If it’s good news, it’s fit to print“Good-looking people should appear more on the news than the ugly,” said Song Jae-chun, as he looked at a newspaper photo of a politician on a hunger strike.
But the publisher of Thanks to All, a newspaper that banishes ugliness from its pages, is no shallow snob. He clarifies his statement: “What I mean is good-hearted people.”
A TV commercial running these days shows a young woman asking a shop owner, “Do you happen to have a television that airs only good news?” The owner smiles, and the next thing you see is the woman enjoying her ideal TV program. But such a thing doesn’t exist except on paper ― Mr. Song’s paper. It contains all the news that’s fit to print, just as long as it’s positive.
Although the main Korean newspapers splash the latest campaign finance scandal on its front pages, Mr. Song, 62, chooses to distance his weekly from such depressing news and instead covers uplifting stories, such as people donating their internal organs for the needy. His newspaper can be accessed online at www.thanks2all.com.
“I wanted to share heartwarming stories with more people, to make a better world in the long run,” Mr. Song said with a smile, “and according to my own research, mine is the one and only newspaper dedicated only to the good news, which makes me proud.”
What also makes Mr. Song proud is that he keeps the newspaper running all by himself. Starting with a search for story ideas, Mr. Lee writes, photographs, edits, designs and distributes the paper. He even came up with a reader-friendly font of his own, which is bigger.
When he first launched the paper in 2001, Mr. Song had stories not only from Korea but from all around the world, in various languages. Without a staff, Mr. Song cannot keep his paper printed in different languages, but he prints the third page of the paper both in Korean and in English. “Within the foreseeable future, I’m planning to print more news in English, French, German ― you name it,” he said.
Mr. Song didn’t start his career as a journalist. After earning a master’s degree in social welfare, he spent most of his life in his field. While working for the Holt Children’s Services as its president, Mr. Song came across a number of hidden philanthropists. “I felt weary of reading about corruption and scandals on the newspaper every day,” Mr. Song said, “and I thought there should be a place for the stories of people who do good and remain anonymous.”
Calling such stories midam, a Korean word meaning laudable stories, Mr. Song’s ambition is to spread the use of the word and get midam into Webster’s Dictionary.
Good news doesn’t cost much, with a monthly subscription costing only 6,000 won (about $5), but it doesn’t pay much either. Operating costs are covered by a group of well-meaning sponsors, some ads and even Mr. Song’s own funds, but he’s running more than 1 million won in the red annually.
Still, Mr. Song said the lack of money makes him feel less anxious, less greedy and more appreciative. “On my way from an interview, I get this feeling of happiness that I’m living in a world of good people,” he said.
Not being the country’s biggest paper just yet, Thanks to All has a circulation of 1,000 at the moment, but Mr. Song remains undaunted. During an interview in his humble office in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul, Mr. Song fielded phone calls from people asking how to subscribe to the paper, answering the phone in cheerful tones and closing the conversation with the admonition to “be happy!”
Mr. Song’s pool of readers may be small, but it crosses national borders, with readership reaching even Europe. Thierry Bonem, a banker based in Luxembourg, Europe, who met Mr. Song at Holt Children’s Services, has been an avid reader of Thanks to All since the launch.
“In this world of daily bad news, I have low expectations upon reading what’s happening,” Mr. Bonem said. “But it is so heartwarming and rewarding to open Mr. Song’s newspaper.”
One of the downsides of having a one-man staff is that the newspaper cannot be typo-free, but that’s a characteristic common to papers with 500 times Thanks to All’s staff. Mr. Song’s paper sometimes contains errors such as “the building’s construction started in 1997 to be completed in 1990,” but that does not matter much to his readers.
Even thought he’s determined to be the bearer of good news, he’s a little discouraged that it is getting harder to find story ideas.
“It takes time to discover good stories,” Mr. Song said, “but these days, it takes even more work to get the story ideas. I guess people are getting more hard-hearted these days.” Earlier this year, Mr. Song suffered from a shortage of worthwhile stories and was forced to print his paper biweekly.
Many good stories are discovered by chance. One day while he was having his shoes polished, he saw that the shoeshiner had only one arm. Out of curiosity, he said to the man, “I guess you worked very hard at your former workplace.” The shoeshiner gave him a shy smile and told him that it resulted from a traffic accident.
Mr. Song made friends with the man and learned that he was sharing his marginal earnings with those in need. After eight months, Mr. Song persuaded his shoeshiner friend to tell his story for his newspaper.
The do-gooders Mr. Song finds often wish to remain anonymous, which makes his job harder. He also has to wander around the Peninsula to get good stories. “I am the Vagabond Song,” he said, jokingly.
But the hard work pays off when once he sits down with these people. “After the interview, I come to feel that the world is still worth living in,” he said, “and that’s what makes me keep going.”
by Chun Su-jin