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Q&A with Cho Chung Yeon of City Evening Daily

Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Cho Cheong Yeon

Free newspaper in Korea may have a short history, but according to the recent report 2010 Newspaper Advertisement Readership Score published by Korea Press Foundation, free newspaper in Korea has one of the highest editorial readership scores and advertisement attention rates compared to other papers, including national dailies and finance newspapers in Korea. Cho Chung Yeon, president of City Evening Daily, was one of the key actors who established this free newspaper industry in Korea. With his experience working at the Korean Association of Newspapers, he established Metro, Korea’s first free newspaper, and worked as the first president of the company. Years later he became the executive director at Focus, which is also a free newspaper in Korea. Cho currently operates City Evening Daily, a free evening newspaper company and teaches at Jeju National University Law School as an adjunct professor. Here are some excerpts from the interview with Cho.

Congratulations on taking over City Evening Daily as president. How do you feel?

Frankly speaking, the position as president hasn’t really sunk in yet. At this point, I hope I could manage the company and follow the cases of STX and Fila. These two companies are perfect examples where professional managers took over the company from the owner effectively. As president, a successful takeover is my current aspiration.

Can you tell us about the brief history of City Evening Daily, when it was founded and what may be the main objective of City Evening Daily?

City Evening Daily is Korea’s first free comprehensive evening newspaper. The corporation was established in January 2007 and its first issue was published on May 2, 2007. In Korea, there are a total of six free newspapers and five of them publish morning papers. So I thought by targeting the empty evening newspaper market, our company could offer more news to the 10 million commuting Seoul Cityzens faster than our competitors.

Before you joined City Evening Daily, I heard you also played an important role in setting up other free newspapers including Metro and Focus. Can you tell me more about these newspapers and your experience?

Korea’s free newspapers can be traced back to Metro. Before Metro, there were free papers that provided information filled with classified advertisement and community news, but there were no free newspapers that had a format of the current daily newspapers. Metro was the first to have this kind of format.

My first job was at the Korean Association of Newspapers. While working four years at Korea Association of Newspapers, I witnessed the problems of the Korean newspaper industry and its lack of insight in reading the changes of the readers and advertisers. This experience was the reason I established Metro in July 2001. After attracting investors, the first edition of Metro was published on May 31, 2002, and on July 16, 2003 I founded Focus. Soon after, City Evening Daily was published on May 2, 2007.

What are your future plans for City Evening Daily as president?

The global newspaper market is on the stage of decline, except in China and India, but mostly in advanced countries. If I only thought about the intrinsic business domain of City Evening Daily, I would not have taken over the company in a time where news consumption and production is changing so rapidly due to advanced media technology. But I am not saying I will be expanding the business sphere thoughtlessly to online and mobile media. I just don’t think the profitability of mobile and online media is tested enough at this point. So, for the time being, I am planning to focus on M&A opportunities and added value business City Evening Daily can provide.

Free newspaper is a very recent phenomenon in Korea. How do you see the future of this media?

Unlike existing national dailies, the readers of free newspapers are in their 20s and 30s, and these are the main targets the advertisers favor. Also, many advertisers still consider free newspapers the most cost effective media. For these reasons, I believe the free newspaper will continue to strive. However, the rapid advancement of online media and mobile media based on SNS imply that from now on media has to focus more on the effective execution of advertisement, meaning the free newspaper industry has to make a lot of effort in order to provide various products for advertisers.

In Korea, online media is spreading very quickly. In this situation, do you think offline media such as your newspaper has any future?

In Korea, to establish an online media company is like finding a part-time job in America. It is that easy. Online media companies that have credibility are ones that have massive amount of funds and accumulated experience, mostly media companies that have long existed. Without investment, making a online media company has no meaning. This is the reason why free newspapers do not have much interest in making an online newspaper. But I think this has to change now. Even though it may not be a newspaper exclusively for online purposes, just as the offline newspaper had its base on paper, if free newspaper companies want to make profit by entering the Internet business, they have to actively utilize the Internet in order to create various advertisement products.

How is City Evening Daily different from other newspapers in Korea? What is your philosophy?

The distinction between City Evening Daily and other free newspapers is clear. It is the fast news delivery and differentiated services. This is also my philosophy.

In Korea, usually media companies are headed by old people. You have achieved this position at a very young age. What is your secret to your success? What motivated you to work so hard?

Operators of online media companies are very young, but traditional offline newspaper companies have many restrictions for young people to be on the executive level. When I founded Metro, I was only 29. Now thinking of it, time really flies. I am not sure achieving the position as president at a young age means success, but behind these achievements I always had the habit of thinking continuously and making efforts not to repeat my failures.

Apart from running City Evening Daily, do you have any business plans in the future?

I am thinking about operating a consulting business and C to C commerce sector business. The consulting business I have in mind is to provide help in funding, legal assistance, tax assistance, management and marketing for those who have the ideas and technology but no funding and operational experience. I was in that situation ten years ago. The C to C business was something I wanted to do since I took over the newspaper five years ago. Currently, I am planning a type of business that has a format of a combination of eBay and Facebook. The product is expected to be out in the market around next March.

Lastly, do you have a message for our young readers who would like to achieve success like yourself?

When you are facing a difficult problem or obstacles try to overcome it by yourself. It is natural to make mistakes and experience failures, but it is important to learn something out of them. Try not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again by going through numerous trials and errors.

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