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2017-11-01 17:42
By Steven L. Shields



Sometime during the summer of 1977, Grafton K. Mintz hired me as a copy editor for The Korea Times. Korea’s economy was rumbling forward like a loaded freight train.

A copy of the Times cost 40 won. The word processors of the day were typewriters. Linotype machines did the typesetting. The printed word was the king of media in those days.

I do not recall what the circulation of the Times was in those early days of Korea’s developing economy. The 4th Five-Year Economic Plan was launched in 1977.

The Saemaul Movement was transforming villages and upgrading the lives of millions of rural citizens. And then-President Park Chung-hee was pushing the economic gear shift toward an export economy.

While the expatriate community may have been small (Seoul was still mostly on the north bank of the Han River), the role of The Korea Times was crucial.

Not only did the expatriate residents rely on the daily, but also business people from overseas relied on the Times for breaking world headlines and important local news.

I recollect, but my memory may be faulty, that the Times was limited to eight pages daily, due to the rationing of precious newsprint. But my, did the paper ever pack every inch of printable space with feature articles and local tit-bits of news.

Advertising was sparse, limited mostly to large corporations touting an important visitor. Frankly, there were few consumer goods in those days. Advertising was still an up-and-coming industry in Korea.

I was a young man, only in my early 20s. But I had experience with printing and editing during my high school years, both with the school newspaper and the small town twice-weekly. I had also had editing and typographer experience with a small-town newspaper after my high school years.

As a copy editor, my chief tool was a pencil. Everything was done by hand. The newsroom was always an active place, with typewriters clacking in the background as copy went back and forth through the several steps of the editorial work.

When I first toured the linotype room at the Times (also shared with the Hankook Ilbo), I was amazed at the skill and perseverance of the men who crewed those huge, hot machines.

Few, if any, of those guys, could speak English, but they could read it. And they were some of the world’s most accurate typists ― carefully setting type for the manuscripts delivered to them by a copy-girl as soon as the editors were ready to go to type.

One morning in my fledgling copyediting career at the Times, I pulled the paper off the wire service teletype. Included was the announcement of Elvis Presley’s death on August 16, 1977.

The worldwide mourning that followed Elvis’s death was long and profound. And working for the newspaper afforded me the opportunity to be on the first contact side of the breaking news. For a young kid from rural America, I thought that was pretty exciting.

Throughout its time-honored history, The Korea Times has survived a war, coup d’etat, the economic roller coaster of the early 1980s and the late 1990s. Press freedoms have changed over the years, too.

The editors and reporters who have broadcast the news through the pages of the Times over the past 67 years have risen to the challenges, worked within the boundaries imposed by outside forces, and continue to produce a newspaper that stands proudly among its counterparts throughout the world.


Steven L. Shields lived in Korea for several years in the 1970s and 1990s to 2000s. He is a retired clergyman, and a life member of the Royal Asiatic Society-Korea Branch. He can be reached at steve.shields@yahoo.com.


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