Media Relations in Korea:
Cheong between Journalist and PR practitioner
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
The University of Iowa
615 Seashore Hall West
Iowa City, Iowa, 52242-1592
Tel: 319-335-3477 Fax: 319-335-3502
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Paper submitted to the Public Relations Division of AEJMC
for the 2003 Annual Convention, Kansas City, MO
Media Relations in Korea:
Cheong between Journalist and PR practitioner
This study applied the concept of Cheong — the fundamental foundation for
Korean relationships — to analyze the relationship between journalists and
PR practitioners in Korea. Research drew on in-depth interviews with ten
pairs of journalists and practitioners.
Respondents said they felt Cheong through common experiences and that
Cheong provided a positive force for their interaction. Further,
journalists and practitioners said that Cheong did not bring negative
effects to the role of journalism in a democratic society.
Media Relations in Korea:
Cheong between Journalist and PR practitioner
For journalists in the United States, familiarity with PR practitioners
apparently breeds respect. For PR practitioners, however, familiarity with
journalists breeds their contempt (Cameron, Sallot & Curtin, 1997). This is
the importance of broadening mutual trust and understanding between PR
practitioners and the press, and of maintaining a certain distance from the
In Korea, however, there exists Cheong, an aspect of Korean culture that
deals with human relationships between journalists and PR practitioners.
Cheong is the fundamental foundation that serves as the basis for
relationships among Koreans (e.g. Choi, 2000; Kim, 1986; Kim, 1995; Lee,
2000). The close relationships between husband and wife, among family
members, among friends, and among neighbors are formed and maintained
through this unique emotion called Cheong.
Cheong can be regarded as a kind of spiritual tie that is unconsciously
established through direct or indirect contact with a given object and
common experience (Kim, 1995). Cheong can therefore be considered as an
emotion that is endemic to the Korean people; something that makes Korean
relationships unique. As such, people should understand Cheong in order to
understand relationships or the communicative behavior of Koreans.
This study deal with how to improve the application of Cheong in this major
area of PR, thereby opening a progressive option for Korean media
relations. In other words, this study illustrate how we can utilize Cheong
for PR activities in the light of international public relations and
further develop it into a core element of Korea's future-oriented media
relations based on Western thought. Thus, this study aims to how Cheong
exists between journalist and PR practitioners by interviewing ten
journalists from a major newspaper and ten PR practitioners in Korea. It
also seeks to explore the reasons behind the importance of Cheong in PR
activities based on the theoretical backgrounds of the human relationships
of Koreans, media relations, suggesting how this vantage point can provide
conceptual understanding of the journalist-practitioner relationship in a
broader good context.
Origins and Development of Media Relations in Korea
PR in its modern sense is perceived to trace its roots to activities staged
by the US military regime that reigned Korea after the country's liberation
in 1945(Shin & Oh, 2002; Choe, 2003). Back then, PR activities were
criticized as close to the art of publicity or propaganda activities(Shin &
After the World War?, Korea was ruled by the US military. The General
Headquarters (GHQ) primarily censored and used the press to impart their
ideas and policies. In the course of GHQ's implementation of press
policies, the PR concept of the US was gradually being conveyed to Korea.
They installed the Korean Relation and Information Office (KRAI),
publicized the justification of the US military ruling, served as a
communication connector between Koreans and the US military regime, and
conducted PR activities by gathering public opinion and providing
information to the public.
They initially set out to gather information across Korea and organize PR
organization to effectively publicize the policies of the military regime.
As such, the press was perceived and used as the most critical channel.
Accordingly, the GHQ seriously started guiding the Korea press by
announcing US ruling law article 88 (concerning the approval of newspapers
and other periodicals) in May 1946 and ordinance No. 1 of the publicity
division (concerning the stoppage of the approval of periodicals) in March
1947(Kim, 2003). Such press guidance sessions targeted Korean journalists,
press conferences, publications, and control of the properties of media
The GHQ conducted PR activities to effectively impart occupational
policies. Using diverse methods of press guidance, they launched serious
media relations activities based on the US PR concept. They invited Korean
journalists, major opinion leaders, to present their policies and
consequently persuade them, as what is commonly practiced in the US. As
such, the GHQ controlled the press in Korea to a certain extent through
press guidance, expanded their influence, and used the press as a friendly
means to generate amicable opinion from the citizens.
