Anyone who has been in town for longer than a few weeks has, more likely than not, found themselves flipping through a copy of Gwangju News. The free publication is issued monthly, and has churned out coverage of local and regional issues since 2001. Through a revolving door of writers, the magazine serves as an integral part of the English speaking population here with an insightful, and often times eclectic, range of topics. However, behind the scenes of everything you read in Gwangju News, is a team of individuals who put in the extra hours on top of their full-time jobs to create relevant and informative articles. One key member of this team, Kelsey Rivers, is ending her time as a Managing Editor at GN, but her take on the experience there, and Korea in general, is a story within itself.
What is your writing background? Did you study it? Any genres or styles that you specialize in?
I never studied writing formally, in the sense of being a Journalism or Creative Writing major. My majors were Anthropology and Linguistics, so I got really good at writing in that terribly superior-sounding register of the academic paper. In my opinion though, the best ethnographies and anthropological writings are usually in a narrative non-fiction style, which as a writer is my favorite genre. The articles I have found to be the most rewarding to write (for example, the feature story for our July issue, about the life of a Nepali shipyard worker in Samho) have always been in this style. I love stories; when I ‘m presenting real-life, real facts, I want to frame it as a story.
How long have you been in Korea? What brought you here?
I’ve been in Korea for about 3 years now, although it feels shorter. Where’d all my time go?
As I mentioned before, I studied Anthropology and Linguistics, and my interest in Linguistics over time became centered on second-language acquisition. So, when I had the opportunity to come to Korea for an internship (teaching at summer English camps in Gokseong and Damyang), I jumped at it. That experience was rewarding, and I fell in love with the students and teaching so much that I decided to apply for a fulltime JLP position after graduation. I’ve been in Mokpo ever since.
When did you start writing for GN? How has it changed since then?
I actually started out only as a copy-editor, about 2 and a half years ago. After a year of copy-editing, I moved into the Chief Proofreader position, and that’s when I began writing for Gwangju News. The thing about being a staff member for GN is that we often end up picking up articles that are assigned last minute, or that our writer pool didn’t pick up. I began writing for GN for that reason, because I had to. I honestly needed that push, to get me from only doing behind-the-scenes work to writing. I think I write less now than when I first started as staff, since there are more writers expressing an interest in writing. These days, there’s very little left for me to write. I have mixed emotions – I’m happy that so many writers want to help out, but disappointed that there are fewer opportunities for me to write, unless I specifically decide to take an article for myself.
What are your philosophies to journalism and/or writing in general?
I feel that since I’m just a baby writer, I don’t have a philosophy surrounding writing or journalism, I’m still figuring things out myself. As an editor, however, I have a more developed approach. For me, when I edit, I want to change the article as little as possible. Obviously I’ll fix blatant mistakes, and I’ll adjust an article to fit the standards of the publication and for clarity’s sake. But I ultimately want the article to speak for itself. I’ve thought about this especially in the context of how to edit a non-native speaker of English’s article. Some copy-editors want to not only fix all of the mistakes, but also re-write things to sound more natural, native speaker-like, even if the original turn of phrase employed isn’t necessarily wrong, or unclear. I don’t edit this way. I don’t want to edit their language out of the piece. I love what non-native speakers can do with English, the interesting and creative uses they can make of the language that native-speakers are too entrenched in the “natural” way to see.
In what ways have you grown as a writer/editor?
Since my role with GN has so strongly been associated with the editing, behind-the-scenes aspect of the magazine, I feel as a writer I have not grown so much. If anything, I never saw myself as a writer at all. GN has brought this out of me, I’ve just gotten my feet wet, I’m just beginning. It is only now that I want to see where writing takes me, what I could do with it.
Any favorite articles or moments from GN that stick out?
It’s not a particular moment per se that sticks out, but watching how GN has changed over time, from when I first started as Managing Editor a year ago, to now. Due to staff changes and personality clashes, GN was going through… difficult times, which is what I inherited from the previous Managing Editor. For a while, we had a lot of issues finding writers, getting the magazine out on time… It was stressful. But leaving the magazine now, the state of GN is so different. I think it is a much stronger publication now than it was a year ago, we have better writers, and our staff is working together as team. Thinking about these changes is very striking to me.
Are there any other writing endeavors that you have outside of GN?
To be honest, I don’t do much writing outside of GN. Between traveling, meeting friends, having a full-time job, volunteer work, and doing so much for the magazine, when I have free time I only want to read a good book, not write one.
What occupies your time when you are not putting together the next issue?
About 6 months after I arrived in Korea, when I was feeling a little isolated, disconnected, I had a sudden impulse to try everything, to worm my way into the community, somehow. My involvement with GN arose out of that, as well as tutoring at a local children’s home, getting involved with the Kona organization in Gwangju, becoming a regular member at KOTESOL, a discussion leader for the Mokpo language exchange, and a founding member of the Mokpo book club. It’s by joining all of these different organizations, and networking with all of these different people, that has helped me feel the most connected with and a part of the Mokpo/Gwangju community. These activities might keep me a little too busy, however.
My downtime mostly consists of reading and walking/hiking.
Plans for the future?
In the short term, I’m finishing up my time in Jeollanam-do and preparing for a three month trip around Southeast Asia, as well as looking forward to being home for a while for the first time in years. After that, my plans are a bit hazy. I have the intention to come back to Korea in the near future and do intensive Korean study in Seoul, to see if that’ll help push my language ability to the next level. And since the poor student life doesn’t exactly agree with me, I’ll be looking for another teaching position, hopefully in or near Seoul as well. I’m interested to see what journalistic/writing opportunities are available in Seoul, and where that may take me.