LKL is now providing articles for The East, the monthly English-language East Asian business & culture newspaper published in London. LKL’s remit for The East is, for the moment, pretty much undefined, which means I can write whatever I like. And Editor Lee can reject it if he doesn’t like it. It’s an interesting discipline to write for a completely different audience, and in a different medium. For a start, I’m finding that sentences have to get shorter. This is an edited version of the first article. I’m expecting lots of corrections from all you experts out there. HT to the Daily Kimchi for the Blog Juice idea.
If you want to know what’s going on in Korea, where should you turn?
Of the British newspapers only the Financial Times has a permanent bureau in Seoul, but Korean news has to take its chances with all the other areas of the world looking for column space.
Obviously there are the Korean newspaper websites, who provide comprehensive coverage in English. There’s a list of them in my sidebar. Many of those sites, though, have irritating pop-up windows and flashing adverts designed for the blistering internet speeds available in Korea. As a result, you have time to make a cup of tea in between every page load if you’re viewing from the UK. And, according to some, the Korean newspapers give a conservative, establishment view of events.
Step forward the bloggers.
Wikipedia defines a blog as “a website, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video”. For our purposes, the good thing about a blog is that you can find many written in English, it’s written by a person who does it for love rather than money, and the content is therefore not filtered by a corporate editorial line. But maybe not all of them have interesting things to say. And with over 100 million blogs in existence, finding the right ones could be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Fortunately, there’s a pretty definitive list of Korea-related blogs at korea.banoffeepie.com, which cross-references around 400 blogs in English. Reflecting the globalised nature of the Korean blogosphere, the Korea blog list is maintained by Alan Scully, a Scot living in Japan. The sites are categorised into whether it’s a Korean who wrote them, and whether that person is based in Korea or not. According to Scully, the list has unexpectedly turned into a means for foreigners living in Korea to bond and form a virtual community.
The most-read general-purpose blogs are written by foreigners living in Korea. And the two biggest category of foreigners in Korea are English Language teachers and the US military. But teachers stay on and get other jobs. Businessmen and professionals working in Seoul also turn their hand to blogging. And still that doesn’t cover the full extent of bloggers out there, because there are the historians, cooks, DPRK-watchers and fans of the Korean Wave, all of whom use blogs to present their enthusiasms to the public.
Celebrity pulling power
There are so many blogs out there that it’s impossible to read them all. So which are the most popular?
PopSeoul is the leading celebrity blog, with lots of pictures and stories about Korean pop stars and actors. It’s only been going for about 18 months, but from the start distinguished itself from the competition by its original content – too many other celebrity blogs at the time were simply lifting their stories verbatim from the culture pages of the Chosun Ilbo website. The blogs got their desired google hits, but readers didn’t stick around for long.
PopSeoul was created by two graduate students who really love Korean pop culture and felt that they needed to do something to represent Korea. One graduated and moved to America, while the other stayed in Korea to get her degree.
They have a strong eye on fashion, and one of their specialities is spotting celebrities wearing the same clothes. One of the best photos from last year compared the dress sense of Park Jin-young – a pop star in his own right, and the Simon Fuller of Korea, having created stars such as Rain and the Wonder Girls – with that of Posh Spice.
Since PopSeoul arrived on the scene, other blogs have upped their game or fallen by the wayside. PopSeoul now has healthy competition from Shenyuepop and zr5.net, both of which have strong original content.
The Marmot Rules
Undoubtedly the original and best general-purpose blog about Korea is the Marmot’s Hole. It started five years ago, and at the time was described by its founder as “Robert Koehler’s completely non-sensical and probably unread blog concerning ex-pat life in Korea”.
It’s now the most-visited general-purpose Korea blog, with coverage from tabloid to politics via history and travel. With continued modesty, Koehler describes the blog now as “a rather poor attempt to mix hard news and intellectually enriching discussion of serious topics such as Korean history, Korean politics, North Korea, the U.S. troop presence in Korea and regional geopolitics with less-serious fare”
Koehler came to Korea as an English language teacher ten years ago, and now has entered the establishment as editor of the monthly Seoul Magazine, copies of which you can find at the Korean Cultural Centre in Northumberland Avenue.
You’d have thought that now he’s virtually on the payroll of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Koehler might have toned down some of the blog’s livelier content, but to his credit the Marmot still delivers to his readers some of the best tabloid stories from the Korean press as well as providing a forum for some of the most heated flame wars in the Korean blogosphere.
The Marmot’s comment threads bring contributions from all parts of the political and ethnic spectrum. In fact so lively is the dialogue that every now and then Koehler simply publishes an article with nothing in it, inviting readers to start their own discussion underneath. It’s the equivalent of lighting the proverbial blue touch-paper of a firework, and then running away.
The Marmot was one of the first Korean blogs to invite contributions from different authors. Giving other writers power to publish things on your site is dangerous, but in the Marmot’s case seems to have worked.
Maybe conscious of his boss looking over his shoulder, Koehler has the following caveat in his colophon: “This blog is NOT representative of Korea.” But, maybe, it’s the most representative forum for expats in Korea, and for westerners who have an interest in this fascinating country.
Military fire power
A similar caveat is included in the “About” page of the leading military blog – ROKDrop – which has graced the blogosphere for the past four years.
Jon, the blog’s founder, gives himself the screen name GI Korea. But his coverage is not just military. In a weekly photograph entitled “Korea Finder” he challenges his readers to identify a geographic landmark or notable person. Here’s his most recent poser:
As well as showing a broad knowledge of Korea, GI Korea provides probably the most useful list of other Korea blogs that I’ve come across.
Taking out the legwork
I’ve run out of column inches, and still haven’t had a chance to talk about some of the other well-written, informative and stimulating blogs in the Blog Juice table. And there are loads of good ones outside of that list which I visit regularly as well.
There are so many blogs out there that it’s almost a full-time job to keep up with them. And no matter how good the blog, you’re not going to be interested in every article.
The wonders of web technology mean that it’s possible to pull together headlines from many different blogs onto one page, enabling a reader to home in on the article which interests her most.
LKL has a few pages which it calls “Blogwatch”, where you can skim the headlines from different blogs without having to hunt through cyberspace. Clicking on the headline then takes you to the article in the relevant blog. It’s one way to keep your finger on the pulse of the fast-moving Korean blogosphere.
And the answer to ROKDrop’s photo quiz? A controversial one. It’s the disputed island of Dokdo / Takeshima.
- Note that the list is selective, and only has some of the blogs that I visit on a regular basis. The Blog Juice calculator takes forever. The Daily Kimchi has a more comprehensive list than is displayed here