길다고 해서 그 기사가 크게 실려야 하는 것은 아닙니다. 어떤 기사를 몇 페이지에 걸쳐 실을 때는 꼭 그렇게 해야만 하는 타당한 이유가 있어야 합니다. 그 기사로 인해 다른 기사들이 빠져야 함에도 불구하고 그것을 그렇게 크게 실어야만 하는 이유가 있어야 한다는 겁니다. 보통 시민은 신문의 지면 한두 줄을 얻기도 불가능할 때가 많으니까요.


'신문의 죽음'이 멀지 않았다고 얘기하는 사람들이 많습니다. 성격이 운명을 만든다는 말이 있습니다. 신문이 지금과 같은 성격, 아니 성격이라고조차 할 수 없는 선정적 편집을 계속한다면 '신문의 죽음'은 기정사실이라는 생각이 듭니다. 부디 신문 본연의 임무를 상기하기를, 신문은 인터넷이나 텔레비전과 어떻게 다른지를 보임으로써 인터넷와 소셜 미디어의 시대를 뛰어넘어 살아남기를 간절히 기원합니다.