A foreigner’s first-year experience of Jeju oftentimes mirrors The Jeju Weekly publisher’s sentiments regarding her first year overseeing the newspaper: turbulent, challenging and emotional.
“I am most proud of making this weekly survive,” Song Jung Hee said. “And we are really proud of the newspaper becoming better; in general, I can see this publication improving issue by issue in terms of content.”
As the island’s one and only English newspaper celebrates its first anniversary, Song reflected on the past year and offered insights into its future. Unlike a foreigner’s penchant to leave the island sooner than later, Song is determined to have the paper rooted in the local community. However, it may not be easy.
“I would not have started if I knew making a newspaper would be this difficult,” Song quipped. “It was a very naive idea.”
Many problems stand in the way. These include funding, a revolving carousel of freelance writers and an almost non-existent English fluency level among the island’s native population.
A mission can overcome these odds.
Song cites two main goals driving the paper since its inception. First, she wants to reveal the hidden cultural aspects of Jeju by promoting the island in a real way, rather than the ubiquitous, tourism brochure way. Second, she wants to serve the foreign community.
“I had an experience living in the United States for five years and I could speak English, even though I was not fluent,” Song said. “But most foreigners here can’t speak Korean.”
“You have to understand what foreigners might feel,” she added. “Most government officials and most people don’t actually know how difficult it is to live without understanding the language.”
Song has assembled her life puzzle so far in creating The Jeju Weekly. Utilizing her previous journalism experience, an American Master’s Degree in English education and local government translation work, together with husband Kim Gyong Ho – a journalism professor at Jeju National University and the paper’s executive editor – the dream has become a reality.
Song, a non-native, first moved to Jeju seven years ago and was captured by the island’s environment and quality of life. Finding herself doing translation work for tourism brochures, she noted that specific work promoting Jeju was a fossilized image of the island. It was not real. That idea was always alive in her mind.
Song credits the suggestion of her husband and strong partner to finally start the great idea.
The birth of the newspaper comes from Song’s desire for “Jeju to promote itself not through government officers’ voices, but through foreigners’ voices.”
“This voice is more real, more genuine, and livelier,” Song said. “Most of the literal English translation does not touch the English-speaking community.”
Today, in the spacious office inside City Hall’s Venture Maru building, Song directs approximately eight office workers and 10 freelance writers for the roughly 4,000-circulation bi-weekly newspaper. In addition, the recently created monthly MICE magazine is published, which is a new tourism brand, whose acronym stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions.
How to fund the entire operation is always a concern. The paper started with out-of-pocket spending. Gradually, it has been covered more and more by government funding, such as from the provincial government, the Jeju Free International City Development Center and City Hall. The shortcomings of a government-assisted newspaper are clear, but the publisher is crystal clear in her convictions.
“This newspaper is different, it is not the government mouthpiece,” Song said. “We are not doing this for the government, but for the readers.”
Certain stories the government may want covered, according to Song, are going to be written about regardless of where the money comes from.
“The newspaper needs to be unbiased, with a perspective and an identity,” she said, in reference to the creative and colorful paper’s half-newspaper, half-magazine feel. “Jeju needs this long-term communication tool.”
In addition, Song would like to see in the future the newspaper and the other two English news media outlets–one TV and the other radio–have a synergistic effect.
“We need to get together and with cooperation, play a bigger role,” said Song, projecting the newspaper’s goal into the future.
Foreigners are an important key to the process, especially the paper, the publisher noted. They serve The Jeju Weekly, which in turn serves Jeju’s English audience.
Song plans to be there every step of the way.
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