The U.S. concentrated its efforts on securing political powers to establish
an anti-communist country, a capitalistic economy and a liberal democracy
in Korea (Choi, 1993).
In the process, it conducted publicity activities through press relations
as a way of persuading the Korean people of its good intentions for Korea
(Kim, 2003). Under the Jeong-Hee Park administration in the 1960s,
conglomerates that established illegal relationships with the political
authority exclusively carried out PR activities amidst media relations.
The late 1980s saw the initiation of specialized PR activities outside
media relations, along with political democratization activities and the
1988 Seoul Olympics(Kim & Cha, 2002). Notwithstanding these changes,
however, most PR activities in Korea are still concentrated on media
relations (Kim & Hon, 1998).
The Present State of Media Relations in Korea
Korea's media relations are characterized by the over-concentration of news
sources and major organs of public opinions in Seoul, and by the beat
reporting system. Seoul has major news sources, including government
agencies and enterprises, and major organs of
public opinions, including 11 nation-wide general newspapers, 7 economic
newspapers, 2 news agencies, 2 nationwide broadcasting station
headquarters, and 8 special broadcasting stations (KPF, 2002). Mutual
exchanges are thus closely carried out between journalists and PR
As the side effects of all sorts of unfair coverage practices attract
public attention, the "participation" government of the new Korean
President Moo-Hyun Roh declared that it would maintain tense relations with
the press and actually abolish unfair practices, which should lead to
President Moo-Hyun Roh said his government "will neither have a cozy
relationship nor negotiate properly with the press." He added that "For the
government to be purified, it needs to maintain a tense relationship with
the press" (Oh & Kim, 2003). Early this year, the government banned
subscriptions to first editions of newspapers, changed beat reporting
system into briefing rooms, and banned the practice of dining and drinking
with reporters. Korea's media relations face a new age of change.
Relationships of Koreans and Cheong
Korean human relationships are different from those of other people,
including Americans (Park & Kim, 1992). Relationships in Korea would
possibly be deeper and more self-disclosure than those in the United States
(Won & Doornink, 1991). Confucianism is a basic factor that influences most
Korean human relationships (e.g. Kim, 1997; Park & Kim, 1992; Yum, 1987,
1988). Despite this fact, Koreans nurture a sentiment called "Cheong" that
is unique to them (Han, 2002). In Korea, Cheong is basically used to
describe human relationships, as when a person is said to have "bad Cheong"
or "good Cheong," is "Cheongless," or "Cheong-ful," and so forth. This is
because Korean society is centered on Cheong (Choi & Hahn, 1998).
Cheong of Koreans is completely different from the love of Westerners.
Cheong can therefore be considered as an emotion that is endemic to the
Korean people; thus making Korean relationships unique (Han, 2002). As
such, people should understand Cheong in order to understand relationships
or the communicative behavior of Koreans.
Cheong is a sentiment that has four characteristics (Choi, 2000): a
"historical nature" that requires the sharing of a certain period of time
with another person, "being together" which calls for the formation of an
intimate relationship through close proximity; "warm heartedness" wherein a
person feels intimate and comfortable with another person; and "absence of
reserve" where they open their hearts to each other. Cheong is formed only
when these four characteristics are mixed interdependently. In human
relationships, Koreans tend to distinguish between persons to whom they can
give Cheong and those to whom they cannot. In relationships with the first
type of persons, they express their feelings frequently with various
tokens, think that the other person's motives are genuine, and do not feel
too burdened. In this regard, they feel grateful when they receive help and
sorry when they do not (Lee, 1984).
Enacting the Cheong Relationship
In a relationship based on Cheong, Koreans feel comfortable with, depend
on, trust and feel a bond with each other. In turn, if they feel Cheong,
they are required to sacrifice themselves for each other, to give in to the
demands of the other person, and to maintain fairness and reasonableness
within the relationship (Choi, 2000).
As a result, relationships in which Cheong is formed are "we-ness"
relationships, in which it is difficult to distinguish one person from the
other (Han, 2002). Yum (1988) pointed out the ambiguity that exists between
private and public relationships, suggesting the characteristics of human
relationships founded on Confucianism.
