Sohn Jie-ae, who has spent 30 years in the English-language media, has written a memoir chronicling her journey.
Published last month, “Sohn Jie-ae. CNN. Seoul” resembles its writer: It is ambitious and expansive, touching on everything from career advice to journalism, government work, North Korea, feminism and family life.
“So many people seem to think to themselves, ‘This is it for me. This is the end of my capacity,’” Sohn told The Korea Herald in an interview in Seoul on Tuesday.
“I hope people, especially young people in their 20s and 30s, will read this book and realize that they can challenge themselves and experience anything they put their mind to.”
Over the years, Sohn has accumulated a formidable resume in the media industry. Starting out as a writer for the Seoul-based English-language magazine Business Korea, she has reported for the New York Times, worked as the Seoul correspondent for CNN and served as CEO of Arirang TV and Radio, Korea’s state-run English-language broadcaster.
Sohn Jie-ae poses before an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Tuesday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
“I had never been set on becoming a journalist,” said Sohn. But the job turned out to be a perfect fit for her, combining her extroverted personality -- “I gain energy from meeting new people” -- and fluency in English. Sohn, whose father was a diplomat, had grown up in the U.S. as a child.
Having reported extensively on dealings with North Korea throughout her career, Sohn stressed the need for proper education on the isolated country -- now more than ever, when global tensions are high.
“Back in my days, there was a strict anti-Communism agenda. Any mention of the North was taboo,” she said. “Now, we need to have a more objective and thorough understanding of North Korea in order to respond to it.”
In 2010, Sohn veered away from journalism to work in government communications, serving as spokesperson for the 2010 G20 Seoul Summit and as former president Lee Myung-bak’s secretary for overseas public relations.
“News and communications are like two sides of a coin,” she said. “News tells it as it is. In communications, there is a purpose. On behalf of the Korean government, the purpose is to make sure the national agenda is delivered accurately to the media. You also have to think about the country’s image.”
A mother of three, Sohn writes about balancing the demands of family life and a thriving career. Her book includes vignettes about pumping breast milk inside a bathroom stall in the Blue House where she was to interview then-President Kim Dae-jung, and juggling Korea’s intense after-work drinking culture with motherhood.
“There was always a sense of guilt,” she said. “You’re always feeling indebted to someone, whether it be your mother or your husband for looking after the kids in your place. Why is it that only women have to feel that guilt? That needs to change.”
Sohn is currently a visiting professor at Ewha Womans University, her alma mater. Many expect her to pursue a career in politics in the future, given her top-tier career track, but Sohn denied any such ambitions, at least for the time being.
One thing Sohn was clear about was her ever-adventurous spirit. “I’m in my mid-50s now, and I still don’t want to define myself in one certain way,” she said.
By Rumy Doo (email@example.com