Korea Times History
(1) First English Daily Born at Height of War (Nov. 1, 1950)
The Korea Times published its first issue on Nov.1, 1950, at the height of the Korean War with the aim of publicizing the progress in the fratricidal war in and out of Korea. The publication of The Korea Times is the apple of the readers’ eye in English journalism, as it has survived as the longest running independent daily.
Dr. Helen Kim (1899-1970), the pioneer woman educator-journalist who was the first Korean president of Ewha Womans University, hit upon the idea of launching an English daily as a means to promote national publicity abroad in 1949 when she assumed the university presidency. Her plan was translated into action under the aegis of then American-educated president Syngman Rhee.
The first issue came in the form of a two-page tabloid with an inaugural editorial headlined “A Really New Start,” noting the national need for promoting goodwill, mutual understanding and cooperation with all nations over the world. The initial editorial team largely comprised a handful of English literature professors from Kim’s Ewha university.
(2) Watchdog Against Dictatorial Rule (Early 1950s)
The Korea Times had maintained close relations with the Syngman Rhee government but was later put in serious trouble with it as he turned dictatorial in steering the state and began meddling in its publishing work. The paper was at the front of leveling caustic criticism at Rhee’s authoritarian rule.
Rhee with an American educational background and an avid reader of The Korea Times, stopped the government’s purchase of newspaper copies and took steps to pressure Korea Times publisher Helen Kim into following the editorial line favorable to the government policy. The ever-growing feud with the recalcitrant Korea Times led President Rhee to think about founding a new English newspaper obedient to the authoritarian government.
In the face of mounting administrative pressure, The Times was put in a serious financial pinch. The paper was subsequently taken over by Chang Key-young, then president of the vernacular newspaper the Chosun Ilbo and later founder of the Hankook Ilbo. Chang, who served as vice governor of the Bank of Korea and later as deputy premier-economic planning minister, took the helm of the English daily on April 23, 1954, while running other specialized children’s daily and business newspapers on top of the flagship daily the Hankook Ilbo.
(3) Managing Editor’s Death on Duty (Sept. 26, 1958)
In 1958, The Korea Times suffered an unrecoverable loss as its managing editor Choi Byung-woo died in the Formosa Strait in the capsizing of a boat carrying a group of foreign correspondents on Sept. 26, while covering the Chinese Communist bombing of the Nationalist-led Quemoy and Matsu islands. Choi was 34 years old then. He was the first Korean war correspondent to die in the conduct of his professional journalistic job.
Choi set out on a mission as a news correspondent in May 1958, to cover the anti-Communist rebellion in Indonesia. He was assigned to both The Times and the Hankook Ilbo. After work in Indonesia, Choi moved to Taiwan where world attention was focused on Communist China’s bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu off the China mainland. The Times and the Hankook Ilbo held a memorial service for Choi at Kyonggi High School, his alma mater, on Oct. 11, 1958, with hundreds of mourners attending.
Choi was an energetic man of intellect with many interests. He had a tremendous zeal for things, which led him . though young . to become involved as a steersman of Korean journalism. He was the main inspiration behind the birth of the Kwanhun Club, a nuclear circle of dynamic journalists. Choi played a leading role in designating April 7 as “Newspaper Day” being observed by journalists up to this day.
(4) Thoughts of The Times.A Pioneer in Personal Journalism (Daily Essay Column Debuts in 1964)
The Times cultivated the American tradition of “personal journalism” and neighborhood news-gathering by providing a daily essay column “Thoughts of The Times,” filled with thoughtful articles contributed by figures from all walks of life at home and abroad. It has voiced the thoughts of housewives, scholars, diplomats, physicians, missionaries, businessmen, and journalists. The column was introduced by former managing editor Lee Kyoo-hyun in 1968.
Two managing editors Henry Chang and Hong Soon-il were under investigative authorities’ detention in 1958 and 1973 respectively for writing metaphorical articles in the Thoughts of The Times column. Chang’s article was one titled “Definition of a Gambler,” published on July 30, 1958. Chang, whose English name was Henry and better known by his pen name Hensyc, was arrested and jailed for 16 days for violating the law governing sedition under the Syngman Rhee government in connection with an article linking Middle East popular uprisings with Korea’s then uneasy socio-political situation under the Rhee government.
