Iowa Journalist Fall 2009

The University of Iowa

Choonghee Han: Miles
of journalism experience

Choonghee Han (Ph.D. candidate, North Liberty, Iowa) brings many years and many more miles of journalism experience to The University of Iowa, and that time and space has allowed Han to form the philosophy on journalism education he imparts on UI students today.

photo of choonghee

From South Korea to Iowa City Han serves as TA for both Social Scientific Foundations of Communication and Cultural and Historical Foundations of Communication classes. Photo by Adrienne Klopfenstein

Born in 1968 in Wonju, South Korea, a small city in "a mountainous province," Han and his family eventually moved to Seoul where, as a high school student, he joined an intramural broadcast team. He took that blooming interest in journalism to Kyung Hee University.

"I wanted to learn more about how journalism works, how communication works and how to better understand each other," Han said. "That’s the business of journalism."

Han received his bachelor’s degree from Kyung Hee in 1993 and took a job with the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS), the Korean equivalent of the United States’ Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). There, Han honed his media production skills in radio, television and documentary filmmaking, while increasing his curiosity about media audiences.

Five years into his 10-year tenure at EBS, Han chose to return to Kyung Hee University to obtain a master’s degree in journalism. His thesis explored EBS’s audience and its satisfaction with the station’s programming.

"We had a broad concept of what educational programming meant, so I wanted to know if audiences were happy with what they received from this formerly government-run, now public-but-government-funded station," Han said of the PBS-modeled network. "We claimed to be the protector of public broadcast. That’ why I wanted to know if audiences respect the network and would continue to contribute and support quality programming. And they said they really enjoy what we created."

Han’s thirst for education was not quenched, though, and after asking for a one-year leave from EBS, Han applied and was accepted to the master’s program at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. The school had a journalism and broadcast program similar to Kyung Hee and one whose reputation appealed to Han.

"Ball State has one of the top five telecommunications programs in the country, which basically means they have one of the top five programs in the world," Han said.

There, he continued studying audience usage of media, even though it took him longer than the time off he requested.

"Ball State’s is a 48 credit-hour program, and I only asked for one year off," Han said. "So every year I had to ask for another year off; I even called the president of EBS, and somehow I successfully made my case."

Han worked hard the next two years to obtain his second master’s degree, this one focusing on digital storytelling with a thesis on international students’ usage of local media or their home’s media. He admits, however, that even though he intended to return home, once he landed in the Midwest, his goals took a turn.

"I had another plan in mind: to find a quality Ph.D. program," Han said. "And I knew the name of The University of Iowa because of its philosophy and doctorate program. Several people in Korea have graduated from Iowa. For example, the dean of communication at Seoul National University is an Iowa graduate."

Associate Professor Lyombe Eko was the first to call when Han was accepted into UI’s doctorate program in 2005.

"I was a member of the graduate admissions committee, and I was assigned to vet international students," Eko said. "By coincidence, Choonghee was driving in heavy traffic, but he offered to pull over so we could talk!"

Eko was and continues to be impressed with Han’s experience and work ethic.

"Choonghee has done an excellent job setting up a model that takes our school from having a simpler broadcast system to a strong online system as well," Eko said. "He has walked students, and me as well, through these technological changes and has been the multidisciplinary, multi-tasking, multi-skilled person we like to have and are trying to produce at The University of Iowa."

One of Han’s many tasks, his doctoral dissertation, reflects his continued interest on media’s effect on audiences. The project, "The Politics of Memory in Journalistic Representation of World War II Human Rights Abuses: Discursive Construction of Controversial ‘Sites of Memory’ in Three East Asian Newspapers," seems easier done than said when explained by Han.

"There are three key concepts: journalistic representation, and that means news. There’s collective memory, which is something we share that defines our existence. And there’s politics, something that’s never neutral and always wants to win public support," Han said. "So I want to see how politicians in South Korea, Japan and China exploit their audiences’ shared memory of World War II atrocities ­ invasions, killings, occupations, massacres ­ through media."

Along with his dissertation, Han has also worked as a teaching assistant for Professor Julie Andsager’s Social Scientific Foundations of Communication and Associate Professor Frank Durham’s Cultural and Historical Foundations of Communication.

"Choonghee has a really sharp mind and would often ask important questions to get the discussion going," Durham said. "He has a good rapport with students and runs a good class." As a colleague, Durham considered Han "more of a collaborator than an employee. That’s my goal: to work with graduate students on even terms, and that’s been easy to do with Choonghee."

Han has collected his travels and experiences and crafted a philosophy on journalism education that he takes pride in imparting on his students.

"I’ve always had a sense that journalism produces public intelligence," Han said. "My career so far has helped me learn about the importance of journalism, the impact it has. We are trying to facilitate democracy, which is the goal of society: to maintain everybody’s well-being. This is a value we cannot abandon. And any student who can learn our skills, who has our analytical ability and who believes in our value, after they graduate from our university, they can do anything."

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