Rebecca MacKinnon’s Talk

Rebecca MacKinnon
Blogging North Korea: Adventures of a Journalist in Cyberspace
Shorenstein Center Pizza Supper
Thursday, April 22, 2004
NK Zone

Typepad blog

There’s a news hole in America for foreign news. She felt awkward because she was sent to cover North Korea and report back, but there isn’t much space or interest for that kind of news among the media.

Some news organizations don’t want their journalists to blog. CNN blocked one of their journalists from blogging.

Kevin Sites now blogging for MSNBC from Iraq used to blog for CNN.

If she blogs North Korea, how much of it is journalism vs. something else? How could she or another journalist use it? Could it be a source for more texture, information about North Korea?

Train explosion today: many media outlets aren’t reporting it, but she’s covering it on her blog. Theory that Kim Jong-Il’s train is too heavy and may have damaged the tracks, which were probably already in poor shape.

The resulting story is a good example of why blogs can be great sources of information. North Korea is taking extraordinary measures to prevent the story from coming out. Official sources aren’t even admitting it’s happening. A number of bloggers are tracking the issue. Some who can read Korean are blogging in English.

The only known North Korean blog is by German diplomats who send material to people in South Korea to post online. Rebecca doesn’t know of any blogs from North Korea at this point. “A North Korean citizen would not dare. It is so controlled,” she explains. “The extent of control and the extent of fear is so great, no one would dare do it.” Internet access is very restricted, too. The government has built a wall limiting what Internet sites people can visit. As far as Rebecca knows, there are no North Korean blog hosting services. Many people have to dial an international number in order to have Web access, so it’s slow and expensive.

One difference between blogging and journalism is how transparent you can be with your news sources. She had an e-mail exchange with someone about going to North Korea. He didn’t like her blog, so he didn’t want her to come with him. She posted the entire exchange on the site and asked her readers for input. “The audience doesn’t hear about your failures when you get turned down to cover stuff.” You can make it clear on your blog what you’re trying to do and when you don’t succeed. Newspaper readers and television news viewers often don’t know what kinds of things a journalist is trying to work on.

Survey via Survey Monkey to learn about readers

She’s only been blogging for about two months?

About 300 readers a day.

Most readers are from the U.S., the next biggest group is from South Korea.

Most are men, 18-39 years-old.

lots of business, students, and other readers. Most say their jobs aren’t related to North Korea nor have they visited North Korea, but a number have. Most readers learned about the blog from a link on someone else’s blog. Almost half of her survey respondents admit reading the blog daily. (Does that reflect on the fact that those committed to her blog are answering her survey vs. how often an average reader visits her blog?)

People are buying the books she mentions on her site.

Most people read her blog along with other sources of North Korea news and a good number use it as their only source of North Korean news.

Reliability is pretty high for her readers.

Someone in the room raised the issue that her survey isn’t very scholarly because it reflects such a small sample.