31 Newsroom boot camp Some critics say that journalists’ ill-founded ethics go back to their lack of relevant training and education. Just as for many positions in Korean society, the path to a job in a local newsroom is unforgivingly competitive. Last year, some 2,000 people applied for 81 positions at 11 media companies, according to data from the Journalists Association of Korea, cited in The Korea Herald. Would-be journalists typically have to pass a five-stage recruitment process, culminating in several sleepless weeks on the police beat and a final interview. But before that, an exam — itself restricted to applicants with the best resumes and personal essays — forms a key part of the selection process. Along with essay writing skills, the exam will test an applicant’s grasp of “sisasangsik,” translated as “current affairs” but more accurately described as an extremely broad conception of general knowledge. Textbooks on the subject stretch to hundreds of pages of definitions and descriptions. Topics include everything from gerrymandering, the Engel coefficient and stagflation, to historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell and Julius Caesar. Reliance on this entrance exam — and being devoted to preparing for it — means that many budding reporters have little or no background in actual reporting in the initial recruitment stages. “The end result is people who are smart but ill-prepared, with few professional ethics,” says Ewha professor Lee, adding that other relatively arbitrary criteria such as English scores are used to sort potential journalists. “That’s how we have been maintaining the press system for almost the last 100 years.” Cho, the Dong-A Ilbo reporter, recalls the recruitment and training process as being of little value. “This is because they’re focused on developing the audacity to be able to carry out instructions regardless of how unfavorable the situation is, rather than on cultivating professionals specializing in a certain field,” says Cho. While there is no dedicated journalism school in th e country, dozens of universities offer media-related degree programs. But even there, theory and rote memorization are often placed above practical education, says Lee. “Korean journalism education is not really developed at all,” says Lee, adding that most schools mix theoretical courses rather than teach writing or reporting. Song Ji-min, a journalism major at the same university, says her coursework has included worthwhile practical assignments. Yet she laments the overemphasis on memorizing terms and facts that makes up a large part of her education. It is an approach that, she says, leaves students poorly equipped. “They have no time to think about what is a reporter, who is a reporter, what is the attitude for a good reporter,” she says. ‘The conservative government so far has been very, I must say, shameless in appointing people very close to the presidential influences as the CEOs or as the executives of KBS and MBC.’ Park Kyung-shin, law professor at Korea University, former member of the Korea Communications Standards Commission