Steven D. Ward, M.P.A.

Foreign Assistant Professor of Political Science; Chosun University

Comparing Options for English News Subscriptions in Korea

I’m a news junkie. Although I have posted before about reading 100 books in a year (something I’ve only managed to do once), most of my reading is not books but articles from online media sources.

Back in the day, I got my fix via Google Reader. I was addicted to it the way people today are addicted to Facebook. It was the first thing I checked when I sat down at my computer and it was probably a blessing in disguise when Google finally stopped offering the service several years ago.

Ever so often I have tried similar services like Flipboard and Feedly but so far nothing has caught my fancy as a suitable replacement. The default method for me to gather my news and current events analysis has been social media in recent years.

The US Presidential election of 2016, however, convinced me that this is not just inadequate but actually dangerous. Although I cultivate a ‘bubble’ of Facebook friends of all political stripes, much of what was being shared around the end of October from my conservative-leaning friends was not anything resembling thoughtful analysis and reasoned counter-points, but highly misleading and even completely fake news. Many of the ones I remember featured still paparazzi-type shots of Hillary doing things that proved one or more conspiracy theories, where “Hillary” was obviously a look-a-like model or actor.

I’m glad I saw this stuff out there floating around so that I was aware that people were, in fact, taking them seriously. However, I could tell that I was missing out on valuable conservative analysis due to this viral smoke and mirrors.

In all of the craziness of that last election cycle, I seemed to max out the number of free articles that I could view on several different sites. This got me to thinking that I really should just pony up the cash to support media outlets that provide valuable and important coverage. One outlet in particular seemed to rise above the fray in its reporting: The Atlantic.

I was continually impressed with it’s political articles I saw being shared, but after I liked the Facebook page and I saw it’s articles on all manner of cultural topics, I found myself wanting to read nearly everything they posted. It was time, I knew, to buy a subscription.

Luckily I found The Atlantic’s international subscription terms quite reasonable and affordable and it was an easy decision. I knew, however, that I need to strive for balance in the sources I choose. Thus, I sought out to find a publication slight right-of-center to balance The Atlantic’s left-of-center viewpoint. This is where I started to run into trouble.

That Atlantic’s very reasonable price point of $40 for one year’s worth of (10) issues with international delivery turned out to be the very cheapest I found. I found the process of comparing the various media sources against each other to find good bargains so frustrating that I ended up taking notes to plug into an excel file.

And now I share it with you in a handy chart.

This is ONLY an exhaustive breakdown of subscription services available in Korea in the sense that I was exhausted by the time I got done making it, and it’s not even that long. I would LOVE to hear opinions on other publications that belong on the list, so feel free to contact me with your suggestions.

As a general rule, publications tend to be setting their price for a digital subscription as the “base” membership option, with the print version being the up-sell (a slight bump up in price for an extra benefit). My personal interest was in finding deals on print publications, so I did not take the time to research every possible method of getting a digital version (eg., check availability as native apps vs. presence in a “newsstand” app). Note that I used Wikipedia’s Political Bias chart to help with classifying the slant of each source.
Link to the Google doc

Using this data to help you make a decision

In my case, most of the news and analysis I get has a liberal bent, so I know I need to bring in the conservative perspective. Price is also a major concern. Every one of these publications (except for The Atlantic) is more expensive than I thought. Still, I can take a general approach of choosing 1 daily, 1 weekly, and 1 monthly publication to choose from. Because of my own liberal bias, I know if I’m not careful, I’ll likely choose all three options from liberal sources, so I’m going to try and force myself to choose one right-leaning source.

The biggest choice in terms of price, however, is going to be your daily news source. If we start there, just going with the cheapest option, we have to go with IHT/Joongang Ilbo.

I’ve already chosen my monthly publication with The Atlantic, though, so that means my conservative news outlet must come from my weekly publication. The only choice here is The Economist, and it’s 344,000 won / year.

Ouch.

Looking at this configuration objectively, however, the field of economics is an intellectual weakness of mine so it could do me good on a few different fronts to make a habit of reading the magazine. All-in, this configuration would cost me:

  • 280,000 won for my Daily IHT
  • 344,000 won for weekly Economist
  • $40 for monthly Atlantic.

Add the first two together, and a quick conversion ($533.69) brings us to a total of:

$573.69

Gulp…

On the one hand, that’s only $47.80 per month.

