Journalist Hwang visits Chilton County from South Korea

Published 10:17 am Tuesday, March 12, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

South Korean journalist Seok Ha Hwang visited Chilton County on March 6 as part of the 2023-2024 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at Jefferson State Community College. Hwang visited with local media members to see how local news was covered, and to speak with students about journalism.

Hwang is a 14-year veteran in journalism working for South Korea’s most prominent newspaper — The Busan Daily News. He has won numerous awards from the Journalists Association of Korea and the Korean Association of Newspapers, including the Korea Journalist Award from the JAK in 2015 for his coverage on the “Botched River Restoration.”

Hwang applied for the 2024 Community College Residency Program through the Humphrey Fellows program, and he was one of the professionals selected to participate in the residency in the United States. The program exchanges professionals from other countries to visit community colleges and share their professional expertise and cultures with the campuses. Hwang’s residency is at Arizona State University, but he could choose two places to visit during his time in the states, one of which was Alabama. Hwang’s visit to Alabama was from March 4-8, and the Jefferson State Community College Chilton-Clanton Campus was one of his stops.

“The purpose of this program is exchanging culture, and I can learn and I can study something in Alabama, or I can provide my perspective. That is the prime goal of this program,” Hwang said. “I think I achieved those kinds of things … Meeting new people is absolutely a great thing, and they were kind, and so nice. Alabama is pretty unique because everywhere has their own weather, and here just like my hometown, it is pretty similar being hot and humid. I love that.”

Hwang’s visit to Chilton County began with a stop at The Clanton Advertiser to meet with managing editor Carey Reeder to learn how the county’s news is covered in its newsroom, and to see one of the only remaining newspaper presses in Alabama. From there, Hwang returned to Jefferson State for a classroom discussion on information literacy, and ended his day at Jemison High School speaking to Ronnie Holsombeck’s Journalism I class.

During the discussions, Hwang explained why he is here, what he has done in the past as a journalist and other things about himself.

The main goal of the residency for Hwang was to explore more soft news coverage that is more widespread in the United States than in South Korea. He said that is the biggest difference he has seen in media coverage here than from his hometown, as most South Korean news is hard news stories.

Throughout his residency, Hwang has met with six different journalists, and each one he has asked about how they capture news, capture characters in stories, how they organize stories and more.

“It was a stunning and an eye-opening experience,” Hwang said. “I strongly believe that just diversifying writing styles might be one solution to the media crisis. I am not saying American journalism is perfect, but they have something that we do not have.”

Hwang’s visit did not come without a bit of a cultural shock. He explained that culture in South Korea is very narrow, and daily life is standardized. If a baby is born and they go to school, and then to a college, they will be hired by a big company.

In Alabama, Hwang said that is not the case that he has seen, and there are more options and less judgment all around about the lives of other people.

“(In South Korea) we are always making so many assumptions and comparisons to other people, and we care about who is doing what,” Hwang said. “Here no one cares, and I can do what I want. I really like that and it is a good thing. This county is very peaceful and beautiful, and the peaches are pretty impressive.”