Spirit of competition
As new managing editor of The Korea Times, I had a talk with the entire newsroom and supporting staff a la town-hall meeting last week.
At the start, I spoke for around 10 minutes or so about my sense of duty and some of my plans, which was followed up with a question-and-answer session.
I want to share some of it with you, readers, because you are part of our Times family and your support and understanding is pivotal to the success of any changes we are planning. I promise to let you know more as they happen, for instance in our coverage, in separate notices.
The first subject I talked to my colleagues about was change. My message was that change is not a matter of choice but of survival. I had some reservations about picking it as my top item in my keynote speech because it meant I took the same risk as leaders of organizations, big or small, of overpromising.
But I realized that it was inevitable because I believe we can end up as a lump of meat (I didn’t use this metaphor during the meeting) unless we face challenges and make adjustments to accommodate or reject them.
It doesn’t need repeating that the news business has been undergoing upheaval, forcing media outlets to sink or swim. Marquees in print media have gone out of business in other countries, and newspapers that are considered to be too big to fail in Korea are trying to beat the prophecies of their decline by branching out into television broadcasting.
Being faster in news delivery and economical in budget, Internet portals have long been breathing down the neck of the traditional media, and that includes The Korea Times.
So a fight for survival has been on for some time. We didn’t start this fight and it is part of the zeitgeist we are living with, but I have no intention to step back from it. Neither do I want to be satisfied with mere survival. I want to fight and win, meaning we should be the one to set new standards which the rest of the industry can model themselves after.
Do I sound overly optimistic or perhaps a tad unrealistic?
Maybe but I believe in the power of change. It is the one who holds the handle of the knife that wields it. Seeking the knife handle of change is like a quest for fire. I am a little carried away but I know my quest for fire will be focused on meeting the present needs of our readers and, sometimes and more importantly, finding and fulfill them in advance.
If I make this journey alone, it would be meaningless. If I make this journey only together with the Times staff, it would be meaningless, too. This journey can only be made complete when I, the staff and the readers make it together.
So I am inviting all of us on this journey that will surely be turbulent sometimes and exciting at others. It could also be boring as if stuck in the doldrums; or as dynamic as Korea.
During our town-hall meeting, one reporter asked me what specific plans I had for the Times, I had in my hand a piece of paper on which I had jotted down my what-to-do list but asked him for a waiver on my answer, saying that I wanted to minimize the chance of being caught for promising more than I could deliver. I thought that I would have a new list soon, which I want to fill together with the staff as well as the readers.
Still, I have a couple of principles by which I live by, which will be applied in my new job
First, it is an open-door policy with a twist. I said during the meeting, “The door to my office is closed but not locked. Anybody can come in but with a little effort to push.” Now I have done all the push so far to snatch anybody in sight for a brief chat. I am also inviting the readers to send us your thoughts.
Second, it is about pragmatism. I know that the word can be synonymous with indecision and lack of principle, if one practices it without caution.
I said that the Times’ quest for quality coverage and the discovery of new sources of revenue doesn’t necessarily go in opposite directions.
“If two rabbits split ways, we can still catch them both by chasing one and having a hunting dog catch the other,” I said.
Thirdly, I talked about the spirit of competition, recalling my favorite JFK commencement speech at the American University. I explained that it was a challenge to the rival, the Soviet Union, to compete not with arms but for the betterment of world peace. “I want to share that JFK’s naivete by which he obviously believed one man can change the world,” I said. I invited every one of the Times staff to be that one man and let our readers be the first to taste the sweetness of the changed fruit and spirit of competition.