Korea Times New York

A Korean Lesson

By Marcin Szczepanski, Nowy Dzeinnik/Polish Daliy News, April 6, 2003.

In Korean, “nodutdol” means “springboard”; a springboard that shoots toward a new life of wealth and freedom—including the freedom of speech. Nodutdol is also the name of an organization which in recent weeks has flared the tempers of many Korean immigrants. And in the foreground of the entire affair stood Korea Times New York—one of the most distinguished Korean newspapers in New York City.

The storm started with a front page article in the Korea Times: “The Anti-American Meeting at the Korean-American Association.” The article was re-printed in the New York Times and Newsday. On Mar. 13, 2003, Yong Il Chin, one of the main editors of the Korean newspaper, wrote that at the association’s headquarters, built and maintained by immigrants, a meeting of “anti-war protestors and enemies of America will take place.” The “enemy of America” label referred to the group Nodutdol (the springboard) for Korean Community Development. The group has about 50 members and its headquarters are in Woods, Queens. Nodutdol consists of young, Western educated leftist activists, whose sympathies lean toward communist North Korea. The group members were scheduled to meet at the association’s headquarters for a so-called anti-war teach in.

“These people are beginning to penetrate the very core of Korean culture and they might cause Americans to regard the entire Korean community as anti-war supporters,” warns Yong Il Chin in an interview with the New York Times.

On Apr. 2, in an interview with Nowy Dziennik (Polish Daily News), Chin added,

“The group Nodutdol organizes trips to North Korea, where young people are indoctrinated, after which they return to the United States and spread their dangerous beliefs.”

North Koreans represent one percent of Korean immigrants and, until now, any conflicts within the Korean community were quietly contained. However, considering the growing danger of recent North Korean nuclear developments, combined with President Bush’s inclusion of the country in the “axis-of-evil,” the Korean community in New York felt the need to re-assure Americans about their loyalties. Nodutdol’s leader failed to persuade the public that “anti-war does not mean anti-American.” The Korea Times article caused an avalanche of phone calls to the headquarters of the Korean-American Association, as well as severe damage if not the end of the political career of Andrew Kim, the group’s leader. Kim dropped out right before the elections, deciding not to attempt another term as the president of the association.

In the end, the several hours before the Nodutdol’s scheduled meeting, the Korean-American Association banned them from organizing any “teach-ins” in their building. The group’s leader, John Choe, insists that the meeting’s agenda was to discuss a trip to South Korea.

“This event represents the generation gap,” 54-year-old Andrew Kim explained. “The majority of Koreans hate communism; the older generation has terrible memories of North Korea and communists. Also, the older people believe that the young just do not understand the past.”

In this instance, as in the past, the Korea Times took the anti-North Korean stand. With a 40,000 daily circulation, the paper is the largest Korean publication on the East Coast, aimed at the middle and upper classes.

“Our aim is to be a liaison between American legislation and the Korean community, while remaining objective,” says Yong Il Chin during an interview at their offices a week before the Nodutdol scandal. Yet, a month later, when asked by Nowy Dziennik (Polish Daily News) if his paper would publish and open letter from Nodutdol’s leader, the answer was, “That depends on its content.”

Who are you here to see?

The grey two-story building is in Long Island City. There is a large vertical sign in Korean and another, horizontal and much smaller, in English. Both say “Korea Times.”

“Who are you here to see?” asks a secretary greeting guests. After several attempts to pronounce the full name, I gave up and asked to see Mr. Kim.

“OK, great!” I hear in reply. “And which Mr. Kim would that be?” after which she rattles off several first names. Eventually, Yong Il Kim comes down a winding staircase and then we go upstairs to meet his boss, Kyu Kim.

The New York division of the Korea Times is just one of 10 offices in the United States; its headquarters are in Seoul. The other U.S. divisions are in cities such as Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago and even in exotic Hawaii. Still others are in South America and Europe—wherever Korean immigrants have settled. Despite being a local edition of a newspaper based in Korea, the New York edition has full and independent editorial control, says Kyu Kim who fulfils the duties of editor-in-chief.

“Sometimes the point of view presented in Seoul is different from ours. We decide what we write,” says Kim. “Our reporters are free to write on any subject, including the sensitive North Korean issues.” However, the editor-in-chief admits, “We do consider the community’s reaction to any given article.”

The newspaper, published in New York in a format similar to the New York Times, covers city events on pages 2 and 3 and Korean community issues on page 4. National events in the United States are covered on page 5 and business and economy columns are spaced from page 7 to 10. Entertainment and sports fill out the rest. Each New York edition gets a supplemental copy of the Seoul edition of the Korea Times.

