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Korean CBDC local story showed that reporters should do their own investigations

Korean CBDC local story showed that reporters should do their own investigations
Fact-checking a story about a South Korean central bank digital currency showed why journalists must do their own investigations. Credit: Rita Fortunato/DL News.
  • Local media are a valuable source for other journalists.
  • Those reports are often interesting and can lead to major stories
  • But other reporters should always do their own investigations as Callan Quinn’s deep-dive into a Korean CBDC story reveals.

Few people outside the media realise how much news, foreign news especially, is recycled.

The days of the legendary foreign correspondent are long over. Some American newspapers no longer even have a reporter in Washington, DC. One well-known broadcaster in the southern hemisphere has a single staff journalist to cover the whole of Europe.

Only three international news agencies — Reuters, Associated Press and AFP — have a global foreign staff. They rely largely on the national agencies of the countries they cover. Those agencies often pick up local media reports.

It should be a golden rule that foreign reporters follow up local stories with their own investigation. That enables them to get more details, develop sources, and find new angles. Sadly, too many are happy to cut and paste.

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That is a pity because they are missing out on part of the fun of reporting.

Sometimes, digging gets you nowhere, and you have to accept that what you thought was a lead was in fact no story at all. But better that than mislead your reader.

On July 31, several crypto-specialist websites reported that three regions in South Korea had been shortlisted to test a central bank digital currency, supposedly jumping on a growing wave of countries like China, Britain and Sweden that pursue such projects.

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DL News’ Asia Correspondent Callan Quinn was intrigued that the reports stressed that Seoul had been ruled out.

“There wasn’t any indication that it would be held in Seoul,” she said. “And other countries have opted to start rolling out their CBDCs outside the capital city, so it wasn’t too unusual.”

She decided to dig into the story, which originated from the Korean news website it.chosun.com.

A Korean speaker confirmed that the English-language versions of the report had been accurately translated.

A source in a company which is providing infrastructure to build the CBDC told Callan, however, that the report was untrue.

Callan called the Bank of Korea, but did not get a reply.

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She was interested in the story because “a lot of countries at the moment are running pilot programmes into digital currencies.”

Often, she said, “countries will run programmes in one or two cities to test the infrastructure, to test consumer interest, to look for teething problems.”

China, where she worked for several years, is running such programmes. Dozens of other countries are at different stages of exploring CBDCs.

“Several cities in South Korea would like to build themselves into blockchain hubs but have not been very successful at it,” she said.

As the days went by, she kept an eye out for updates, but there was no official statement on whether the claims were true, either directly from the Bank of Korea or other media.

Callan acknowledges that the report might have been true, and that her source might have been unaware of what was going on.

“It has happened before that the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing,” she said.

At the same time, some websites simply reproduce reports without checking.

“It is a big problem in covering crypto,” she said. “People will see something and say we must match it, go, go, go. You don’t have time to verify, which is why people accuse journalists of spreading misinformation.”

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Callan reported for several crypto-specialist sites before joining DL News this year.

“At other places, there is a pressure to produce stories,” she said. “In certain newsrooms you are not given time to check. You can’t verify something in five minutes, especially if you are working in different time zones and trying to cross language barriers.”

It is worth noting that several of the English-language reports about the CBDC pilot programmes in South Korea appeared within hours of the original story in Korean. That suggests that they did not take the time to verify anything.

Robert Holloway is DL News’ ombudsman and whistleblowing officer. If you have any views on our reporting or questions about journalistic ethics, then don’t hesitate to drop him a line at robert@dlnews.com.