Reading List: Why South Korea isn’t a die-hard U.S. ally

The recent slashing of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert is a good example of how things aren’t always as they seem, especially when it comes to U.S. foreign policy.

Before the attack, Lippert had embraced Korean culture: He gave his newborn son a Korean middle name and took walks with his dog, saying hello to the locals who approached.

So what happened?

In a nutshell: Opposition to American troops in South Korea.

Koreans haven’t always loved the presence of about 29,000 U.S. troops, and the acquittal of U.S. servicemen whose vehicles struck and  killed two Korean girls in 2002 exacerbated Korean feelings. Some also blame the U.S. for the division of the Koreas.

More broadly, it comes down to Korean nationalism and the desire to kick out its “big brother protector.”

South Korea’s sometimes strained relationship with the U.S. is important to understand and is likely to evolve over time in response to moves by the region’s other power players: North Korea, China and Japan.

Catch up with these stories (some of which have been linked above):




Protecting the legacies of David Carr and Bob Simon

In an industry already floundering, the deaths of two of its biggest and best journalists couldn’t have come at a worse time.

A worst time not just in the immediate aftermath of the Brian Williams debacle and Jon Stewart’s announcement but in the overall growing pains of an industry trying to find itself amid a society vastly different from it was 20 years ago.

David Carr, as many have ruminated on, was “the critic and champion” of journalism. Nothing I write here can better hit at the crux of who Carr was than what’s already been curated here and poignantly stated here. He was devoted to shepherding new generations of journalists and was as critical of his own work as he was of others.

Bob Simon, of similar ilk to Carr, embodied all of what it takes to be a foreign correspondent. Never afraid of confrontation or danger, he said what he meant and meant what he said.

As Daoud Kuttab of Al Jazeera eulogizes:

Quiet and determined, he would never write his script before seeing his images and his images were almost always filmed in his presence after he had met and become acquainted with the people he was reporting about. That is why when Simon produced his television reports, you could see and hear poetry. His words and images were a unified rhapsody where every frame and every word had a meaning. His stand ups were never fake or taped near comfortable hotels; they were from the heart of the stories he was reporting.

Losing him in such a mundane way seems almost blasphemous to his reputation.

So with the deaths of Carr and Simon, where does the industry go next?

Can we trust that other well-prosed and respectable voices like Carr’s will emerge to hold journalists and the industry accountable? Can we rely on the media to be more self-aware in Carr’s absence?

The outpouring of grief in the wake of Carr’s death suggests two things: One, obviously, that he was so well-respected and well-liked by many in and out of the industry; But two, that without him, the future of journalism is screwed.

It’s like everyone was saying, “He was it, guys. He was our best shot of making it through these uncertain times.”

What does that say that one man was the end-all, be-all in media criticism? He wasn’t the only media critic, but certainly he was the only who mattered.

Simon’s death leaves a crater in careful, meaningful journalism that has largely been absent in broadcast journalism. His passing mirrors that of the passing of quality broadcast. In the Vietnam War era, the era that Simon came of age professionally, broadcast changed history. It did what print could never do. That’s given way to talking heads and infotainment, to the Powers-That-Be who preach fear-mongering over truth, and who believe their audiences need their hand held on almost all matters.

The deaths of Carr and Simon should leave us in the media with a desire to do better and be better. Be more reflective on our work and of others, be bold with our reporting and remember to always serve the reader first. That’s really the only way to protect their legacies.

Double-tapping North Korea

There’s nothing like an AP photographer Instagramming life in North Korea to make your countless #selfies and #foodstagrams feel even more superficial.

Thanks to David Guttenfelder, the hermit country is a little less isolated with his snaps that go beyond nuclear weapons and the DMZ. There are photos of commuters and a playground, and of course, there’s Dennis Rodman. (He captured a pic of Rodman before he arrived for his first North Korean visit).

As Wired explains, “In January it allowed foreigners to carry phones; in February it activated a 3G network for visitors. As the AP’s chief photographer for Asia, Guttenfelder now sends out images from the Pyongyang bureau and posts daily to Instagram. In a country without the Internet, a reporter with social media is king.”

What a king he is.

Guttenfelder has made the country more accessible, allowing the country not just to be confined to the international section of newspapers and the framing of cable news’ talking heads.

Yes, North Korean life is what we’ve come to expect with Instagrams of militarism and a farmer towing a wagon (with user @jasminepahl offering the best comment: “Quite a different life for this housewife of Orang county.”). But life there also is about water parks and bowling (though probably not for any farmers).