Kim & Cha (2002) also pointed out the positive and negative effects of
Cheong on PR activities. Cheong plays a positive role in PR activities in
that such activities can thus center on human relationships, while it also
plays a negative role in PR activities in that it paves the way for
backdoor deals through blood or geographical connections. In Cheong-ful
relationships, Koreans keep in contact, meet even casually, help each other
when they are in need, and show concern and consideration for each other
Essence and attribute of Cheong
The Chinese character Cheong refers to the term that encompasses human
emotions as hee(joy), rho(anger), ae (sorrow), rhack(pleasure), ae(love),
o(hatred), and yok(desire). However, the Cheong of Koreans does not name
human emotions generally or otherwise. Cheong can be regarded as a kind of
ties that is unconsciously established through direct or indirect contact
with a given object and common experience (Kim, 1995).
Cheong is a kind of ties with a given object. Such ties imply a feeling
wherein a person and an object are bound together with a cord or rope.
Koreans regard Cheong as a kind of ties, similar to glue that binds people
together. This implies that continuous contact and common experience are
required to bring about Cheong. It is only logical that Cheong is formed
under the conditions of continuous contact and common experience (Lim, 1996).
As one goes through both good and bad times with the other party, both grow
unknowingly accustomed to each other and consequently form Cheong. In
psychological jargon, forming Cheong means that one is conditioned to the
existence of the other party (Lim, 1996).
The depth of Cheong is determined by how simultaneous and common is the
experience and how often is the contact (Lim, 1996). Cheong does not
necessarily need positive contact and common experience. It may arise
between cats and dogs, rivals, and quarrelsome people (Kim, 1995).
They fully understand the nature of the conditioned response of Cheong.
In addition, Koreans use "hateful Cheong". This does not refer to hatred
between parties; rather, they grow accustomed to each other and come to
regard each other fondly in the course of continuous confrontation or
competition (Kim, 1995). Cheong is warm, serene, unselfish, unconditional,
and strong (Kim, 1995). It generally arises between both parties at the
same time. The following are the attributes of Cheong (Kim, 1995):
Cheong is warm. Love is passionate rather than warm. Love is felt
passionately because passion is one of its constituents. Passion refers to
the state of mind when one wants the other party and only feels complete
when they are together.
Cheong is a kind of ties with an object formed slowly through repeated
contact. The ties or sense of unity flows serenely and deeply in one's
heart rather than buffeting violently. Whereas love has a relatively
dynamic notion, Cheong has a relatively static notion.
Cheong is not self-seeking. As mentioned earlier, Cheong is formed slowly
through repeated contact and common experience. It does not matter whether
the contact is positive or negative.
Cheong does not ask for anything in return. One's Cheong is insufficient if
one receives favors from the other party and feels obliged to return the
favors in one way or another or thank the other party accordingly.
Considering the depth of one's Cheong, those favors are nothing; acceptance
of favors is considered as behavior that doubts the depth of one's Cheong.
Cheong neither easily arises nor fades. Since Cheong develops slowly over
time and grows as a psychological inertia, it resists changes such as
"acceleration" and "deceleration" and stabilizes a given relationship.
Accordingly, Cheong does not fade easily once it develops. Since Cheong is
formed through mutual contact or common experience, it usually arises from
both sides simultaneously. Mutual contact or common experience cannot be
owned solely, requiring involvement of more than two persons.
Implications of Cheong for the Journalist-Practitioner Relationship
Gage(1950) emphasizes that PR begins with individuals rather than with the
public. Therefore the basis for successful PR lies in successful personal
relations. The PR staff plays many roles in organizations. Among them,
media relations as one of PR's traditional functions (Camelon, Sallot &
Curtin, 1997). The relationship between reporters and PR staff is very
important in PR activities As such, studies have been conducted on the
relationships between journalists and PR staff from the 1960s through the
early 1990s (e.g. Aronoff, 1975; Brody, 1984; Feldman, 1961a,b; Kopenhaver,
1985; Pincus et. al., 1993; Swartz, 1983; Turk, 1986). There is also a
perspective wherein the essence of PR lies in managing various
relationships with the public, not just performing media relations (Pavlik,
1987). Notwithstanding this perspective, media relations have been
emphasized partly because organizations had to consider the effects of
publicity and its efficiency. More importantly, PR activities have
influenced the formation of news topics.
