AP opens North Korea news bureau, but celebration will wait

 

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The Associated Press was ready to formally dedicate a new bureau in North Korea's capital this week, giving AP the first permanent bureau operated by a Western news organization in the reclusive country.

When Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor, and Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive, were en route to Pyongyang from Beijing early Monday, big news broke. A wailing state television anchor announced to the world that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was dead of a heart attack.

Upon arriving in the capital, Carroll and Curley were told by their hosts that it wouldn't be a good time to celebrate the new bureau. They had to turn around.

"Obviously, the big news in their country got in the way," Carroll said.

With the party canceled, the bureau staff got right to work covering the story.

"The only thing we postponed was the hanging of the sign and the sipping of the champagne," Carroll said.

AP already has had video journalists working in the country for five years, but a fully staffed bureau fills a hole in the map. AP, which operates in more than 100 countries, had been working for most of the year to set up the bureau, at the invitation of the Korea Central News Agency, the official news agency of North Korea. It took several visits by Korea Bureau Chief Jean Lee and Asia photographer David Guttenfelder to work out the details. By Monday, the furniture was in place, the art was on the walls, and two reporters and a photographer already were working, supervised from Seoul by Lee and Guttenfelder.

One reason the world knows so little about North Korea is that the regime tightly controls information. Kim died Saturday morning, and no one knew about it for more than 48 hours. Carroll said that AP made clear that it would not submit its content to censors.

"AP operates in 300 locations, and we have always been up front in all the places we operate," she said. "We don't distort ourselves from one location to another."

Carroll said the biggest immediate task is covering the transition. How will the heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, form a government? Will the younger Kim have someone looking over his shoulder? What's the military's role? Will the country seek foreign aid?

"The death is a historic event, and it triggers more events to follow," she said. "The passing of any nation's leader is a big story, and to understand what the transition means is pretty fascinating. We're glad to be there."

Carroll said she also wants to show what daily life is like for North Korea's 24 million people. AP's photographer has been documenting routine matters such as meals in restaurants, what police officers wear, what streets look like and what goes on inside classrooms.

"North Korea is a fascinating place and not one people have had much exposure to," Carroll said. "We were never worried about not having a story."

Carroll expects that over time, AP will build a positive relationship with North Koreans.

"It is a place that is caricatured by political points of view," she said. "The longer you are there, and if you conduct yourself in a fair and impartial way, people begin to trust you the longer they get to know you."

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Asian Americans press Army on race bias in private's death

North Korea, in transition, could draw further into shell

China wonders about reason for Clinton's Myanmar trip

China's rebellious villagers halt protest after apparent intervention

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category