Paper fills a void for Korean readers

Beat: `Korea Daily' reporter Jin Hong Park tracks Maryland news for a newspaper based in Seoul, South Korea, from a bureau in Ellicott City.

August 21, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Some reporters dream of being a correspondent in some exotic foreign capital like Beijing, Paris or Tokyo.

Jin Hong Park's dream has landed him halfway around the world, in Ellicott City, where he is a correspondent for the Korea Daily newspaper.

From his bureau on Ellicott Center Drive, Park covers most of Maryland. He often drives up to 150 miles a day, looking for stories, taking pictures, even selling subscriptions for his paper, which is based in Seoul, South Korea.

Nobody is sure how many foreign-language papers circulate in the United States, but the ethnic press is clearly growing fast to keep pace with the needs of record numbers of immigrants.

According to the Independent Press Association, which tracks New York City's ethnic media, 200 ethnic newspapers and magazines circulate in the New York metropolitan area, a 33 percent increase from 1990.

And in Howard County, which is home to nearly 4,000 Koreans, according to the 2000 census, two Korean-language newspapers have opened bureaus in Ellicott City within the past year and a half.

Park's paper is published in Seoul, with zoned editions that include a mixture of news about Korea and reports on Koreans around the world. In the United States, Korea Daily also has bureaus in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington.

"For many [ethnic] readers, it's important that they have a friend in the press that addresses stories they care about. ... Ethnic papers fill a void that American papers just don't address," said Barbara S. Reed, an associate journalism professor at Rutgers University.

"Howard County is the destination community for Koreans in Baltimore. ... We know the community is going to keep growing, and we'll have to follow it," said Jay Jeong, an editor in Korea Daily's Washington office.

Even when their focus is suburban, ethnic papers can get big stories. In July 2000, India-West, a weekly newspaper in Northern California, reported that McDonald's was using beef extract to season its French fries.

The issue was sensitive for many readers of the English-language paper because Hindus consider cows sacred and do not eat them. The story sparked protests in India, where a restaurant was vandalized and leaders called for the expulsion of McDonald's from the country.

Park talks excitedly about doing a similar "big" story, but most of his days are spent on topics such as community events, births and deaths. Whenever a Korean dies of unnatural causes in Maryland, Park writes an obituary.

"We don't care if they're a U.S. citizen. ... We just care about whether they [are of Korean ancestry] or not," he said.

When Jeannie J. Hong was recently sworn in to a seat on the Maryland District Court, making her the country's first female Korean-American judge, it was front-page news for the Korea Daily, in the United States and in Korea.

"Maybe it wasn't big news for the mainstream media, but our news focus is strictly Korea. For us, it was a huge deal," Park said.

"Suburbia is perfect for ethnic papers," said Reed. "That's where more and more foreign-language speakers are moving to make sure their kids get into good schools, and they need a newspaper to keep them informed."

Michael C. Kim, president of the Korean-American Senior Association of Howard County, reads Korean- and English-language papers, but "most of my news about Korea comes from [the Korea Daily]," he said.

For Park, working the beat isn't easy. He often has to scribble notes with one hand while trying to focus his camera with the other. He also has a more hands-on relationship with his sources than most American reporters. "[Older] Koreans don't really like it when you call them on the phone and say: `Hey, what's up?' " Park said. "So I drive a lot."

Even as younger immigrants learn English and don't use their native languages as often, there is still plenty of room for ethnic papers, Reed said.

"They might have to change and adapt some, but these papers are here to stay," she said.

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