In fact, the news driven by PR activities in the U.S. accounts for 25%-50%
of the total news reported (Lee & Solomon, 1990). Therefore, media
relations are interdependent relations based on minimum familiarity and
understanding (Baskin & Aronoff, 1988). Under these relations, personal
intimacy can be an advantage (Reilly, 1987). However, relations between
journalists and PR practitioners develop into adversarial interests in many
cases (Awad, 1985). In other words, journalists tend to regard PR
practitioner as nothing but flacks (Baskin & Aronoff, 1988).
Similarly, Sigal (1973) described the relationship between
journalists-politicians as akin to a condition of "brotherhood." Cook
(1989) suggests the metaphor of "sleeping together," while Miller (1978)
speaks of "symbiosis" which, little by little, "assimilates" sources of
information and their mediators (Gieber & Johnson, 1961).
Mancini (1993) suggests that trust, therefore, should be the basis for
establishing a profitable professional relationship between journalist and
politician. By doing so, the "symbiosis" would appear complete. He further
points out this relationship sometimes becomes confused with "friendship"
or with political parallelism, a condition that can weaken the social watch
dog role of the journalist.
In the course of international PR research, Grunig et. al.(1995) applied
the personal influence model to other cultural spheres. In this context,
related studies were carried out in Asian countries based on cultures
unique to them (e.g. Hanpongpandh, 2002; Huang, 2000; Kelly, Masumoto &
Gilbson, 2002; Kim, 2001; Watson and Sallot, 2001).
As mentioned above, the relationship between journalists and PR
practitioners is a rational one, based on mutual interests. The following
research questions are presented to clarify Korean media relations between
journalists and PR practitioners:
RQ 1: Do Korean journalists and PR practitioners feel that Cheong exists
between them? How do they feel about it?
RQ 2: If Cheong exists between them, in what form does Cheong manifest in
business activities? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Cheong in
RQ 3: What effects are expected when Cheong is formed between journalists
For this study, in-depth interviews were carried out with reporters from
ten major newspapers (e.g. Chosun, Joong-ang, Dong-a etc.) and ten PR
practitioners from major enterprises (e.g. Samsung, LG, SK, Hyundai, etc.)
from February 18 to March 15, 2003.
The criterion for selection was for the interviewee to have more than
one-year experience in media relations as of February 2003. It is assumed
that at least one year is needed for Cheong to be formed between reporters
and PR staff, to reach the accumulative emotional status (Choi, Kim & Kim,
The interviewees were asked to answer open-ended questions. The interview
was conducted individually, taking about one hour per person. The
statements acquired from the interviews were categorized according to the
conditions for forming Cheong, defined in the "Studies on Cheong." The
interviewees were asked whether they feel Cheong with the other parties.
They were then divided into a "yes" group and a "no" group, analyzing the
characteristics of their communication lines through their statements.
Of the ten pairs of journalists and practitioners, eight said they felt
Cheong. The statements on "the situation wherein they feel Cheong" were
classified according to the category of conditions (historical nature,
being together, warm heartedness, absence of reserve) suggested by
Choi(2000). The journalists and PR practitioners said they naturally felt
Cheong through common experiences over long periods of time. They also said
both sides would not be able to exclude basic personal interests if one
side tried to establish Cheong intentionally. The following were the
statements made by reporters and PR staff with regard to the conditions for
Cheong to be formed:
Journalist 1: I think Cheong was formed in the course of calling three
times a week
and meeting at least twice a month.
Practitioner1: At first, it was uncomfortable to meet the reporters
As I continued to communicate with them via telephone, e-mail,
etc., almost everyday for about one year, Cheong was inevitably
formed between us.
As they met each other frequently and consequently formed a friendly
relationship, they formed Cheong in the category of "being together." As
discussed earlier, the media and sources of news formed relationships in
the practice of beat reporting. At the same time, major organs of public
opinion and most PR organizations focused too much on Seoul that such
physical environment played a key role in forming Cheong.