Mundanity has never been so intriguing.

And of course, Guttenfelder wouldn’t be a true Instagrammer without posting some cliche (or classic?) shots with a North Korean twist.

Food? Check

Lunch. Kaesong, DPRK.

A post shared by David Guttenfelder (@dguttenfelder) on

Throwback Thursday? Check

Mirror selfie? Check

Funeral shot? (remember when those dominated headlines?) Check

Instagram’s founders had set out to make the world “more connected through photos.” Guttenfelder has definitely done that.

For more “eye opening” Instagrams, Mashable has complied a list of 14 photogs (including Guttenfelder) worth following.

The ‘black hole’ of freelance reporting

While nearly everyone has discussed the  shrinking newsroom and the impact it has on local communities, what hasn’t garnered attention is the shrinking newsroom’s impact on freelancers, particularly international freelancers.

As the New York Times’ Bill Keller notes, those who cover international issues without the security of a news outlet often face far greater danger than the average journalist.

“Without even offering a contract or a formal assignment, which at least implies some responsibility, news organizations ask independent reporters to pitch completed stories or photos after the rental cars have been paid for, after the work has been done — after the risks have been taken,” he writes.

And those risks haven’t always been worth it. The “digital era” that the industry is currently basking in allows instantaneous communication and almost unfettered access to all part of the worlds. But with that, comes an issue of quantity over quality.

Take for example Assad’s chemical attack in August. Keller writes that while “the outside world learned almost instantaneously of the horrific August chemical attack in Syria, the flood of social media was contaminated by misinformation (some of it deliberate) and filled with contradictions — enough to let the regime and its supporters blame the massacre on the rebels with an almost straight face.”

So why the digital era is great (or at least better than when print was the reigning source) for readers to obtain news about nearly every country in the world, its advantages can also be its faults. More so, the quality of news isn’t always worth the trouble freelancers sometimes have to go through to get it.

But that’s not to say readers don’t know of the dangers journalists go through. News of Richard Engel’s disappearance coupled with Daniel Pearl’s murder, both of who were employed by a major news outlet, show that much attention is given to journalists in dangerous countries. Yet, rarely is there news or a conversation on the dangers encountered by the often faceless freelancers who are killed, kidnapped or harmed while on duty. They’re often forgotten about.  

Keller’s piece, besides pointing out the dangers employing freelancers over regular staff members, reminds us all of a growing issue in the industry — that cost cutting can ruin lives just as much as it can ruin livelihoods.

More than just victims

I’ve been trying to keep up with some under-the-radar stories this week, and I found this one about a couple who met while fighting in Syria. (Keep your Rihanna “We Found Love”  jokes to yourselves.)

The wife, Nour al-Hassan, left her Assad-supporting family to fight against the regime and is considered one of her battalion’s best snipers. And the husband…

…Who really cares about the husband after reading about what she’s accomplished?

News stories I’ve read/seen about women in war are generally about how they’re victims. They’re widows, childless mothers, or rape victims. Never fighters or revolutionaries.

Granted, the lack of a female presence in combat could be attributed to the culture. But stories like Nour’s show that women’s roles in conflict are much broader and more diverse than what’s being reported.

The Washington Post and Reuters both wrote about the roles Syrian women have undertaken during the war, and while they’re traditional female roles (taking care of the wounded, providing food and clothing, etc.), they’re not helpless victims. They’re doing something to contribute to a cause they believe in.

I’m not trying to diminish stories covering violence against women. Those are important. So, so important. (Women Under Siege is excellent at that). But what I want from my news is a more nuanced picture of what’s really happening in war zones and I’m not getting that.

Kony 2012

If you’ve wondered what all of this Kony 2012 and #stopkony is about, here’s the video that explains it all:

Produced by the Invisible Children NGO, “KONY 2012 is a film and campaign that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”

For the past 26 years, Joseph Kony and the LRA have mutilated, killed, raped women and young girls, and abducted children to serve as soldiers. What really hit home for me was watching Jacob, a young victim of the LRA, say that death would be better than life after witnessing his brother’s murder and realizing that his future was hopeless.

Kony and the LRA have gotten intermittent attention from the media, but this viral campaign (which focuses on the power of the individual) seems like it could have enough oomph to make it as well-known as Sudan.

Learn more about the campaign at

21st Century Journalism’s New Spin on the Three Little Pigs

A very cool commercial from The Guardian about the impact of today’s media. Simply brilliant to use a classic story we all know to show the many hats media outlets wear.