Lessons

Reporting on North Korea

ss-140214-north-korea-interviews_5.nbcnews-ux-1920-700.jpg

A South Korean soldier looks out over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea from a guard position near Goseong. As many as 120,000 North Koreans are thought to be imprisoned across that country, according to a United Nations report that compares conditions in the DMZ to camps run by the Nazis during World War II and gulags set up in Soviet Russia. Image by Tomas van Houtryve. DMZ, 2013.

001_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

Buildings are seen through a storm in Yanji, China. The city of Yanji is a major hub for North Korean escapees and defectors. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. China, 2013.

dsc03806.jpg

Sparse traffic passes through Future Scientists Street, a gleaming, six-lane avenue that's meant to serve as a showcase for outsiders of Pyongyang's recent development. Image by Laya Maheshwari. North Korea, 2016.

Sparse traffic passes through Future Scientists Street, a gleaming, six-lane avenue that's meant to serve as a showcase for outsiders of Pyongyang's recent development. Image by Laya Maheshwari. North Korea, 2016.

Theatre_Cafe.jpg

Servers at a snack counter in a tent located outside a cinema in Pyongyang during the Pyongyang International Film Festival. Image by Laya Maheshwari. North Korea, 2016.

Servers at a snack counter in a tent located outside a cinema in Pyongyang during the Pyongyang International Film Festival. Image by Laya Maheshwari. North Korea, 2016.

ss-140214-north-korea-interviews_1.nbcnews-ux-1000-1000.jpg

At the age of 24, Song Byeok became a state propaganda artist. However, Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994 and the famine that ensued led to Byeok's imprisonment after he asked border guards to help him rescue his father. Song managed to escape to South Korea in 2002 and has since developed a painting style that satirizes the propaganda images he once produced. Image by Tomas van Houtryve. South Korea, 2013.

002_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

Two trains wait on the platform at the railroad station in Dandong, China. Dandong is the main station for trains going into North Korea. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. China, 2013.

dsc04310.jpg

Kim Il-sung Square, against a backdrop of the Taedong river and the Juche Tower on the other side. Photo by Laya Maheshwari. Image by Laya Maheshwari. North Korea, 2016.

Kim Il-sung Square, against a backdrop of the Taedong river and the Juche Tower on the other side. Image by Laya Maheshwari. North Korea, 2016.

ss-140214-north-korea-interviews_4.nbcnews-ux-1000-1000.jpg

Shin Dong-hyuk is the only North Korean ever known to escape alive after being born and brought up in an internment camp. Shin was born as a result of an “awarding marriage,” granted by the guards to his parents. After Shin was born, he was separated from his parents, who were granted occasional visits with each other. Shin was subject to brutal torture in the camp, but it was hunger that drove his escape. He was 23 years old when he escaped the camp in 2005. Image by Tomas van Houtryve. South Korea, 2013.

003_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

A man with a Korean War veteran's hat walks through a park where children are flying kites at Imjingak, Paju, South Korea. Imjingak is the closest area where civilians can go to the DMZ and the North Korean border without special permission. An observatory, monuments, and a park have been built to console people separated by the frozen conflict on the Korean peninsula. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. South Korea, 2013.

ss-140214-north-korea-interviews_3.nbcnews-ux-1000-1000.jpg

As the son of a senior spy Park Sang Hak became a part of North Korea’s privileged inner circle. However, his life changed when he received a letter from his father asking their family to leave the country and join him in China. Park’s father insisted that there was no future in North Korea and that the family was at risk of arrest if they did not flee. Today, Park lives in South Korea where he organizes regular protests against the North Korean government. In 2011, he was the target of an assassination attempt. Image by Tomas van Houtryve. South Korea, 2013.

004_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

The "Peace Dam" in Hwacheon, South Korea. The preventive dam was built 35 km downstream from North Korea's Imnam Dam, which is seen as a threat that could kill thousands of people in South Korea if the water held back by the dam was suddenly released by accident or as a deliberate attack by the North Koreans. In 2005, South Korea completed the construction of the Peace Dam, at a cost of $429 million, to protect downstream populations from a potential flood from the North. So far, the risk remains hypothetical and and dam's reservoir is empty. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. South Korea, 2013.

ss-140214-north-korea-interviews_2.nbcnews-ux-1000-1000.jpg

Pearl Kim Hua left North Korea to work in a Chinese factory. She is determined to return to North Korea once she earns enough money. Pearl says that the lifestyle in China cannot compare to the lifestyle in North Korea, where everything is very limited. She, like many others, believes the official line that this hardship is part of an effort to prepare the country for an imminent foreign attack. “Most people want the war to start, so that those who will live can live, and those who will die will die. We want the war to start now so we can get on with our lives.”

 (Pearl’s name has been changed to protect her identity.) Image by Tomas van Houtryve. China, 2013.

005_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

A small rowboat used by a scrap smuggler is seen inside North Korea, beyond razor wire from the Chinese side of the border near Dandong, China. North Korean soldiers and workers were observed loading scrap metal into the boat before it crossed the Yalu river to the Chinese riverbank at an illegal crossing point. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. China, 2013.

ss-140214-north-korea-interviews_6.nbcnews-ux-1920-700.jpg

A truck crosses the Yalu river on the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge from Sinuiju, North Korea to Dandong, China. The bridge is one of the few places along the border where vehicles can cross. The United Nations has warned China that it may be "aiding and abetting crimes against humanity" with its policy of forcibly repatriating North Koreans who flee across its borders. Image by Tomas van Houtryve. China, 2013.

