The Associated Press’s Newest Bureau

Pictures from North Korea:

A North Korean shovels snow at the foot of Mt. Paekdu on April 3, 2012. Photo credit David Guttenfelder/AP.


The Associated Press opened their first full news bureau in North Korea in January. This is tremendously exciting to all of us DPRK-watchers who want more, more, more news coming out of the country, and I think it’s partially responsible for the sustained higher media profile of North Korea since Kim Jong Il’s death.

The bureau operates out of Pyongyang. The official opening was planned for December 2011, but the news of Kim Jong-Il’s death broke just as Tom Curley and Kathleen Carroll, respectively AP’s president and executive editor, arrived in the capital city. Everything was postponed for the mourning period, and the official opening of the bureau itself was put off until January 16th. Still, the staffers in Pyongyang—already set up to operate—got straight to work covering the story of Kim Jong Il’s death.

Two North Korean journalists staff the AP bureau full-time; the Korean Central News Agency (the only North Korean news outlet) pledges full cooperation with the AP. This is pretty standard operating procedure for the AP, but it’s very interesting in the news-strangled case of North Korea to hear that some of the stories the AP produces will be developed by North Koreans. However, most of the news stories on AP’s site are produced by Western writers based in Seoul or the US or even Sweden.

The two North Korean journalists are supervised by the AP’s bureau chief for the Korean peninsula, Jean Lee, who makes frequent visits to Pyongyang from her base of operations in Seoul. The AP’s chief Asia photographer, David Guttenfelder, also plays a major role, producing many exceptional photos. These two account for the main coverage accreditation.

Two covered statues await their unveiling during the 100th anniversary celebrations of Kim Il Sung’s birth. April 11, 2012. Photo credit David Guttenfelder/AP.


So that’s exciting. An independent news bureau operating inside North Korea will greatly deepen the coverage of the country, which too often is restricted (by lack of news sources inside the country) to commentary on the government’s actions and proclamations. The government is far from being the only interesting thing about North Korea, and I hope that the AP will cover more territory; if it does, and if their news stories reach us, then we’ll be able to develop a much more nuanced understanding of the country, and perhaps be able to separate our view of its people from the often unrepresentative actions of its government.

The bureau opened with many critics worried it would be another mouthpiece for the regime, producing only the news that the government favored. There is some justification in that fear, since access remains limited, but it is a step in the right direction, and the news and photos they’ve produced so far have been extremely fresh.

There are already two other foreign news bureaus in Pyongyang: China’s Xinhua agency, and Russia’s Itar-Tass. The AP, however, has the first permanent Western bureau operating independently with a full-time staff in the country.

All in all, the new AP bureau has been producing fantastic photos of the country, and lots of good stories as well. You can find a great feed of their coverage here:

A woman in a Pyongyang office cleans a painting of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mt. Paekdu, a sacred mountain in North Korea. April 9, 2012. Photo credit Ng Han Guan/AP.


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