Or, $11.03 per week.

Yeah, that’s still pretty expensive considering my professor’s salary and the fact that we are mostly talking about consuming information that exists on the web totally for free.

Cost aside, I’m not entirely happy with this configuration. Because of my job, I need more international affairs analysis, for one.

Let’s see if we can bring this total cost down a bit while making the flow of information ultimately more tailored to my own needs.

Incorporating Social Media Tools Efficiently

Two things make me a huge hypocrite in regards to how I consume information:

  1. I’m always telling people they need to be reading the academic journals in their fields habitually; I do not do this enough myself.
  2. I criticize people that get most of their news from social media, but that’s exactly what I do.

 

Audible is a popular audiobook service, and it didn’t dawn on me until I sat down to start typing this section on other tools for consuming news, but I already get a daily 30 minute ‘news brief’ of either WSJ or NYT on my Audible app. You can join Audible for $14 / month (and there are promotional discounts you can find easily enough), but since I already have a membership to Audible this actually brings no added cost to me, while allowing me to bring in a much-needed conservative perspective. And it should be easy enough to integrate into my daily routine as I usually don’t do much of anything while walking the dog twice a day.

Free of the major cost of a weekly publication in my rotation, I can look at adding in something like The Economist: Espresso, which is a daily news brief for the cost of $4 / month ($38 / year) and seems put together quite well. This also has a conservative slant. Now my costs look more like: $78 per year. Much more manageable. We are almost there.

Alternatively, I could go with a digital subscription to the weekly publication rather than the print, but I genuinely like the feel of the Espresso App and it feels like something I would check while I’m still laying in bed in the mornings, before I tell Audible to download the daily briefing from the WSJ to listen to while I walk the dog.

Aiming for a Low Information Diet

Feedly is, essentially, a Google Reader replacement. When you first start looking at RSS readers it is easy to get excited about the possibilities and making a reader that pulls in hundreds or thousands of articles to sort through every day. This is the WRONG approach. And it is exactly what my Feedly currently looks like, which is why I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually read through it.

The idea I have with Feedly is to, rather than using it to make sure no article that might possibly be of interest to me flies under my radar, pull in academic sources. In particular, academic blogs and Journals that I would like to follow both in my fields and in areas of general curiosity.

Considering that most journals are behind paywalls themselves, so far this is no easy task. The RSS feeds seem to only provide titles, and I have to click to visit the website in order to even see the abstract.

And that is totally fine. Because the purpose here is to try and simplify and reduce my daily news consumption, not complicate it. This part of my plan is going to take some time to implement, but I have found enough journal feeds so far (there are feedly hashtags that make this easier to find journals) that I am excited about the possibility here.

I still would like to subscribe to print copies of either Foreign Affairs or Foreign Policy, plus National Interest. Additionally, I really just like Monocle. It’s such a slick, stylish magazine. I don’t think I can justify the expense of it right now, but we’ll see. I’ll try to get my hands on some recent issues and check out the recent political analysis for myself. If it’s rigorous enough for me to consider reading it beneficial to my teaching then I might go for it.

Making New Habits

None of this matters without implementation, right? For this I have my Todoist app. Todoist allows for scheduled and recurring to do items. I find it really gratifying to sit down with a cup of coffee and my laptop and start knocking off those items from the list.

I’m going to try and consume my daily bits (via the Espresso app and Audible) by the time I take the dog on her morning walk. For my print publications, I’ll carry them with me throughout the day and read them when I can. My RSS feed will be good to thumb through and bookmark while I’m waiting in lines, walking to the grocery store, etc.

I still expect that I will be tagged in Facebook discussions about articles, and wake up to Tweets from contacts telling me to read some breaking news. I’ll still do all that, but I’ll be working hard on my self-restraint to keep myself from wasting tens of minutes every day scrolling endlessly through my feeds looking for that next ‘hit’ from an interesting headline I just can’t resist.

Conclusion

This is all a work in progress. I hope that thinking about the way that I consume news and cultivate intentional habits around it saves me some time and helps my career. I’m sure there will be adjustments, and I will probably use some of the trial offers that many publications offer.

One big question mark here is how shipping is going to work overseas. It would be pretty annoying if The Economist is a weekly publication and it takes a week for each issue to arrive. To this end I will update this post, as well as the Google Sheet, as I go.