Journalism from North Korea: Worth the trade-off?

The AP has what the Washington Post calls the only Western reporter regularly in North Korea — a 53-year-old American named Eric Talmadge. And the Post story sees some pros and cons to the situation.

Pros:

  • He can throw cold water on rumors like Kim Jong Un being ousted or civilians being ordered to cut their hair like Kim.
  • He can get at least a glimpse of how North Koreans actually live.

Cons:

  • He’s not able to go near the tough questions of North Korea — the nuclear program, the violent purges, etc.
  • As one skeptic puts it, “AP seems to be afraid of offending its host.”

I’m inclined to go along with Talmadge’s predecessor, Jean H. Lee: “I don’t think you learn very much by not being in the place you’re covering.”

Besides, it’s not as if North Korea is the only outlet that exerts control over the media. Try North Carolina:

What’s best in almost any sort of news coverage is to have a diversity of voices. Some inside, some at a distance. Then let readers (or bloggers) synthesize what they’re seeing. If everyone’s honest, it works. If they’re not, you’ve got bigger problems.

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