I've been considered a "contributing writer" with the Korea Times since August, 2008, but had appeared in the paper earlier than that. It was never made clear what that meant, but hey, it was nice to have something to do with my time besides teaching. I had something in the paper every now and again, and it was nice to reach an audience I wasn't hitting by just writing on my blog.
Two weeks ago I sent some emails to the editor about the garbage that had appeared in the paper lately: Jessica Kim, Haydn Sennitt, Jon Huer, and some of the fake letters. You'll remember I wrote a rebuttal to Park Nam-sheik's ignorant comments, but it and an even better one were rejected. I then sent in a piece that addressed some of the garbage and turned it into a bigger discussion of the role of the English-language media in Korea. The paper was clearly not being responsible or responsive to the needs of the native speaker English teachers among its readership, though I of course know that's not the target demographic.
That, too, was rejected. The editor then asked me to write a report for internal circulation among staff, in which I was to list the strengths and weaknesses of the paper through the eyes of an NSET, and suggestions on ways the Times could better serve this demographic. I put it together in a few hours, but heard no follow-up. The editor also suggested I turn some of my concerns about NSETs into an enumeration of ten common misconceptions held of us by Koreans. My idea to turn it into ten full-length articles was rejected several times. To repeat what was written to me, and what I posted on Facebook: "In journalism, we refrain from publishing the same subject in a series."
In any event, though, the reception to the list was pretty good, but I was a little surprised by the comments at the bottom of the article. I had written the editor last year suggesting they remove the comments option on the website, but to no avail, and it was one of the suggesetions I made in the report. Yet when I checked the article after a weekend away I saw there were 300-some comments, most quite nasty. But the emails I got from Korean readers were quite the opposite, and I was happy to speak with an audience I've never had on the blog.
I was again promoted to "contributing writer," even though I was given the title in August. The same day, the editor caught my piece in the Joongang Ilbo, the weekly column I had been doing since late March. He said I would have to write exclusively for the Times. I agreed because the stuff I had done with the Herald had heretofore been sporadic, and I wasn't sure how much longer the JI column would continue. I was interested, too, in getting paid for my writing when my teaching contract expires in August. When Matthew Lamers at the Herald contacted me about writing more about misconceptions of native speakers, I declined, saying I would write exclusively for the Times from now on.
This morning I sent a proposal for a piece providing some balance to the atrocious piece "12% of Native English Teachers Dismissed at Schools in Ulsan," wrong on a number of levels. It, too, was rejected, with another reminder that I was not to write about English teaching. By that point I had made up my mind to not confine myself to a single paper, especially one that wouldn't let me do my thing. First and foremost I'm a teacher, second I'm a blogger, and one who has made a decent-sized name for himself writing about issues in English education in Korea, among many other topics. To not permit me to write on this topic, all the while letting other pieces in, is frustrating to me and dishonest to my regular readers, who want something with a little more punch. It would also unfortunate were I not able to engage Korean readers on topics we both find interesting, and from perspectives they might never have considered. I had more dialogue with Koreans on these issues this week than I think I've ever had before.
What prompted me to email my decision in a tone more strong than I had intended this morning was the Jon Huer piece that just went up. I won't link to it, I won't deconstruct it, I won't comment on it other than to say that a paper that continues to allow hit pieces on us, and refuses to allow rebuttals of equal size and strength, clearly is not committed to its native English-speaking audience. I will continue writing the weekly piece in the JI, and will write regularly for the Herald's Expat Living section on issues I think we'll find interesting and instructional. I'm excited to reach out to other teachers and foreigners here who have not yet talked with me or read my blog, and I'm even more excited to reach Korean readers who, to my surprise, have responded to several of my latest pieces with enthusiasm.
I can't continue to write for a paper that is so habitually offensive to a portion of its audience, and that refuses to give voice to the group that is the target of so much of its negative coverage.