Though the university press depends on the financial affairs of the university office, the infringement of editorial control has long been debated. Thus, students seeking a solution to this problem turn to the idea of an 'Independent Press'. Though the press began well, difficulties arose due to the fact that the press is being organized only by students.
What Is Independent Press?
Independent press is news media that differ from the mainstream media. They tend to look at a problem from a broader perspective and advocate non-mainstream interests, such as the poor, certain labor groups and hidden facts from the top of the social pyramid. It is also called ‘alternative journalism’. Representative members of the Korean independent press include 「Ohmynews」, 「Newstapa」, 「Slownews」', 「Ddanzi Ilbo」, and the 「Huffington Post」 (a foreign example), which can be easily encountered on SNS.
Independent Press in University
The University Office eventually undertook massive restructuring and some university-controlled press reported on this fact. A chief editor professor even impeached critical articles about the university and asked the student reporters to balance the critical articles by reporting good news. This was because the university press is controlled by the University Office. For example, in 2013, an article about the cancellation of a Samsung labor union forum was blocked by the chief editor in the Sungkyunkwan University press 「Sungdae Newspaper」. And the publication ceased production for the following two months. Reporters in the university press felt a lack of affinity with the existing dependent structure and thus established an independent press to allow for more objective reporting. They chose independent editorial control, instead of giving up budget support, which involves press censorship.
In Universities located in Seoul, including Kookmin University, Chungang University, Sungkyunkwan University, independent press first came into existence around 2012. Before these, the 「SNU Journal」 of SNU (Seoul National University- since 2001) and 「Yeonsei Duri」 of Yonsei University (since 2004) had already been in circulation. 「Edae Alli」 of Ewha University and 「Sejong Alli」 of Sejong University only began their publication this year.
The 「Kookmin Journal」, first published in September 2012, ran into trouble when one of its official reporters came into conflict with the university due to collecting data about the 'duty of dormitory meals' and the 'merging and abolishing of departments'. Though the 「Kookmin Journal」 is serviced by only a small number of reporters, they are second to none. In December 2012, they were awarded a special prize in the 'university student field' by <sisa in>.
In order to learn more about this issue, the Inha Times met with 「Kookmin Journal」.
The Inha Times(IT) : What motivated you to join the 「Kookmin Journal」?
Kookmin Journal : Most journalists would have joined because they love to write articles. Though articles are hard to write, it feels great to receive a positive response.
IT : What is the goal?
Kookmin Journal : The raison d´etre of journalism is to guarantee the public their right to know. An independent press is no different in this respect. Added to this is the fact that we want to be a sustainable press and it’s hard due to the limitations we face. We won’t, however, give up.
IT : How difficult is it to work as a reporter for the independent press?
Kookmin Journal : We were plagued with financial problems at first. As the newspaper is internet-based, financial worries were never a major concern. But now we are suffering from a shortage of labor. We need more reporters to keep the newspaper going.
IT : What is the most rewarding moment?
Kookmin Journal : The biggest thrill for a reporter is an article that receives an enormous response. I feel a sense of satisfaction when the issues raised by an article are talked about by students.
IT : What kind of article do you want to write?
Kookmin Journal : The Student Union fee has recently become a problem on the Facebook page 'News Delivered on Behave of Kookmin University'. Students have complained about a lack of transparent accounting. So, we plan to feature the student union fee dispute.
The 「High Quality Zzirasi」 is published in the face of university interference. The official paper of Sungkyunkwan University writes articles about a foundation 'Samsung Group' and interviews a temporary professor's union. In turn, Sungkyunkwan University ceased publication of its official paper several times and was known to even cut certain newspaper articles. As the 「High Quality Zzirasi」 often published articles that run against the actions of the university, the reporters use their pen names to allow them anonymity and freedom from retribution by the university. Students respond positively to the independent press. One student said, 'I watch the news frequently because it seems freer from the university’s interference.
The 「Periscope」, of Chungang University, is published by some student reporters that migrated from the official paper. They said, 'The media is not doing its job.' The meaning of title Periscope is that they give you a view which is hidden or obstructed (the periscope of a submarine). In other words, they seek to objectively ascertain the truth.
Ongoing Trouble at the Independent Student Press
All independent university presses face several problems. First are monetary difficulties. The reporters can't receive a manuscript fee nor expenses because there is a lack of funding. They even bear the cost, out of pocket, of printing the newspaper. Indeed, 「High Quality Zzirasi」 had to temporarily suspend publication, in 2016, due to a lack of funds.
The second problem is a manpower shortage. Those students that first stared their university’s independent press in 2012 have now graduated. Thus, new capable and passionate reporters are required, and these are not as easy to find as one might hope.
Thirdly, independent student presses often face great difficulties in covering certain stories due to their tenuous relationships with their universities. Even certain university employees have shunned interviews with them. Meanwhile, there is also the fall out of stories to consider. Though student reporters can write articles without constraint, they have to take full responsibility. The 「Hufs Alli」 of HUFS (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies), for example, was accused of reporting a professor's sex scandal. Though the case was wrapped up by taking away the whole quantity of newspaper, the accusation was hard to endure for the students.
Why Independent Press Is Needed
For all the problems it faces, an independent student press is a vital pillar in opposition to censorship and for freedom of speech. The 「Periscope」 bitterly criticized Chungang University and their university’s sponsor group 'Doosan' that pressed ahead with restructuring. They also criticized the Cauon (official press of Chungang University) for its lack of response regarding the university's incursion into editorial control. Secondly, it upholds the right of every student to know what is happening in their university. The 「High Quality Zzirasi」 exposed its university’s promotional plan for a 3rd Campus. The plan was disclosed to the students and put on the agenda. In the end, the university’s arbitrary plan fell to pieces.
Our society is becoming increasingly diversified, and under these conditions, we need to have different ways to look at those matters that concern us most. Thus, an independent press and its freedom from censorship should be welcomed. The official press of each university also needs to overcome their limits and universities need to reflect upon how they obstruct the freedom of their presses. Hopefully, both kinds of press will contribute to the advancement of Korean universities.
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