Change of pace for CNN journalist

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Change of pace for CNN journalist


All elections are fascinating, but for Paula Hancocks, CNN’s Seoul correspondent, the upcoming elections in Korea will be a special treat to cover because politics here change so much faster than in other countries.

“Things are changing so much, even just in the time I’ve been here,” said Hancocks, who arrived in January 2011. “As soon as the mayor was elected, all of sudden, all the traditional political parties started panicking. They realized that they were dated. They all of sudden got to rebrand themselves and realign themselves with other parties and started listening to the people.”

From an international point of view, the changes in Korean politics are fascinating to follow, she said.

“It is quite unusual for an independent with no political affiliation or no ties to any party to get a very powerful position in the country,” she said. “The Seoul mayor had no affiliation [when he was elected], and it shows the public is pretty much tired of all the bipartisan politics. You see that also happening in the U.S. and U.K. It is a trend happening around the world, but in South Korea, it is really fast.”

Hancocks, who has been with the network for 15 years, was previously posted in Jerusalem. She arrived in Seoul on Super Bowl weekend and immediately started work on a story about football player Hines Ward and biracial issues in the United States and Korea. Born to a Korean mother and an African-American father, Ward has advocated for biracial people here.

Just weeks later, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan hit while she and her team were filming a report on the bustling streets of Myeong-dong, central Seoul, about how easy it is for Koreans to pay for everything with credit cards.

“As soon as we heard the news, we managed to get on the plane in the afternoon to Osaka. And we flew up to the affected area the next morning,” she said. “We were still the first international team to reach the affected area. The team in Tokyo drove up to the affected area, but unfortunately, the roads were so bad that it took them 28 hours to get there.”

Hancocks, who has covered natural disasters and wars throughout her career, said it was heartbreaking to see the aftermath of the disaster.

“All natural disasters are absolutely heartbreaking,” she said. “I covered the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, so I thought I was prepared for what it would look like. But every time you see a new one, you just have to take a breath.”

While it is horrific to see what nature can do, she said, “One thing about a natural disaster is that it always restores my faith in human nature.”

In addition to covering natural disasters, she has also covered a number of wars, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the conflict in Gaza. She said what she remembers most is the people, rather than the events.

“I remember this one fisherman in Japan who lost everything,” she said. “He talked about how he carried his wife up to the hill to barely escape the tsunami. They had a 30-foot tsunami wall, and they assumed nothing would come over it, but he watched it collapse. His story was so engaging. And he was apologizing for crying in front of me. I was amazed he was still concerned about how he was coming across. Those individuals, you remember.”

After little more than a year in Seoul, Hancocks said she has found that Korean audiences not only get their news from television, but also frequently visit the CNN Web site.

“It is such a wired country,” she said. “Everyone can access news wherever and whenever they want.”

She said the Internet and new media environment has completely revolutionized the way she works.

“All of the sudden, you have so many sources of information. You have social media, Facebook, a lot of citizen journalism,” she said. “And I have my Twitter, and Koreans especially love Twitter. It’s definitely a very good way of reaching people. I update the online part quiet often.”

Hancocks was quite amazed to see a sudden jump in Twitter followers shortly after she came to Seoul.

“I didn’t realize how popular Twitter is here,” she said. “I had followers in Israel, but as soon as I got here and started tweeting, thousands started following me. I should tweet more.”

A native of Monmouth, South Wales, Hancocks said journalism was the only job that she had ever thought about doing after growing up listening to the interesting stories told by her mother, who was also a journalist. Hancocks joined CNN in 1997. Prior to arriving here, Hancocks was based in Jerusalem starting in July 2008. She covered the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, and the report won the Edward R. Murrow Award.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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