Journalist 2 : The place where I begin my work, cover events, and draw the
comfortably is in the beat press room and not in the newspaper office.
I spend most of my time there, go to the office in the afternoon, or have
supper with the PR staff in the evening.
Practitioner2: Even if the reporters do not visit our company, I could meet
person any time I want to; since I meet with them frequently, we talk
about many things including personal matters.
The reporters and PR staff said they felt Cheong from each other's humane
images as expressed through PR activities. They felt Cheong through
familiarity, trust, and consideration for each other.
Journalist 3: I felt Cheong toward Lee who is a PR staff of LG conglomerate
because he was always candid. Thus, I was able to understand his
situation as a PR staff. He always helps me when I need his help.
Practitioner 3:Journalist always regards PR staff as a main source of news
stories, and he listens to me carefully. I really like his attitude.
The reporters and PR staff said they felt Cheong in terms of both
private and personal unreservedness, which were devoid of direct relations
to official business. This unreserved relationship was often misunderstood
as an excessive closeness in media relations. If this relationship led to
Cheong, it could function as a positive factor in media relations.
Journalist 4 : In fact, the PR staff shared both the sweetness and
life with us. For example, we both got in trouble when I forced them
to give me a good news item.
Practitioner 4: I talk about my hobbies including listening to music, going
movies, etc., to reporters, as well as my personal thoughts regardless of
the business at hand. While we share the same hobbies, we get along all
right without reservations. Back in the company, however, we go back to our
As stated above, the journalists and practitioners said they felt
Cheong for each other. When asked, "How do you feel Cheong?" they gave
varying answers, falling under the category classified as a characteristic
of Cheong. Based on the statements of the reporters and PR staff, the
author analyzed how Cheong is expressed in doing business and the merits
and demerits of expressing Cheong. As a result, a positive form of media
relations was identified. To put it concretely, they exchanged information
briskly and esteemed each other's businesses and roles under the
relationship based on Cheong. This confirmed the positive function of
Cheong in Korea's media relations. It was different from the cases in other
Asian countries where media relations were also based on Confucianism and
personal relationships were used for PR activities; thus causing various
problems(e.g. Huang, 2000; Hwang, 1987; Park, 1997). Rhee(2002) already
demonstrated that collectivism and Confucianism have been linked with the
superiority of Korean PR. A reporter stated the positive effects of Cheong
on working media relations as follows:
Journalist 5: As a matter of fact, I do not confer special preference to PR
whom I feel Cheong. Nevertheless, I try to meet them often even if
there are no special events and exchange information with them. In
the process, I occasionally obtain good news ideas.
Contradicting a common notion that PR staff would make unreasonable
requests to reporters with whom Cheong is formed, a practitioner stated thus:
Practitioner 5: In some cases, PR staff are criticized for maintaining a close
relationship with reporters. In retrospect, I carefully tried not to be a
burden to them or do harm to the reporters with whom I have
established Cheong. There is a tendency for both sides to protect each
other and sacrifice themselves, instead of taking advantage of each other.
Both the reporters and PR staff applied the concept of Cheong and helped
each other when either party was in need. They also tried to be considerate
towards each other so that either party would not be hurt. A reporter spoke
about the strength and weakness of Cheong between reporters and PR staff as
Journalist 6 : Cheong's weakness lies in spending more time with the PR staff
instead of covering other sources of news. Its strength lies in being able
to obtain trustworthy information.
Practitioner 6:The reporter for whom I feel Cheong has a great deal of
information and knowledge on our organization. He objectively criticizes
and praises our organization as applicable. He is really a good observer
for our organization.
As such, Cheong was of great help in adopting the two-way balance model in
media relations. Based on the statements of the reporters and PR staff, an
alternative to utilize Cheong for future media relations in Korea was
suggested. When most Korean scholar talk about media relations in Korea,
they blame the Cheong between reporters and PR staff for not distinguishing
private from public relationships (Han, 2002). Some problems include the PR
staff's request for the reporter to delete a news story that is deemed
detrimental to the interest of his organization after reading it in the
preliminary edition of the newspaper, delivery of tokens in the pressroom,
and entertainment banquets. 