Controversy erupted again with articles by two American writers, Bernard F. Wideman and Orianna West, printed in the Thoughts of The Times on July 11 and 14, 1973 respectively. Wideman, a freelance writer in Korea, wrote an article about “kisaeng” (Korean barmaid), citing “A Modest Proposal” written by Irish satirical writer Jonathan Swift who was famous for “Gulliver’s Travels.” After Wideman’s article and its follow-up story were published, major vernacular newspapers carried the articles translated into Korean with critical comments on two foreigners’ views about Korean women. Then managing editor Hong Soon-il was taken to the intelligence authorities. The first writer of The Thoughts of The Times was the late Dr. Helen Kim, the then president emeritus of Ewha Womans University and the founder of The Korea Times.
(5) Fire Guts Korea Times Building (7 Dead, Inaugural Copies Burned in 1968 Blaze)
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, 1968, a fire completely gutted the main office of The Korea Times and its sister papers in Chunghak-dong, Chongno-gu, downtown Seoul, where the media group’s production facilities has been in operation for decades until their 2007 relocation to another site nearby. Seven workers were killed and three others were injured in the conflagration.
The fire broke out shortly before noon in the rotary press room when sparks from a welder’s torch fell on kerosene-soaked paper, quickly spreading to adjoining back shops and editorial offices. All mechanical and editorial equipment in the building, which housed offices and back shops of The Times and its sister papers, were completely destroyed. However, the fire left intact a new four-story building under construction behind the burned main building. This enabled The Times to continue publication without interruption with newlyimported Comet 300 linotypes and two new rotary presses fortunately already installed in the new building.
In spite of the fire, The Korea Times managed to issue a reduced Feb.28 edition of two papers by mobilizing typewriters owned by staff writers and loaned by sympathetic readers. During the restoration period, a number of readers and foreign organizations, including the American Embassy and the U.S. Operations Mission (U.S. aid mission), loaned typewriters to The Times while some readers donated them. The Korea Times had weathered the hardships and took refuge in a nearby office. The Korea Times recently moved to its current Chungmuro office where its production will be in progress for years to come. Its original office is now under reconstruction for remodeling.
(6) A Torchbearer in Cultural Dissemination (Literature Translation Awards in 1970)
The Korea Times sponsored a system of presenting the “Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards” in 1970 on the occasion of its 20th founding anniversary. The literature translation awards, introduced with an eye to getting Korean literature known to the world through qualified translations, has made a great contribution to promote the national industry of translating Korea’s literary works. Managing editor Hong Soon-il engineered the translation awarding work.
The first awards went to then English literature professor Chang Wang-rok of Seoul National University in the novel division for his translation of “Trees on the Mountain Slopes” (나무들 비탈에 서다) by Hwang Soon-won and Marshall R. Phil in short story for his translation of “Nami and the Taffyman” (남이와 엿장수) by Oh Young-su. In the poetry division, Lee Sung-il won a commendation prize for his translation of “As A Wild Flower” (들꽃같이) by Yu Chi-hwan, and W. Graham Weakley the same prize for “Oryuk-to” (오륙도) and “The Sea and I” (바다와 나), both by Yi Unsang.
First novel awards winner Prof. Chang’s daughter Young-hee, also a long-time essay contributor and now a Sogang University’s English literature professor, won the prize in poet division for a translation of “The Fragrance of Autumn” (가을의 향기) in 1980, when Cho Se-hi’s “A Dwarf Launches A Small Ball” was translated into English by short story translation division winner K.J. Chun, then at Songsim College in Puchon.
The translation awards, the first of its kind in Korea, is divided into four sections.novel, short story, poem and drama. Until 2006, 16 novels, 58 short stories, 29 poems and one drama have received awards in a total of 36 prize presentations.
(7) Forerunner in Media Modernization (Local Edition in 1974, CTS in 1982)
On Sept. 1, 1974, The Korea Times began to issue a provincial edition in a phase of innovation and expansion, which meant that the paper was delivered to readers in the provinces at the same time as those in the Seoul area. The Seoul to provinces readership ratio at that time was 58 to 42.
