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[Opinion] Korea’s Press Museum

Posted August. 04, 2005 03:13,   


Korea’s first modern newspaper was the “Hanseongsunbo.” It published its first issue in October 1883, and ran for about a year before closing down with the outbreak of the modernization revolt of 1884. When the “Hanseongsunbo” was shut down, public opinion in Seoul called for the foundation of another newspaper to carry on its legacy. Its follow-up, the “Hanseongjubo,” declared in its inaugural issue on January 25, 1886, “Before the Hanseongsunbo, we never felt the inconvenience of not having a newspaper. But when it was discontinued, we felt as if our eyes and ears had become stopped again after being barely opened.”

The Press Museum (or Presseum), where you can view the history of Korean journalism at a glance, welcomed its 200,000th visitor yesterday, four years and eight months after being established in the Dong-A Media Center on Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, as the first press museum in Korea in December 2000. The path trod by Korea’s newspapers, which strove to be the “people’s eyes and ears,” was not a smooth one. Despite being oppressed by repeated attempts to conceal the truth and prevent criticism, Korea’s newspapers did not give up on their mission. The over 5,000 items collected by the Presseum and the 600 or more currently on display inside the museum are an epitome of this troubled history.

There is talk of a crisis threatening newspapers published on paper. On a wider scale, the crisis threatens the “culture of reading” itself. With the advent of the video age, printed media are losing ground. However, American journalist Walter Cronkite, despite working primarily in television, said, “One can learn about the world and become a democratic citizen by reading newspapers.” The fact that essay exams are gaining emphasis in educational arenas around the world reflects the renewed importance of print. Although there’s criticism in Korea that essay exams encourage out-of-school tutoring, reading and writing skills cannot be developed overnight. It is crucial for each person to become familiar with printed media from an early age.

Visitors to Presseum usually come in family units or in school groups. It’s no mean feat if a day trip serves to inspire a sense of familiarity with newspapers and other printed media. A nation of avid readers has a good chance of becoming strong and prosperous. In this sense, reading newspapers serves as the nation’s “eyes and ears” as well. Although many worry about the future of print, the steady stream of visitors to the Press Museum suggests that despair may be premature.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com