“What do we usually write about?” repeats reporter Yong Chin. “We cover everyday life of immigrants, taxes, education, and immigration law, potholes in the roads, crime and small business.”

60 journalists

Currently, the Korea Times employs 200 people, including 60 journalists. The paper has access to news services such as Reuters, Associated Press and other agencies, in addition to signed agreements to re-print articles from the New York Post and NY Daily News.

The New York edition of the Korea Times was established in 1970. Its current editor-in-chief began in November 2000, having previously worked for Korean newspapers in South America, Sao Paulo and Europe. The paper occupies a rather large building, but its heart beats in just two rooms. The first, located on the ground floor room, is the advertising department. More than 10 people, sitting shoulder to shoulder, are typing furiously and sometimes picking up the ringing phones. Leaning slightly to the back, they spy on the computer screen of their neighbor. There is a strict productivity policy in place. The journalist’s room is a mirror image of the ad room, except that it’s located one flight above. Like in the previous room, there are many people sitting in rows in the center and against the walls of the room and typing on their keyboards. All is done under the boss’ watchful eye, whose desk is located about two meters from the workers’ rows. Scanning the room, he sees the diligently lowered heads of his journalists.

One of the heads belongs to Hwi Kyong Kim, a young female reporter and the paper’s rising star. Hwi mostly covers stories about young Korean immigrants and second generation immigrants. Her special interest is Korean children adopted by American parents.

“Ten percent of all Koreans in the United States, which means about 100,000 people, were adopted as children and brought to the United States to meet their new parents,” informs Hwi, who speaks excellent English. The young journalist has spent five years outside Korea and was selected for the Korea Times position from several dozens of other applicants. She went through training at the Seoul offices and then arrived in New York in August 2001.

“At first, I was quite surprised. In Seoul, I belonged to a privileged majority. Suddenly, in the United States, I found myself in the minority. Sometimes, I have problems gaining entry to a concert or an event, because I am working for an ethnic paper,” she says, but emphasizes that she has not encountered racial discrimination in New York. Her dream, which she shares in a lowered voice, is to work for one of the American papers. “I would very much like to see the American media taking a more profound interest in immigrants, to cover political issues in our communities, not just our food and culture,” Hwi says. She is aware that the young generation is not as hostile toward North Korea as the elders. “The young generation would like to see both of the countries united,” emphasizes Hwi Kyong Kim.

The paper’s offices at 27th Street in Long Island City also house the printing facility. Huge rolls of papers in the back await their turn under the presses, while in the courtyard trucks await the brand new edition, still fragrant with fresh ink.

New York has the second largest Korean population in the United States after Los Angeles. In New York, the numbers of documented immigrants hover at around 200,000 and experts estimate the number of undocumented immigrants at 100,000. In New York City, 62 percent of people of Korean descent have settled in Queens. The largest concentration is in Flushing, followed by Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Long Island City.

The recently arrived

The first Koreans arrived in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century. According to professor Kye Young Park of the University of California in Los Angeles, 7,226 Koreans were brought to Hawaii to replace the striking Japanese plantation workforce. The next immigration wave occurred after the American intervention in Korea in 1953. War orphans found themselves on American soil, as well as lovers and new wives of American soldiers and sometimes their children. These people were the first Korean immigrants to New York.

In 1965, another wave of immigration began and lasted until 1985. Professor Park estimates that during that time about 465 thousands of Koreans stepped off ships and airplanes. Until 1976, when the law limited professional workforce, immigrants were mostly middle class: doctors, dentists, scientists and economists. Their success in the United States can be traced to their Korean background. The emphasis that the first generation placed on the education of their children brought positive results, and now sociologists and politicians point to Asian immigrants as “model immigrants”; a group who quickly achieved the financial status of their American middle-class counterparts.

The high education level of an average Korean influences the number of publications available in Korean language. Four daily newspapers and at least two weeklies are published in New York City alone. The majority of Koreans in the Big Apple have some sort of business, mostly small shops, warehouses and dry cleaners. Evidence of this can be seen in the large business section that usually takes up several pages in all Korean publications.

Like all newspapers, the Korea Times often feels the pressure from various political and business groups. “Large Korean businesses are trying to constantly influence what we write,” says editor In Kuy Kim.

Mr. Kim tells it like it is: “Any story that’s published is there because it’s viable for our community, not because some large firm has bought lots of advertising space.” Listening in on the interview, Young Il Chin adds, “We are always stepping on someone’s toes. But that’s the core of any journalism, including ethnic.”