Around the end of 1982, the company introduced a full system of CTS (computerized typesetting) printing, a major mechanical innovation, on the occasion of its 34th founding anniversary. The Times published 12 pages everyday except for Monday. As Korea’s first English daily to produce the daily using CTS, it has been the forerunner in leading Korean media, armed with computerized updated manufacturing systems. The introduction of CTS put an end to the primitive era of linotype that had been in use for three decades since the 1950 newspaper founding.
The Times celebrated the 10,000th edition on Oct. 13, 1982, in a reception attended by hundreds of leaders in the political, financial, and cultural and social circles, as well as representatives of the international community and contributors to the newspaper. The dramatic improvement of editorial mechanisms as well as production capabilities were taken into consideration for the newspaper to be internationally recognized as an undisputed leader in English journalism. This led The Times to become the publisher of official newspaper of such several international sports as the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
(8) The Right Messenger for Int’l Events (Official Paper of 1988 Seoul Olympics)
The Korea Times’ publication of the official Olympic newspaper named “The Seoul Olympian” for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games was a milestone in the history of the English press. The official Olympic paper was printed with 64 pages every day plus a 124-page special edition containing full entries and another 404-page book covering the complete results and scores.
English journalism has no doubt made an outstanding contribution to getting the Republic of Korea better known to the outside world through either the offline or online networks through The Times’ never-ending publication of official papers for publicizing big international sports or events based on a contract with the government or government-funded agencies.
Recognized as the “right messenger,” which has played a leading role in bringing Korea to the world and promoting international understanding through its coverage of a wide range of global events, The Times has been an official paper producer for the Asian Games (summer, winter), the 2005 Seoul APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Forum, the Daegu Asiad, the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), the 2007 Inter-Korean Summit Paper, and other international events.
The paper’s never-ending publication of international events is a display of The Times staff’s unswerving spirit of professional zeal for becoming elite journalists.
(9) A Diehard Pro-Democracy Sponsor (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.Ardent KT Reader)
One of the “loyal” readers of The Korea Times was former President Kim Dae-jung who maintained his reputation as a leader in the democratic struggle against iron-fisted rulers. Kim, having no regular college education, said he learned English through reading The Korea Times and broadened his internationalized perspectives, thus helping himself become a global leader and to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. In an interview with The New York Times on the eve of his inauguration as president on Feb. 25, 1998, Kim said, “I learned English from an American Peace Corps volunteer and by tutoring myself, puzzling over The English language daily The Korea Times with a dictionary.”
In July 1978, Kim, then a dissident, was confined to a hospital room under tight guard after being released from prison following a guilty verdict being handed down on him for his role in what was called, “The March 1 Declaration for Democracy” by dissident intellectuals in 1976. In a note inscribed with a nail on a piece of scrap paper that was secretly delivered to his wife, Lee Hee-ho, Kim asked her to send him Korea Times copies to see what was going on in Korean politics.
The message, released by Cheong Wa Dae while Kim was in office (1998-2002), was on display in Stockholm along with personal effects of 30 other Nobel laureates.
Kim Dae-jung is one of the “exemplary students” who have succeeded in mastering English and globalizing their way of thinking through ENIE (English Newspaper in Education), a new format of educating students using English media.
(10) A Newspaper That Goes With the Times
A newspaper that goes with the times, The Korea Times! The paper marks its 57th anniversary today. The paper has been a mirror of the turbulent times of Korea, going through the difficult era of the Korean War (1950-1953) and the financial crisis of 1997-1998. In the face of ceaseless quandaries, The Korea Times has grown to be a leader in English journalism in Korea as a reliable provider of news on politics, the economy, foreign community, science and technology, sports and entertainment.
The Korea Times provides constructive, well-balanced news in its daily 20-24-page edition. A noticeable change in media policy under the current editorial managership steered by publisher-president Park Moo-jong and executive managing editor Lee Chang-sup is turning to a comprehensive treatment of wideranging global topics and its endless strife for improvement exemplified by in-depth business news in regular pages and feature sections.
The paper is coming closer to readers under its traditional policy focused on personal journalism through sharing burning thoughts and opinions in spaces expanded for intellectuals, diplomats, businessmen, and students. The Korea Times is henceforth earnestly playing the role of a bridge between Korea and the outside world with prompt and unbiased reporting of the news, and fair and just interpretation. What’s happening today? The paper has the answers everything!
The writer is English media professor Park Chang-seok at Kyung Hee University and the author of “History of English Newspapers in Korea.”.ED.