[VIEWPOINT] One Less Edition Changes Our Industry

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[VIEWPOINT] One Less Edition Changes Our Industry

What is the "New York Times Test?"

Let's take an example. If a law firm in New York has to make a final decision on something very controversial and sensitive, one of the important criteria for judgement is that "even if this becomes a front-page story in the New York Times, we should be confident that there is nothing wrong with our decision." That is the "New York Times Test."

I , though having worked more than 20 years in journalism, only recently heard this phrase. A lawyer mentioned it as we talked about the JoongAng Ilbo's recent decision to abolish the gapan, which literally means "street edition," or first edition of the next day's morning newspaper, which is distributed in downtown Seoul in the early evening.

While mentioning the New York Times Test, the lawyer, who is well-versed in newspapers, said he hoped the JoongAng Ilbo's abolition of gapan would lead eventually to the phrase "the JoongAng Ilbo Test" in Korea.

Few people have pointed out the core meaning of JoongAng Ilbo's abolition of the gapan as precisely as he did. His comments go to the root of the matter - that this simple change can bring great change to our society and the press. Actually, not many people know what gapan means. However, if I explain the word as "tomorrow morning's newspaper, which you can buy on your way back home after work at a newsstand," people would understand.

In the evening, some kiosks located in downtown Seoul sell the gapan. You can see people reading the gapan newspaper in the subway.

By the way, many people who read most passionately the gapan newspapers are not office workers on their way back home but people from important institutes and major corporations who have to check the newspapers and the newspaper reporters themselves. The mission of people who check newspapers at night is to delete or cut news articles that reflect badly on them or have positive articles played more prominently.

And it is the mission of reporters to take note of stories in other newspapers they might have missed or confirm their own reporting. Surely in this procedure, reporters and editors find things that need to be revised, but in many cases they are troubled with inappropriate requests to change articles from outside checkers and eventually all the newspapers make the change to look the same.

What happens if all the gapans disappear? One week has passed since JoongAng Ilbo abolished its gapan. If you could see what has changed during that one week in the JoongAng Ilbo newsroom, you would understand why the abolition of gapan is one of the important movements of "press reform."

First of all the newsroom has become more prudent. Because the people who read the gapan more passionately than reporters themselves are not there any more to do the checking, reporters cannot help but be prudent and cautious. And I can enjoy a more peaceful and restful night after leaving work now, because there are no more phone calls requesting article changes or deletions.

For reporters, checking the other papers in the evening, answering phone calls from outside checkers and arguing with them, skipping meals, and going back to work the next morning exhausted have become things of yesterday. But the responsibilities of people on duty at night have become larger. They have to do night duty more arduously for their colleagues who will be back in the newsroom the next morning. Their colleagues will rush to the newsroom themselves when an important story breaks.

If all the other newspapers abolish their gapans, their reporters, too, will have an easier time. A small change, the demise of the gapan, has produced a ripple effect: prudent and careful reporting, improved quality of the newspaper, reporters using their time more productively, elimination of inappropriate outside influence, and an endeavor for transparency in our society - things good for press reform.

JoongAng Ilbo has abolished the gapan, but it still has many things to do to promote press reforms. In the end, if criteria like the "JoongAng Ilbo Test" are established, our society will be better.

The writer is a chief economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil

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