Daily NK going mainstream

Since the Daily NK became the first to move on the DPRK’s currency revaluation the number of references they have received in the mainstream media have soared.  I have found the Daily NK a terrific resource from the earliest days of this blog so I am thrilled to see their reports become so widely read.

This week, the New York Times published an interesting article pulling back the curtain on the Daily NK‘s operations (about which I know little).  According to the article:

For a journalist who helped break one of the biggest stories out of North Korea in the past year, Mun Seong-hwi keeps an extremely low profile. The name he offers is an alias. He does not reveal what he did in North Korea before his defection in 2006, aside from mention of a “desk job,” in order to protect relatives left behind.

He also maintains a wall of secrecy around his three “underground stringers” in North Korea, who he says do not know he works for Daily NK, an Internet news service based in Seoul and reviled by Pyongyang.

“I take pride in my work,” Mr. Mun, a man in his early 40s with brooding eyes and a receding hairline, said in an interview. “I help the outside world see North Korea as it is.”

Daily NK is one of six news outlets that have emerged in recent years specializing in collecting information from North Korea. These Web sites or newsletters hire North Korean defectors and cultivate sources inside a country shrouded in a near-total news blackout.

While North Korea shutters itself from the outside — it blocks the Internet, jams foreign radio broadcasts and monitors international calls — it releases propaganda-filled dispatches through the government’s mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency.

But, thanks to Daily NK and the other services, it is also possible now for outsiders to read a dizzying array of “heard-in-North Korea” reports, many on topics off limits for public discussion in the North, like the health of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-il.

The reports are sketchy at best, covering small pockets of North Korea society. Many prove wrong, contradict each other or remain unconfirmed. But they have also produced important scoops, like the currency devaluation and a recent outbreak of swine flu in North Korea. The mainstream media in South Korea now regularly quote these cottage-industry news services.

“Technology made this possible,” said Sohn Kwang-joo, the chief editor of Daily NK. “We infiltrate the wall of North Korea with cellphones.”

Over the past decade, the North’s border with China has grown more porous as famine drove many North Koreans out in search of food and an increasing traffic in goods — and information — developed. A new tribe of North Korean merchants negotiates smuggling deals with Chinese partners, using Chinese cellphones that pick up signals inside the North Korean border.

These phones have become a main tool of communication for many of the 17,000 North Korean defectors living in the South trying to re-establish contact with their families and friends in the North.

Mr. Sohn, a former reporter with the mainstream daily newspaper Dong-A in Seoul, has South Korean “correspondents” near the China-North Korea border.

These volunteers, many of them pro-democracy advocates during their student years, secretly meet North Koreans traveling across the border and recruit underground stringers. The volunteers use business visas, or sometimes pretend to be students or tourists.“It’s dangerous work, and it takes one or two years to recruit one,” Mr. Sohn said.

In the past year, the quality of the information these news services provide has improved as they have hired more North Korean intellectuals and former officials who defected to the South and still have friends in elite circles in the North, said Ha Tae-keung, a former student activist who runs Open Radio for North Korea and a Web site.

“These officials provide news because they feel uncertain about the future of their regime and want to have a link with the outside world, or because of their friendship with the defectors working for us, or because of money,” said Mr. Ha, who also goes by his English name, Young Howard.

All these news outlets pay their informants. Mr. Ha pays a bonus for significant scoops. Daily NK and Open Radio each have 15 staff members, some of them defectors, and receive U.S. congressional funding through the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as support from other public and private sources.

Recently, they have been receiving tips from North Koreans about corrupt officials.

Read the full article below:Nimble Agencies Sneak News Out of North KoreaNew York TimesChoe Sang Hun1/24/2010


Comments are closed.