This piece is part of a series highlighting stories from the front lines of local news reporting in Virginia. It is presented as part of the Virginia Local News Summit, co-hosted with the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy which took place April 20-21, 2023.
By Christopher Connell for Foothills Forum
Five mornings a week, the large and growing Korean-American community in Northern Virginia and the Washington metro area can get the news in their native language thanks to the Korea Times, a 52-year-old daily whose Los Angeles parent also publishes local editions in other major U.S. cities.
The Korea Times is a full-color broadsheet that runs 40 to 48 pages and reaches 25,000 subscribers. On Saturdays subscribers also get an e-edition with fresh news that looks exactly like the print newspaper. The paper has three editors and five reporters, but employs more than 20 others to design the broadsheet, sell ads and handle other jobs at an office building in Annandale, the heart of the region’s Korean-American diaspora.
Deputy Editor Chang Yul Lee has played an instrumental role at the Korea Times for 22 years (“plus three months”), editing copy but also writing three or four articles himself on a typical day. “I’m very proud of what I’m doing,” said Lee.” This is not easy, but I like my job.
“I cannot make much money [as a journalist], but there’s a lot of other things I can get,” said Lee, 54, who is an American citizen. “Many Korean-Americans don’t know English yet and the U.S. system. Maybe I can be a bridge between the Korean community and the U.S.”
He tried without success to convince his first daughter to go into journalism. She is now a software engineer for J.P. Morgan. Two siblings are still in college, at Virginia Tech and George Mason universities.
They aren’t regular readers. Like many in the second generation, they understand spoken Korean, but not to read and write it. No matter. “Even though my kids are not reading the Korean-version newspaper, the new Korean immigrants are,” he said.
Lee has interviewed governors and other top state officials in Richmond and Annapolis and traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress. In election season, the politicians often come to the newspaper’s office to make their cases. “Because Korean people vote and they need votes,” he said.
A recent front page reported on the Korean ambassador to the United States’ return to Seoul to become national security adviser; the soaring price of airline tickets to South Korea (now more than $3,000 for economy class), and an easing of that country’s travel authorization requirements for visitors. Inside were numerous local stories, including a Maryland appeals court’s ordering a new trial for a man whose conviction for killing a Korean-American former girlfriend was overturned.
There are also regular articles with practical advice on matters from COVID and securing public health services, registering to vote, and applying for financial aid for college.
In one way or another, “all our stories are connected to Korea,” Lee said.
“This is not a language issue. This is the issue of what we care about. Our newspaper is needed. When I write a story, always I think, ‘What kind of article can help those who are living here?’”