WHENEVER WE turn on the news channel on TV, we are greeted with news anchors who report the world’s events. While news anchors seem to present news reports only, they are busy coming up with news leads, rehearsing news reports, and double checking the positions of various cameras before they appear on the screen. In order to explore this profession in greater depth, The Yonsei Annals met with Choi Kyu-yeon, an international news anchor at the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), who shared her experiences in becoming a professional news anchor.
Annals: Could you please tell the readers the difference between anchors and announcers?
Choi: There is a difference in terms of the jobs they do, but there are also different meanings to the actual title of an announcer and an anchor. While it depends on what type of broadcaster and TV station you are in, for the major broadcasters in Korea, anchors are entitled to deliver news only. On the other hand, announcers can be involved with all TV programs within that TV station; they can be on programs such as morning talk shows, entertainment weekly, and they can report the news. Regarding the workload, anchors usually write their own leads and look through their selected news reports whereas announcers focus more on shooting their TV programs.
Annals: What are some of the qualities needed to become a news anchor?
Choi: To be honest, I don’t really think there are set qualities in becoming a news anchor. However, I believe the most important factor is having an interest in people. After all, it is the story of individuals that make up society and our world. In order to be genuine while delivering the news, it is important to have genuine interest in people’s lives first. Qualities as how much knowledge you have on reporting news or how many languages you speak do not matter per se, especially once you are capable of presenting in front of the camera. People usually assume that news anchors are very well spoken, active, and comfortable to socialize but I was never a person that spoke out my feelings. I wasn’t really comfortable expressing myself and I’m also introverted in that sense. That is why I don’t think there are set standards in terms of required skills for becoming a news anchor.
Annals: What were the steps that you took to become a news anchor?
Choi: I think it depends on which route you decide to take. There are so many different paths you can take in becoming a news anchor but an important step in my opinion is to become familiar with what’s going on around the world. I remember always listening to the news whenever I was cooking or on the phone and reading a lot of newspapers. Through this I started to pick up certain terms and familiarized myself with economic or social issues, which was really helpful. Also, I really tried to interact with people who have been working in this field for a long time. Although their stories might seem so distant, I believe there is always something one can earn from listening to different people. This was the only part that I wasn’t shy about; I actively searched for people I could talk to that might be able to give me some advice, or those who have had experience of working in a TV station. After that, I sat the test of becoming a producer and auditioned for this program.
Annals: For newly recruited news anchors, what are the different training programs anchors go through before they are allowed to go on air?
Choi: Well, the TV station doesn’t provide any official training for news anchors. Once you become an anchor, it’s under the assumption that you already have the required skill sets; only after being recognized for your skills, is when you can actually become an anchor. Training is something you need to prepare either by yourself or through various academies. In my case, I had some severe voice issues when I was preparing to become an anchor. Although you can’t really change the voice that you’re born with, you can, however, change the way you project your voice. I underwent a lot of monitoring and received some voice training because my voice was extremely high pitched. Since Korean news is relatively formal and, in some ways, “stiff”, news anchors are supposed to deliver the news in a certain way. To fix my vocal problems, I watched various announcers and anchors on how they deal with their intonation and pronunciation of certain words and then practiced on my own.
Annals: What does a typical day of a news anchor look like?
Choi: Every day, once I step inside the office, I start with looking at today’s line up. The news line-up is decided by three main decision makers: the producers, executive producers, and the desk. Since this news program is not a domestic program but delivered to different audiences around the world, we are very cautious in choosing our news items because there might be topics foreign audiences aren’t aware of. In addition, the international news program goes on air once a day and since there is no guarantee that we will be doing follow up stories of what happened the previous day, we have to consider reporting on stories that interest foreign audiences.
After I look at the line-up, I then look at related reports on the particular topic. Although there is actually no need to go through this step, by doing so, I not only gain a deeper understanding of the story but also the different perspectives on the issue. This helps me when I need to write the lead of the news report, which is the next thing I do after this process.
Then we have editors. For my program, we have two video editors who I check the audio as well as the video footage with. In this process, I read out my lead so that the editors can know when to show certain pictures and footages. Lastly, I get my makeup done, head into rehearsals and then go into recording.
However, this routine depends on what news program you’re involved in. I’m also responsible for presenting international news affairs to the Korean audience. This is completely different because it is a live show. Writing the script is similar in terms of working closely to the editor and figuring out what graphics go with certain words in the script. But on a live show, there is no turning back once you have made a mistake. You have to be ready to cover it up on the spot, which is very thrilling. Ultimately, different anchors have different procedures on how they work throughout the day depending on the news program.
Annals: I’ve noticed that there were camera crews, producers and reporters that help in creating one 15 minute news video. What is the dynamics like within the team?