These bad practices, however, existed between reporters and PR staff whose
relationship was not founded on Cheong. Rather, these practices were the
side effects of the working relationship based on Cheong in light of the
unique media situations in Korea. In relation to this, a PR staff member
Practitioner 7: On the contrary, we do not give money or entertainment
reporters with whom we have formed Cheong because it can be a
burden for both parties. It makes both sides feel awkward. Instead,
we just go to the mess hall and talk about several matters, have
lunch, and give small gifts only on special occasions as a token of
good faith. Giving tokens on a regular basis is not likely.
The following statement of a reporter indicated that the side effects of
media relations were not due to Cheong itself, but due to personal interests:
Journalist 7: Most of the PR staff who intend to give me an entertainment
banquet try to get acquainted with me as quickly as possible. Their common
objective is to make an unreasonable request or obtain something from me.
So, I cannot feel Cheong toward them.
A Cheong-based relationship between reporters and PR staff imply intimate
relations that Koreans intend to establish. They want to communicate with
each other faithfully to carry out business operations. They distinguish
their cordial relationship from the formal one, wherein reporters distrust
the PR staff and inevitably receive news information from other sources
(Baskin & Aronoff, 1988).
A Cheong-based relationship between journalists and PR practitioners may be
regarded as a symbiosis (Berkowitz & Adams, 1990; Berkowitz & Terkeurst,
1999) or an interdependent relationship (Ehrenkranz & Kahn, 1983). While
this relationship is maintained based on the exchange of mutual interests
as a means of news coverage and PR activities, a Cheong-based relationship
is formed through a long period of time of sharing each other's thoughts
and cooperating with each other.
The Cheong-based relationship between reporters and PR staff is said to be
the most ideal in Korean-style media relations. Shin and Kim (2002)
critically said that the right media relations were not established because
of peculiar cultural climates, Neither are they formed by emphasizing
acquaintances or cliques and maintaining negative perspective on the
reporter-PR staff relationship. Compared to Cheong, this focused on
interests that called for frequent material compensation supposedly for the
purpose of establishing Cheong.
This was also the side effect of Confucianism and the result of
interdependent relations between journalists and PR practitioners, based on
the interests in Western societies and Korea's peculiar practices in media
relations. As Kim and Cha (2002) insisted, Confucianism emphasizes human
relationships. Based on the spirit of esteeming (Yum, 1988) other people,
Korea's traditional culture can act as a positive factor for PR activities
in Korea. As such, it was possible to carry out people-centered PR
activities based on Cheong (Kim & Cha, 2002).
This study is meaningful because it showed that these activities exist in
Korean media relations. As indicated in this study, Cheong-based media
relations were distinguished from the personal interests arising from
excessive closeness between journalists and PR practitioners. In reality,
Korea has emphasized the tense relations or personal interests in Western
societies, more than the development of Cheong-based media relations that
warn against excessively close relations. In public relations activities,
societal culture might be one of the most difficult challenges (Taylor,
2001). Therefore, international public relations will have to reflect the
cultural and societal norms of the host nation (Sriramesh & White, 1992).
This will create unique public relations situations in every society. Thus,
Korean organizations and global companies, if they can utilize Cheong as
one of Korean unique cultural patterns in a positive way, they will be able
to find a developmental model of media relations that cannot be found in
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 The foundation of the Korean coverage system is the beat system. It is
similar to the Japanese beat reporting system (Kely, Masumoto & Gibson,
2002). Unlike the Western coverage system in which most news sources are
open to all reporters, the Korean beat system is an exclusive coverage
system in which a reporter's beat is fixed. Reporters are dispatched to all
sources of news within their beats, including government departments,
public organizations, and private enterprises. Reporters go to their
sources' offices in the morning and draw up news based on these sources'
news releases. The reporter group is thus a channel for conveying
information to people. The beat system is being criticized, however, due to
the practice of accepting money from their sources.
 In Korea, reporters' beats are changed at intervals of six months.
Thus, a one-year experience in a beat is considered a long period.
 38.8% of Korean reporters drank more than three times a week with the
PR staff. 33% of them enjoyed an entertainment banquet given by news
sources. 30% and 28.3% received gifts and money, respectively. In
particular, six out of ten journalists said that delivery of token gifts
was still prevalent. (KPF, 2002)