|Workers load trucks with newspapers for delivery outside the Jpressbiz printing press, Songpa-gu, southeastern Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Lee Suh-yoon|
By Lee Suh-yoon
On Wednesday evening, a group of cub reporters from The Korea Times and its sister paper Hankook Ilbo visited a site becoming increasingly obsolete in the media landscape — the printing press.
The smell of pressed paper and ink engulfed the reporters as soon as they stepped inside the main building, a cavernous space roughly the size of a football pitch.
Hushed, they watched as the towering machines belched out neatly-folded accounts and forecasts of the day's events.
The press, located in Songpa-gu, southeastern Seoul, is run by Jpressbiz, a subsidiary of the JoongAng Ilbo, one of the nation's largest newspapers. Around 100 news outlets entrust the printing and distribution of their papers here, including The Korea Times and Hankook Ilbo, which sold its own printing press in 2015.
According to the Korea Press Foundation, newspaper readership fell from 52.6 percent in 2010 to 16.7 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, news consumption through mobile devices reached 73.2 percent in 2017.
The process and experience of print journalism, however, still has its perks — and lessons.
Whang Sun-young, a 24-year-old business student, says the newspaper still holds special appeal for her.
"We grew up watching our parents start their morning with a coffee and the paper. " Whang said. "That slow and deliberate lifestyle is engrained in our memory as a pleasant experience."
|The printing press in action at Jpressbiz factory in Songpa-gu, Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Lee Seung-yeup|
Digital news may be faster but this haste fuels an unnecessary level of competition over who uploads faster and not who publishes a better story.
Many news outlets are pressured to print partial facts immediately as they come in without sufficient fact-checking, story development, or contextualization. And these partial facts often come from other time-constrained news agencies rather than direct staff reporting from the ground — facilitating the spread of fake news.
Articles for print, on the other hand, have a regular deadline — unless they are published online first. They reach the readers a day-old but their time lag gives the story time to develop, get fact checked, and be put into context. Print articles also guarantee a certain length, and thus depth.
Farhad Manjoo, a New York Times columnist who intentionally "slow-jams" the news by consuming news only through newspapers said he spent less time consuming news than before and was "better informed" in the end.
Despite these perks, the newspaper industry is suffering. A monthly subscription for a daily newspaper in Korea is only 15,000 won ($13.5). Around half of it goes toward delivery fees.
|A paper roll awaiting its turn on a digitally controlled trolley. / Korea Times photo by Lee Suh-yoon|
In light of these cost constraints, the printing press has cut operation costs through digitalization.
Gigantic cylinders – paper rolls – dot the metal tracks that line the factory floor, carried on top of digitally controlled trolleys flashing their unique barcode and destination. The rest are parked in tight rows in the shadows.
"This is how much paper we use in one day," said Cho Seong-hwan, the Hankook Ilbo marketing manager who led the tour, waving his hand at the neat rows of some 100 paper cylinders. "Before they were moved manually, but now it's all automatic."
In a separate room next to the press, the image of each page is transferred onto aluminum plates.
"Before skilled persons transferred the image onto film by hand," Cho said. "Now you just use software to print it onto aluminum plates with lasers."