006_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

South Korean marines sleep in the ferry boat to Yeonpyeong Island in Yellow Sea, off the Korea peninsula. In Nov. 2010, North Korea launched an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans and leaving 19 injured. When an armistice ended open conflict on the Korean peninsula in 1953, there was no agreed upon sea boundary between the two Koreas. Each side has drawn its own line, the South Korean controlled islands of Yeonpyeong, Baengnyeong and Daecheong are located between the two disputed lines. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. South Korea, 2013.

007_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

A North Korean soldier stands guard atop a concrete barrier along the Yalu river inside North Korea, facing the Chinese border near Dandong. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. China, 2013.

008_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

A South Korean soldier looks over the DMZ from a guard position on top of Observation Post 717, on the edge of the North Korean border near Goseong, South Korea. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. South Korea, 2013.

009_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

South Korean special forces soldiers crawl through cement tunnels during winter training drills in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. The South Korean commandos train in the snow and extreme cold weather conditions to maintain readiness for a possible war with North Korea. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. South Korea, 2013.

010_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

Attack warning sirens are seen near a guard post overlooking the Yellow Sea on Baengnyeong Island, South Korea. When an armistice ended open conflict on the Korean peninsula in 1953, there was no agreed upon boundary in the Yellow Sea between the two Koreas. Each side has drawn its own line. The South Korean-controlled islands of Yeonpyeong, Baengnyeong and Daecheong are located between the two disputed lines. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. South Korea, 2013.

011_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

Monuments to the Sino-North Korean alliance during the Korean War mark the Chinese riverbank of the Yalu River at a site where a destroyed wooden bridge leads to the North Korean riverbank near Dandong. The Yalu River marks the boundary between the two communist nations. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. China, 2013.

012_web_edit_BorderlineNK.jpg

Bright LED lights illuminate a tourist boat and part of the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge in Dandong along the Chinese bank of the Yalu River, while darkness envelops the city of Sinuiju on the opposite North Korean riverbank. The Yalu river defines the border between the two communist nations. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. China, 2013.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3: Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Objective:

Students will evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, in order to analyze how two journalists report on North Korea using different approaches.

Warm-Up Questions:

Discuss the following questions as a class or in small groups.

1. What words or phrases come to mind when you think of North Korea? (Write down your answers.) What themes do you see?

2. What news stories have you read, seen, or heard about North Korea recently?

3. Based on the class’s responses to the previous question, what do you think are the most common types of news stories about North Korea? Discuss.

4. Imagine that people living outside the United States had no information about what the United States was like. What would you want them to know about what is going on here? What types of stories would you want them to read?

5 . What do you think the news media is missing in its coverage of North Korea? Why?

Reading and Discussion:

Explore the first two attached resources from Tomas van Houtryve's reporting project, "Borderland: in the Shadow of North Korea." As you look at the articles, answer the comprehension questions you see to the right.

Discuss the following questions:

1. What was surprising to you about the articles? What new facts did you learn, if any? How does the reporting change your perception of North Korea?

2. What were the main ideas of the articles? Use details from the texts to support your answer.

3. Why do you think that van Houtryve chose to include the photos he did in his reporting? Why do you think that he chose to profile North Korea escapees? What point do you think he is trying to get across?

4. In North Korea, the government makes it difficult for reporters to interview ordinary people and puts heavy restrictions on their ability to report. How does van Houtryve deal with these restrictions?

5. What perspectives does van Houtryve capture that you don't normally hear about? What perspectives do you think that he is missing? Why do you think those perspectives are missing?

Now, explore the two resources from Laya Maheshwari's project, "Humanizing the Hermit Kingdom: Leisure in North Korea." As you look at the articles, answer the comprehension questions you see to the right.

Discuss the following questions:

1. What was surprising to you about the articles? What new facts did you learn, if any? How do Maheshwari's articles change your perceptions of North Korea based on what you already knew and the reporting you looked at from Tomas van Houtryve? Does anything surprise you about Maheshwari's articles?

2. What were the main ideas of the articles? Use details from the texts to support your answer.

3. How does Maheshwari deal with the restrictions placed on journalists by the North Korean government? What is his approach to reporting on North Korea?

4. Which perspectives does Maheshwari include in his reporting? Which perspectives does he leave out?

5. Maheshwari writes that leisure can sometimes be a form of propaganda. What does he mean by that?

6. Both van Houtryve and Maheshwari use their observations and interviews as jumping-off points to discuss larger issues in North Korea. How successful was each journalist in making you think about these deeper issues as a reader?

7. What do you think are some of the challenges of reporting on North Korea? How are these challenges reflected in the reporting you've looked at?

Extension Activities:

1. Imagine that you are a journalist who has been assigned to report on North Korea. What specific topic would your story focus on? Where would you want to go to do your reporting? Who would you want to interview? Develop a story idea related to North Korea that you could pitch to your editor, and practice pitching by presenting your story idea to the class. In your pitch, be sure to consider the question: why is my story idea different than previously published stories on North Korea?

2. Write an essay comparing and contrasting the two reporting projects you have looked at. Answer the following question: To what extent do the reporting projects complement or contradict each other? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to reporting on North Korea? Use details from the text to support your arguments.

3. The journalists we have looked at in this lesson report on very different aspects of life in North Korea in very different ways. Think about the community you live in. What is one aspect of your community that most people don't know about? Think about how you could report on that aspect, and develop a plan of how you would do that reporting. Develop a pitch for your story idea and deliver the pitch to your class.

Educator Notes: 

This lesson plan is written to be read by students, but can benefit from facilitation during the discussion and activity.

Lesson Builder Survey