[SCRIVENER]The care and feeding of reportersAmid all this talk about embedded reporters, it might be useful to remind the world that North Korea pioneered the concept a long time ago.
For many years, journalists from the Rodong Shinmun and other leading organs were embedded with the late Great Leader Kim Il Sung as he toured the country giving his famous on-the-spot guidance, without which, we must admit, North Korea might have become a more developed country.
I’ve been reading about this recently in a book about his son, Kim Jong-il, now the leader of North Korea, called The Great Teacher of Journalists, which I got from Amazon.com.
It is one of those works which you can open at any page at random and find deep truth. I’d like to share one such example.
One day in 1963, the anonymous author writes, the two Kims were scheduled to climb Mount Baekdu on the Chinese border to give some on-the-spot guidance. When the embedded journalists got out of bed in the morning and set off up the mountain, they bumped into Kim Jong-il.
“Have you had breakfast?” he asked solicitously. This is still a common greeting in North Korea today.
They replied that the food wasn’t ready. The kitchen comrades had prepared the rice and side dishes but were still working on the soup. The reporters said they planned to eat after the Great Leader’s on-the-spot-guidance event up the mountain.
This kind of situation probably happens on the road to Baghdad. If you were an officer, what would you do if the reporters embedded in your unit woke up to find that the cornflakes weren’t prepared?
Sensing their feelings, the Dear Leader said with a kind smile: “Today is a memorable day when the Great Leader will climb Mount Baekdu. So you must make full preparations for collecting information. If you start right now, you may miss a meal. I can’t allow you to start without having your breakfast. You have no time. So, you should go to the dining room and take that which is ready.”
This simple suggestion cut through all the red tape. But it also perplexed them because they weren’t sure as Koreans whether it’s actually possible to eat meals without soup.
He then demonstrated the kind of dear leadership that can’t be taught. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. He himself walked into the dining room and proposed they all start tucking in together.
“Comrade journalists, there is no need to stand on ceremony. Now, come nearer and sit down,” he said. And, according to the book, he “himself led them by the hand to seat them at the table.”
Needless to say, the stories that day were positive.
As this account shows, whether you’re struggling to build a socialist paradise or simply invading another country, good media relations are essential.
But reporters can’t be bought off just with meals. You can feed some of the press all the time, and all of the press some of the time. But you can’t feed all of the press all of the time. There’s simply too many of them.
The way to win them over and make sure they tell your side of the story is to win their hearts and minds by understanding and acknowledging their struggle. This, frankly, is hard if you haven’t been a reporter yourself, which of course Kim Jong-il claims he has.
“I myself have written a great deal,” he is quoted as saying, “and from my own experience I know that writing is most difficult. Therefore, those who treat, assign and write articles can be called heroes.”
Accordingly, he has rewarded deserving editors and repor-ters with awards such as People’s Journalist, Merited Journalist, Labor Hero, and the highest honor of all, the Kim Il Sung Prize.
I think this is something that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair should think about. Instead of just providing the embedded reporters with free meals, they should arrange for them to be welcomed as heroes when they return. That way they won’t be tempted to write bad stories.
* The writer is managing director of Merit/Burson-Marsteller and author of “The Koreans.”
by Michael Breen
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?