Three Cheers for the Foreign Press

The foreign correspondents in South Korea are dropping the orientalist routine.

Three Cheers for the Foreign Press

Credit: Public domain.

Not too long ago, the coverage of South Korea by the international press was a predictable cycle of articles about Spam-as-gifts, dog meat eating and other orientalist oddities, often written by correspondents parachuting in from Hong Kong or Tokyo. No longer: especially in recent years, the foreign press has been digging deeper, with correspondents stationed in Korea for many years, unearthing untold stories that present a nuanced picture of Korean society that even South Korean media sometimes fails to capture.

The Los Angeles Times stands out as the valedictorian of this effort. Victoria Kim came to Seoul to re-establish the newspaper’s presence in the city, and promptly began a series of must-read stories told from the ground level. Kim’s report on Korea’s farm hands shed light on Southeast Asian immigrants, a topic little discussed even in mainstream Korean media. Her reports on Seoul’s “cab driver restaurants” and plastic recyclers continue the pattern of searching for important yet little noticed corners of the country.

Other standouts include Reuters and BBC. A special report by Reuters in March, a tick-tock account comparing the US and South Korean response to their respective first COVID-19 patients discovered on the same day, may be the best article yet on South Korea’s response to the pandemic in any language. Reuters was also the first mainstream English language media to call attention to Seoul’s mad increase in real estate prices, which has had a significant impact on both the economy and people’s livelihoods. And the BBC’s coverage, led by Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker, constantly focuses on the marginalized or under-appreciated people of South Korea, such as delivery workers, labor activists and women in odd jobs.

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