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How to write like an expert on North Korea at the 2018 Olympics

Media Uncovered  |  By Carly Goodman, Feb 5, 2018

Tae Ok Ryom/Ju Sik Kim (PRK) are caught at the zenith of a twist during their free skate at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships

Garrett Wollman

Reporting on North Korea is one of the most challenging beats in the world.

It's no wonder that coverage of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) tends to follow a predictable, bad-guy-versus-good-guy storyline: It's nearly impossible for most journalists to get accurate, timely information about North Korea or its people. But that's not a reason to keep telling the same stories over and over again. There are many more sides to this issue than currently make the news. 

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games, taking place just 50 miles from the DPRK in PyeongChang, will provide a critical opportunity to tell new, compelling, and more accurate stories about what's happening on the Korean Peninsula. Here are five tips to help you write like an expert on North Korea when covering the Games.

1. DO focus on the WHOLE policy conversation, including engagement. 

While some media outlets have covered all of the policy options available to the U.S., most haven't. In fact, peaceful engagement at both the policy level and the grassroots level are two promising avenues to resolving the conflict, yet they almost never make the news. Research shows that nonviolent solutions to conflict last longer than violent solutions like war. Journalists can help inform readers of all the policy options by writing about engagement.

2. DO write stories that humanize North Korean people. 

People in North Korea are just that: people. But current media coverage of daily life in North Korea overwhelmingly focuses on North Koreans-as-victims. This flat picture obscures the variety of everyday experiences people have there. It also creates an opening for enterprising journalists to tell a wealth of human-interest stories that convey the complexity and humanity of North Korean people.

3. DO NOT repeat dangerous stereotypes. Orientalism pervades reporting on North Korea. 

To get the story right, it is important to move away from stereotypes of North Korea as irreconcilably different from yourself or your readers. Rather, journalists have an opportunity to translate for readers the day-to-day lives of the people that live in the DPRK, a place many readers may never get to visit.

4. DO NOT use crazy/sane metaphors when reporting on North Korea (or anywhere). 

It is inaccurate and reductive to write off an entire country as "crazy" or "sane." Yet, this is something we see over and over again in DPRK reporting. Doing so erases the history of one of the longest-running armed conflicts in the world. Reporting on this history, however, gives readers what they need: context to help them stay informed about critical issues.

5. DO quote experts who have been there. 

Most people in the U.S. haven't been to North Korea. Be wary of sources who have never traveled there, or who can't give firsthand accounts. Quote experts who have been traveling there regularly over many years. They're great for background information, too.

Interested in learning more about how to write like an expert on North Korea? Check out our reports on engaging North Korea. And take action today.

About the Author

Carly Goodman is a historian and the Communications Analyst and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow at AFSC.