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A Humble Man With a Challenger's Soul
'Without making mistakes ... you can't be a good journalist'
Byun Yoo-seok (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2008-01-27 12:34 (KST)   
The following is an edited article from the first OhmyNews English News Camp, held at our Ganghwa Island school, Jan. 12-13. Twenty-one students, aged 13-18 took part in learning the ABCs of news writing, and interviewing IHT reporter Choe Sang-hun. More articles will be published on OhmyNews International after our second camp in February.  <Editor's Note>
Journalist Choe Sang-hun was the first Korean to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He received the award in 2000 for his distinctive way of reporting about the massacre at No Gun Ri.

The massacre was carried out by American soldiers in the Korean War. They killed hundreds of Korean civilians. Mr. Choe wrote about this affair in a way that did not blink from the truth even in the face of controversy.

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Mr. Choe was at OhmySchool to give a lecture about his life as a journalist to teenagers studying journalism and writing.

Mr. Choe studied at Hankuk University. Not knowing exactly what he wanted to do for a living, one day he and a friend applied for a job at the Korea Herald. He hadn't yet learned English, but needed to use it immediately. It was quite a challenge for him. He needed to study a lot. Mr. Choe refused to be frustrated by the difficulty, however.

"If something is challenging, it also means that it is exciting" he said in his lecture.

Mr. Choe's optimism served him well. After working hard at the Korea Herald, he eventually received a job offer from the Associated Press.

"I said, why not?" he explained. Mr. Choe wound up working for the AP for 11 years.

He later moved on to become a correspondent with the International Herald Tribune. It had been kind of boring writing similar stories for the News wire at the AP over and over again. Instead, he wanted to choose what to write for himself. He also wanted to focus on certain topics in an in depth manner.

The fruit of this decision came with the honored Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Choe also explained to OhmySchool students what is important in order to be a journalist. "You need to be a good writer to be a good reporter," he says, "and to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader."

He said good reading is not just reading a lot, but reading thoroughly, involving a careful process of thinking things through. To do this, he suggested three questions to ask oneself while reading any book:

'Why is this book good?'
'What did the author do with this sentence?'
'What word makes this sentence good?'

He emphasized the 'why?' thoughts when interviewing a person too. Mr. Choe always thinks briefly about 'how?' and 'why?' before going to meet an interviewee.

"That brief thinking is not mandatory, but it's a must," he said. "And that thinking doesn't just fly through your mind without challenging."

He said that we always need to take challenges, and that we shouldn't be scared to do so. Learning to be a journalist was in this way similar to learning how to ride a bicycle.

"Without making mistakes and craving embarrassment, you can't be a good journalist."

The year 2000's Pulitzer Prize winner ended his lecture with this aphorism and the students gave him a warm round of applause.
Byun Yoo-seok is a high school student from Seoul.
©2008 OhmyNews

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