[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Confessions of a nightly news

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[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Confessions of a nightly news

When I was in my early teens, my family got together every evening for dinner followed by a little television. I would hear Mom humming her favorite Carole King tune while cooking my favorite: fried meat patties coated with egg. Just about when dinner was ready, Dad would ring the doorbell, and Mom would send me and my little sister to greet him. We would sit for dinner, and without fail finish by 9 to ensure that Dad and Mom could watch the nine o'clock news.

The local networks used to insert brief spots right before the news started urging good children to go to sleep early. I hated those, and was lucky enough to have parents who let me ignore them and stay up and watch the news. Like them, I really relished the nine o'clock news. To my juvenile eyes, the anchors and reporters I saw on the screen were like evangelists crusading on behalf of justice, disclosing the truth behind, say, politicians' shadier deals.

Now when I look back on those days I'm aware that I cannot go back to my childhood, and feel myself ready to attack the news programs I once revered. After all, I'm now a grown-up and, moreover, a newspaper reporter. I admire television reporters going into a pit of garbage to show us how serious somebody's not-in-my-backyard situation is, but right after dinner? And the snippets of time alloted for each piece of news precludes in-depth reporting.

Lee Jae-kyoung, a professor of journalism at Ewha Womans University, used to be a TV reporter in the 1980s, and shares the view. "While local TV news programs tend to be long, each news item only gets a moment or two."

Two networks run their main news programs at 9 p.m., MBC-TV and KBS-TV, while SBS-TV primary news is at 8. KBS's program lasts 45 minutes, MBC's 40 and SBS's 35. Each consists of more than 30 items, allowing an average of 60-90 seconds per piece of news.

Mr. Lee says the bits need to be at least twice as long to ensure adequate reporting. "Local news programs use at most 15 sentences to report on most of their news items," he explains, "while NBC in the United States uses about 24."

Mr. Lee says the nine o'clock news tends to be a collection of action-packed sequences, especially when it comes to reporting traffic accidents. "TV news programs are going too visual," he said. "It's understandable, but somehow TV networks are trying too hard to run pieces that are eye-catching."

And reporters have insufficient time to do their reporting. "If one item is decided upon in the morning news meetings, a reporter has only half a day to finish the reporting," he said.

Despite all this criticism, when I'm 64 and with my grandchildren, I'll still be tuning in for the nine o'clock news. That is the habit-forming power of the television.

by Chun Su-jin

"What's on Korean TV" appears Wednesdays in the JoongAng Daily.
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