Choi: Surprisingly, I think that the most important role or the decision maker is actually the producer. I was a news producer myself before I was a news presenter. It’s almost like an orchestra; on average there are probably 20 to 30 people working for a single TV program. This includes the audio director and the lighting director as well. In the studio, there are hundreds of lights and depending on where you stand and what angle you’re standing at, there are different sets of lights that the lighting director turn on just for you. Camera crews of course are on the sets and there also will be around two or more assistant directors. Usually when I’m presenting my leads and the actual news report, the producer is constantly giving direction to the camera directors and the audio director and basically conducting the whole team. It is really a team effort and even though I’m the only one standing in front of the camera, I never feel like I’m the only one getting the spotlight. Overall, depending on what kind of roles you have within the team, different responsibilities follow.
Annals: You mentioned you were a news producer. What motivated you to become a news anchor and how different is the workload between the two?
Choi: I have to say that producers work longer hours and are basically responsible for every last detail of a news report. If there is a mistake with the subtitles, graphics, footage, or the information news anchors give, it is always the producer’s responsibility. Being a news anchor, I found it attractive that you’re not really speaking out your own opinion or as a matter of fact not even really talking about a certain opinion, but instead just presenting facts. When I was working as a news producer there was a lot of pressure in trying to lead a team as I had to meet with numerous people while also giving orders to veteran camera directors. To be honest, I was a little shy in meeting people face to face because I was not used to expressing how I felt, which is why the job of a news anchor was more suitable for me. For news anchors, there is always a set script and all of the wording is clear as well. I’ve also wanted to deliver the news through my own language and share news stories with my voice. While working as a news producer, I also had the experience of observing news anchors, announcers, and TV reporters, which allowed me to feel more comfortable and familiar when I became a news anchor later on.
Annals: Considering that you work both as an English and Korean news anchor, what is the biggest difference between those two roles?
Choi: Firstly, because I present to two different audiences, the interests of those audiences differ. The process of selecting and presenting the content of the news is similar but I realized that the attitude or the way you present yourself to the audience differs depending on the language. In Korean news, the overall atmosphere and culture is very formal and strict in a sense, whereas it is more flexible in my international news program; I have more freedom in how I present the news. So, content wise, I can’t say there is a vast difference between Korean and English news but the overall attitude each respective language gives can be different.
Annals: When do you feel proud working as a news anchor?
Choi: When you’re presenting live, you can never see yourself on TV and since my particular program does not air domestically, there is never a time when I can see myself while casually browsing through TV channels. However, I do feel really proud when I have the chance to deliver news that can be exclusively done only on my program—something that couldn’t be delivered if it wasn’t for this program and if it wasn’t for myself. Of course, all stories matter but sometimes there are cases where news on accidents or tragic incidents are prioritized and other stories on different people cannot be shared. I feel proud whenever I have the chance to share those forgotten stories.
Annals: Being objective is an important factor in the Korean media. To what extent are news anchors allowed to reveal their emotions?
Choi: I think that it is always a challenge that anchors have because once you start this job it is hard not to be emotionally attached to certain stories. For instance, the sinking of the Sewol Ferry was so tragic and the general public showed great sorrow which was why we were also allowed to express our sympathy in front of the camera. It is always a little confusing to draw the line but to answer the question, I think news anchors are able to express emotions depending on how the public generally feels about the certain issue. For example, some celebrities have recently ended their own lives because of hate comments, and reporting on these issues has been a very sensitive matter. The reason why the person had committed suicide was depression caused by hate comments, which is a fact, so it was somewhat acceptable for us to portray sympathy. The question of how much emotion is enough to portray to the audience or whether we need to stay objective lies on how the general public views that particular news.
Annals: What are some of the challenging aspects of your job? How did you overcome these difficulties?
Choi: I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about my appearance or how I look on camera. At first, I wasn’t really conscious about how I look or how I might be viewed physically by people who don’t know me, but I was more conscious of my attitude. Since it is really hard to judge yourself objectively, I wasn’t sure whether I was being clear in my leads, whether my gestures were appropriate or whether my pronunciation was precise. Even though I monitored the recorded footage of myself presenting the news over and over again, I could never really put a score on how well or how poorly I was performing. I was afraid that the audience would question why I was selected as a KBS news anchor and doubt whether I was suitable for this position. One of the ways I overcame this challenge was by starting to accept criticism and feedback. Frankly, even though I was the one asking for feedback, it was hard not to get hurt by the comments I received. However, once I perceived the criticism as a steppingstone for improvement, I was able to overcome my weaknesses. Although it might make one self-conscious and embarrassed to hear criticism, at the end of the day it has always led me to somewhere better.
Annals: Do you have any last words to our readers and Yonsei students who want to become news anchors?
Choi: Being an outspoken person is excellent. Having the confidence and knowing how to express yourself—not just your thoughts but feelings as well is great. But you have to remember that this job has absolutely nothing to do with how you feel about a certain topic, as your views are not the main message. Again, it’s not really about expressing any personal opinion to the public but mostly stating the facts. Within the broadcasting station, there are numerous roles such as journalists, announcers, producer-director, editors, writers, etc. If you are more outspoken and willing to uncover different stories within our society, I would recommend becoming a journalist; however, those who are interested in sharing published news reports and becoming a bridge between the public and the press, I think becoming an anchor is a more suitable choice.