On shoe leather

“Comrade journalist, you must see things on the spot before you write your articles. Otherwise you may talk big,” advised the Dear Leader astutely, in one chapter. This anecdote, perhaps the most relatable in the book, continues:

At the moment the journalist blushed. Across his mind flashed the bygones when he used to write his articles in his office only after his conversation with the officials…He gave no thought to taking the trouble of traveling more than sixteen kilometres across the flooded river to visit this rugged place [and count for himself the pepper bushes which the government was touting as part of a successful planting of oil-bearing trees].

Turns out, there weren’t very many pepper bushes growing there at all. “The dear leader told the man that he better not report about the pepper bushes at the moment but introduce them later when more oil-bearing trees would have been planted.” So, go see things “on the spot” but if what is there is not as lush it was billed, you’ll know it is not the right time to introduce your report.

For news photographers

“In fixing the place of the camera, the cameraman’s first consideration should be how to take the leader’s best picture.” Also: “Press the shutter when you are sure of success.”

For TV news producers

“Unlike the cinema, the TV has a small screen. Therefore, you should close up the object, and should not make it small. In particular, this is all the more so when you show men. Only then will one take interest in looking into the TV screen.”

For print reporters

“An article should not be monotonous and stiff but woven with concrete facts so that the readers could read it with interest.”

And: “You seem to go into detail when collecting the materials. That’s a good thing. But you should not leave the great leader when you cover functions held in his presence. Only then will you be able to impressively cover his on-the-spot guidance, and also write good articles.”

In one anecdote, Kim Jong-il offers a new, more constructive mindset with which to regard one’s barely recognizable story, blighted and blemished by an editor’s heavy hand (emphasis mine):

The dear leader Comrade Kim Jong Il, in spite of the pressure of the Party and state affairs, went over and over again a political essay written by journalists of the Party paper, until it became perfect.

The writers were deeply moved by the great efforts he had made and the meticulous care he had taken of the political essay, when they saw his benevolent pen marks as they received the first proof he had checked.

Turning over page by page with gratitude, the writers could see at a glance that he had read and revised the essay several times. It was because the paper bore distinctive ball-pen marks of different colours, red, black, and blue, which he had left while revising and underlining whenever necessary.

If, for you, seeing is believing, at the front of The Great Teacher of Journalists, there are four black-and-white images of Kim Jong-il performing the exhausting, benevolent work of the Dear Editor. And, in all of the images, he is looking at things.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.