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.

 

If bigger is better, she wouldn’t be doing North Korea.

Her target community is people who she thinks wants to have a better place to go to get information about North Korea, but who didn’t know where to go, North Korea fanatics, and people searching for more discussion than what they’re getting from the mainstream media.

Is not being located in North Korea a hindrance to blogging about it? Rebecca says she wouldn’t blog about some areas because she isn’t there and there are plenty of bloggers covering those areas. She says she isn’t doing a lot of original reporting. She’s compiling numerous sources of information about North Korea in her blog. She sees herself as a forum facilitator, someone who’s building a community around North Korea.

She’s tried to get people based in North Korea to contribute to her blog, but many are afraid to because of how easily they might be identified. They don’t want to jeopardize their jobs and neither does she.

Sometimes it’s easier to get material from tourists and business people.

Tom asked how she built her community. She replied, “I built it and they came.” Tom wanted to know if there are community-building tools she used in order to attract people to her site. She knows about discussion lists and organizations for North Korea and has marketed her site to them.

Sun wanted to know if she knew of any Chinese were blogging about North Korea. She does not, but told Sun if he finds any, to let her know.

One woman talked about how impressive she finds blogs. How much of her life is she going to devote to this weblog?

Rebecca says she got the basic format going in an hour because it’s easy to do. She showed us some of the customization scenes. Kris Liberman should have been here to see the demo of Typepad and how to customize it.

She spends a few hours a day on it, maybe 5-6 max. She’s looking for other co-authors and would like to find someone, especially, who can read and speak Korean and someone with technical skills.

NPR interview and someone from Fox contacted her after doing Web searches and finding her blog. Her blog has turned into a reputation builder. It might be worth her time spending a few hours a week on the blog because it might lead to other opportunities. It’s difficult to say where it’s going. She also got a Berkman Center fellowship out of it.

“I’m feeling the stones as I’m trying to cross the river,” she described it.

How does she choose what she posts? She looks at what will add value to her site visitors. She analyzes some of the information she posts, but holds back on rants. She wants to have a place where people with a wide range of opinions feel comfortable. She doesn’t want to pass wholesale judgments on things. She asks, “What will be important for people to know about this? What’s the key point or question?”

“Should North Korea open up,” an audience member wondered, “and how can we influence it? Are you thinking of developing a Web portal instead of continuing with a blog?”

Bloggers news network as a way to point people to bloggers writing about current events. Rebecca wants to think about where she’s most effective and what she’s most capable of. Bloggers can measure supply and demand and blog around mainstream media. She doesn’t plan to change anything with her blog.