All the news that gives fits in print

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All the news that gives fits in print

The year 1896 marks Korea's initial step into magazine publishing. Daejoseon Dongnip Hyeophoebo, which tried to awaken a sense of nationalism in its countrymen, made its debut that year. Today, 33,334 publications, some weekly, some monthly, appear in Korea, ranging from the usual news magazines that deal with political issues to hobby and lifestyle magazines that tackle subjects such as plastic toy models based on animated movies. J-Style introduces a monthly series called Korea in Magazines, to give readers a sense of the pulse of Korean society.


Sex and drugs, but no rock'n'roll

The Shindonga, a monthly magazine, ran an exclusive five-hour interview with the actress Seong Hyeon-a, a Miss Korea winner in 1994 who made headlines in March when she was caught and imprisoned for using drugs such as ecstasy.

The actress had published in December her nude photos on the Web site, but with an estimated 4 million users simultaneously trying to get a peek at her, the service had to be shut down the next morning. In addition, the site was attacked by hackers, and soon the pictures were available everywhere. Ms. Seong talked openly about the reason for agreeing to the nude photo shoot, as well as the Korean entertainment industry, where some actresses and other celebrities are sponsored by so-called second-generation jaebeol sugardaddies in exchange for sex.

In the interview, the actress disputed the notion that she had the nude photos taken just for the money. Ms. Seong cited how she rejected a 1 billion won ($833,000) offer by another firm, saying that she accepted a far lower offer, although she did not disclose the amount.

In the later part of her interview, she talked openly about the connection between some actresses and the sons of Korea's richest families. She stated that some actresses have made it big by befriending themselves with the rich and powerful, in exchange for more than just friendship. "I don't blame anyone who wants to make it the fast way," she says. "Nevertheless, anyone who chooses to do so has to know that it's like living with a bomb." While she admitted that she also received such offers through her manager, she said that she declined them.

The actress cited examples without giving specific names of cases where the power of the sponsor had catapulted his woman into stardom. She added that rumors in the Korean entertainment industry about who was dating whom and who gained the juiciest roles because of her connections were often true.

In the interview, Ms. Seong talked about her life after the drug incident, the death of her stepmother and her troubled childhood when she lost both her original mother and sister. As for why she took drugs, the actress emphasized that she wanted to use them as a catalyst to start fresh and leave everything behind.


Defending an unpopular verdict

The Monthly Chosun had as one of its cover stories an article about the National Defense Ministry's confrontation with the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths. After an investigation, the commission announced in September that Private First Class Heo Won-geun, who was shot to death in 1984, did not commit suicide, but was killed by a drunken superior. But a special inquest by the army reaffirmed on Nov. 28 that the death of Mr. Heo was in fact a suicide.

The monthly magazine conducted an interview with a couple members of Mr. Heo's former company, including Roh Yang-sik, 55, the sergeant first class at the time who was accused by the commission of killing Mr. Heo, and Jeong Soo-sung, 58, a three-star general who headed the army's special committee.

The magazine also conducted an interview with Mr. Chun, only identified by his last name, who was the only witness from Mr. Heo's company who testified in favor of the truth commission.

The commission announced that Mr. Heo was accidentally shot by Sergeant Rho, who was drunk after a party and had gotten into a brawl. It also said that the then company commander covered up the accident by labeling it a suicide. Nevertheless, the army's investigation concluded that Mr. Heo had indeed committed suicide, as he could not bear the pressure of working for the company's commander.

The monthly magazine defended the article in the Chosun Ilbo, the monthly's sister daily, that at the time published an article questioning the truth commission's announcement, even as other publications bombarded the National Defense Ministry with accusations of staging a cover-up.

The Chosun put its weight behind the army's investigation, noting the most recent findings of the investigation, such as a statement given by a company member who claims to remember Mr. Heo asking him what would happen to someone who shot himself with someone else's weapon.

In its article, the magazine included an in-depth interview with Sergeant Rho, who pleaded his innocence. He also said that he was willing to forgive Mr. Chun and talk to him if Mr. Chun would reveal the truth before Mr. Rho proceeds with a lawsuit against the commission for defamation of character.


Don't cross us. We're already cross

The Sisa Press, a weekly news magazine, used the words "arrogance" and "bias" on its cover headline to describe a Wall Street Journal article that printed the wrong picture of the newly elected Korea President Rho Moo-hyun.

The article gave background information on Karen E. House, who wrote the offending article. In its article, Sisa argued that the strong stance against the North and criticism shown in Ms. House's article has much to do with the conservative opinions of Ms. House. Sisa pointed out that Ms. House had written another column with a similar tone back in 1997. One question that the weekly magazine put out in the open was whether the Wall Street Journal and Ms. House had the expertise to back up the assertions. After a visit to North Korea in 1991, Ms. House claimed that North Korea would follow in the footsteps of the Eastern European countries after Kim Il-sung has died. This prediction was also mentioned briefly in the article.

The magazine suggested that the Journal's tone has much to do with it representing the interest of American firms. Sisa gave an example of how the Journal defended UBS Warburg and Merrill Lynch when both companies were penalized by Korea's Financial Supervisory Service.

Another article in its economy section dealt with the changes in the system of how Korean companies promote their employees. This is the middle of the promotion season in Korea. In its article Sisa explained how new promotion systems have changed the culture of Korean companies, where human resources departments hold a lot of power and employees are eager to please their direct superiors who are responsible for filling out their performance reports.

The article points out that companies are increasingly using promotion systems based on more logical and scientific bases, as opposed to the older, more hierarchical promotion system that depended more on who an employee knows. The article analyzed how after the Asian economic crisis many conglomerates, such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai, introduced these new promotion systems to increase the productivity of their employees. The magazine briefly cited the example of Korea Express, a firm that underwent court receivership in 1998, but made it back into the black three years ago, in part because of changes to its promotion system.

by Brian Lee

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