By: Christopher Torchia, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A North Korean reporter figured he could write about a pepper bush plantation from the comfort of his office. But leader Kim Jong-il, the story goes, insisted on driving with him to a rugged ravine and crossing a flooded river to personally count the bushes.
“‘Comrade journalist, you must see things on the spot before you write your articles. Otherwise you may talk big,'” Kim told the ashamed reporter from the state news agency.
“At the moment the journalist blushed. Across his mind flashed the bygones when he used to write his articles in his office only after his conversation with the officials.”
Wise advice for any writer, even if the syntax and punctuation are imperfect. It’s in The Great Teacher of Journalists, a 170-page, red hardback published in 1983 in English and Spanish by the state-run Foreign Languages Publishing House in Pyongyang.
The book is a tiny component in the personality cult that touts Kim as a military tactician, a scientific innovator, a moral guide, and a father figure to 22 million North Koreans who live in virtual isolation.
The book is still available in at least one Pyongyang bookstore and its contents are as fresh as ever, as far as the totalitarian government is concerned. After all, state media still exult in the proclamations of Kim Il-sung, the current leader’s late father and national founder.
And little has changed about the way journalists operate in North Korea, where Kim’s recent economic reforms and political overtures to the outside world are shrouded in mystery.
The concept of a fourth estate doesn’t exist in North Korea, where there is no free press. State-run journalism there is an ideological instrument designed to rouse revolutionary zeal in the masses.
“Even when you depict a landscape or the way of life, you must never attach importance to itself but subordinate it to the ideological content of an article,” the book quotes Kim as telling a reporter.
The glossy cover shows a youthful Kim, his face cherubic and unlined. Chapter titles include “Press the Shutter When You are Sure of Success” and “Concern about the Meals of Journalists.”
Kim’s official exploits as a journalist would be the envy of any copy editor: he cut five paragraphs into a single sentence, and it took him as little as half a day to write an editorial that took others 10 days or two weeks.
Even so, a space-challenged editor would have to question a headline in one newspaper edition that Kim supervised. “Unprecedentedly Rich Vegetable Crop Grown under the Rays of the Theses on the Socialist Rural Question,” the heading reads.
The craft of photography also came easy to Kim, who selected shots for a 1974 layout on bumper crops in Rodong Sinmun, the main state newspaper. “The editorial staff became amazed at his choice,” the book declares.
“Whenever we have functions, I see the cameramen doing a tough job,” the book quotes Kim as saying. “They are busy even without a short respite. This is because pictures should be taken in the opportune moment unlike writing articles.”
It’s doubtful that Kim, who took control of North Korea in 1994 in communism’s first hereditary power succession, ever stooped to the daily grind of newswriting. At the time the book was published, the junior Kim was better known as a film buff, and the South Korean government maintained he was busy plotting terrorism or hosting depraved parties.