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2016-09-21 17:12
By Choi Ha-young

Cub reporters in Korea undergo a harsh training procedure called “satsumawari,” which refers to coverage training at police stations. The term originated from Japanese compound words meaning “police” and “rotation.” As seen by the word, young reporters rotate through three to six police stations in Seoul, covering police work.

This reporter underwent the course with cooperation from The Hankook Ilbo, the sister paper of The Korea Times, from Aug. 28 to Sept. 9. Other than well-known practices such as a lack of sleep and competition among cub reporters, the experience left some issues to consider as a journalist, as well as lessons.

In each police station, there is a place with some tables and chairs, a waiting room for people sent from precinct stations to talk with police officers dealing with their cases. There, I faced many alleged assailants and victims, even including a shaman’s lover. Reporters ask the reason for their visits and personal information, including surname, age and residence.

Sometimes I revealed that I was a reporter after the interview started, to facilitate my coverage. As soon as I gave my business card to them, they tended to stop talking. It was relatively easy to induce stories from young women of a similar age to me. Some of them told me their sensitive stories, as if I was their sister.

The easiest cases were drunkards, as they are likely to keep talking. Even if they were reluctant to tell me their stories, I could overhear them talking. Sometimes, to enter an injured person’s hospital ward, there was no way to make it unless I lied (which I gave up doing). I even heard from another broadcasting company’s cub reporter that his boss urged him to take a candid video of a person in case they fail to videotape the interview later.

To what limit is the use of such information allowed? Of course, reporters are directed to double-check facts with police officers in charge before writing stories. However, is that enough?

As time passed, I refined my ability to judge how newsworthy a story was. Due to time limits — we had to report to senior reporters what we were doing and what we found out every two to three hours — I sometimes had to wrap up an interview when I judged a story was “not important,” as nobody was killed or the criminal type was far from special.

At the same time, I learned that everybody argues based on their interests and some of them lie. On my second day, an old woman, who said she made a living collecting paper, claimed that a district office accused her of gathering paper in an apartment complex parking lot. I was ordered to find out more about her, as the office’s action seemed extreme.

Through additional questions to police officers, however, I found out that the woman was a landlord of the apartment and she misused that parking lot for her own interests, disturbing tenants. The police sent the case to the prosecutors’ office.

Korean media outlets are often criticized for unethical reporting activities. On the other hand, I am fully aware of my role to uncover facts and satisfy readers’ right to know. The two weeks at the police stations gave me a chance to wander between two vocational ethics. I believe I will be more skillful after a few years in dealing with tricky situations while acting according to my conscience.

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