Remaking KQ for the future – virtually the same, except for the paper | By Martha Vickery (Spring 2022 issue)
In 25 years, I bet I have been asked 100 times how often Korean Quarterly gets published. I always feel a bit embarrassed to answer, like it will be taken the wrong way.
“It’s quarterly,” I say. “Like every three months?”
“Oh right!” the person always says, either looking embarrassed too, or ending with a laugh at themselves.
Korean Quarterly has been publishing quarterly, despite many life challenges for all of us involved in its making, for 25 years. We always stayed more-or-less on schedule. Accountability and stick-to-itiveness have been the watchwords. As newspaper folks to the core, we’ve been conscious of getting the newspaper into the readers’ hands with regularity, in the mindset of “publish or perish,” for a quarter century.
Working up to that press deadline requires some demanding labor, and some late nights in the weeks preceding publication. The relief is cathartic when that new paper is out. There are few things more satisfying than publishing something. At least, that is the way I’m built. And now, it’s a habit. It is just the way we do things.
But things will be a bit different from now on.
Next quarter, KQ will be 100 percent online at our website: www.koreanquarterly.org, where we have produced a parallel online publication for roughly two years. Instead of publishing a paper issue all on one day, we will leak out the new virtual issue a few stories at a time over a few weeks. Each story will have a season and a year of publication, but they won’t all go out simultaneously.
The reason – other than ‘why should we kill ourselves if we don’t have to?’ – has to do with the pace of output needed for growing our readership. The number of readers rise when we publish new content, even just one story; and it falls if we don’t publish online for awhile. We will be working on ways to interest new readers, and be employing some new website modifications to get us there.
The thing about a print newspaper – getting it out requires a lot of human interaction, pandemic or not. Volunteers were in short supply for awhile – people turned inward and had crazy things of their own to figure out. We developed a system of bringing page proofs to the copy editors’ homes instead of having our usual fun/serious get-together to do production and get the paper out the door. That was the saddest part of the pandemic for me!
Publishing also requires a cash outlay, which was in short supply as advertising dried up practically overnight. Restaurants (for awhile at least) and every live event shut down, and there was very little to advertise. We never got the other dropped advertising back. We still haven’t.
Today, exactly two years since I was first sent home from my job (the other job) to telework, in-person events are just barely coming back. Maybe they will return to past numbers. Or maybe they won’t, and we’ll accept that more virtual events are just part of the new normal, until COVID is well in the distant past.
However, we instinctively knew, way more than two years ago, before anyone had a pandemic in mind, that KQ would eventually need to re-tool for a more virtual future. There were plenty of good reasons to do it. The pandemic just speeded the transition up a bit.
Indeed, the pandemic has had a tendency to reorder many of our life priorities and our business priorities. At KQ, we started the pandemic with a grim determination to keep our print edition going. But suddenly, there was a re-ordering, a new way to think about our values. Our way of looking to the future changed.
An online publication would be cheaper to produce, more flexible, more responsive to our readership, and better suited to an increasingly virtual and global audience. Moreover, it could keep KQ going, although in a different form. We began to accept that keeping our non-profit media organization solvent and relevant was really the only thing.
Now in the last week of our last print issue, I am relieved that we will still be publishing. Other than the thing you read it on, the important things about KQ – the quality, mix of stories, the photos and the fun stuff, and most importantly, all the great people who make it happen, will all be there at: www.koreanquarterly.org. It will still be by and about a big, diverse community of people with Korean connections as the common link. It will still have everything that makes KQ important.
Stories that reveal how our priorities have been shaken up and reordered are told by several people in this issue. Carolyn Holbrook, editor with David Mura of the anthology We Are Meant to Rise, described how their invitations for the writers had to be revised, then re-revised. Starting out as a planned anthology for women writers of color in Minnesota, the editors invited more writers of color to talk about a broader range of topics: Living through the pandemic, and later still, to talk about life in the Twin Cities after George Floyd’s murder. Holbrook said that many writers felt paralyzed upon receiving the invitation – the trauma had been too much. By allowing the writers the time and space to write their own truth of the last two years, a unique collection emerged that could only have come from Minnesota.
Columnist Sarah Han’s unwillingness to accept a status quo apolitical attitude as a teacher, and her determination to re-think how to express representation and allyship in her life helped her find a new path, but created a lot of challenges in her workplace. She has found her voice as an activist – even if it is a voice that is too loud and too honest for its time. Thanks to Sarah for a second column in a hard year she knows has changed her for the better, and also changed her for good.
Columnist Kari Scanlon, like many other writers, was temporarily unable to express all the stuff coming at her over the last two years. A contributor and regular columnist since 2009, she was also overwhelmed with the challenges of work and supervising her son’s various online/in-person school arrangements. She stopped writing during that time, but is back this issue with an engaging account of suddenly being able to reorder her thoughts and do what was most important amid the chaos. Seeing her stand up for justice also helped her son to start finding his own voice too.
Kelley Katzenmeyer went to Korea in 2011 as a high school graduate in an exchange program in which students repeated their last year of high school in Korea. The last year of high school is probably the most stressful of any South Korean student’s life, when they study non-stop for the standardized test known as the sunung. Interested in film, Katzenmeyer had an idea to do a short film on effect of the sunung on South Korean students lives. Ten years later, still living in Seoul, the film was the impetus that reprioritized her life. After assembling a skilled core team and hundreds of volunteers, the bilingual film Permission to Exist was recently launched on a new internet platform that the team also created. The idea is to make available video resources designed to support the mental health of Korean students’ and other students globally.
The push to make our last issue the 25th anniversary issue came from an essay I received from fellow journalist and longtime contributor Tom McCarthy back in December in which he writes of how KQ influenced his childhood, and especially how content by other Korean adoptee returnees to Korea helped him decide as a young adult that he could live and work in Korea too. Nine years later, there is nowhere else he would rather be.
There is nothing so satisfying and joy-inducing after 25 years than hearing from a longtime reader that KQ has accomplished something it was invented to do – provide resources, inspiration, empowerment, and people who get it, for Korean Americans who are maturing into their Korean identity. Tom now has a challenging new job at KBS Radio News but promised to hang in there as a contributor. He is indeed paying it forward by providing new readers the same modeling and encouragement he got from KQ as a child and young adult.
Finally, we owe a big shout-out to Kim Jackson, art director for KQ for 25 years. She always has a million ideas on how to make KQ look better than last time, in addition to so many other ways of contributing to the community. This issue’s offering is a cover featuring a re-invented taeguk, or Korean national symbol, inspired by an ancient Joseon naval flag (Where does she find these things?) Her talent and skill for graphic design is matched only by her loyalty to KQ – AKA her longest-ever graphic design project, spanning pretty much her whole adult life so far. Where does the time go? Those babies I once held so she would have enough time to put the KQ pages on a flash drive the night before publication? They are both now teenagers.
Happy spring, and let’s continue this long conversation at www.koreanquarterly.org!
Martha Vickery, editor
Martha Vickery is a long-time professional journalist and long-time amateur Korea watcher, co-founder of Korean Quarterly, and editor since its founding in 1997. She has raised three now-adult children, two of whom are adopted from Korea, with the help of the Korean American community in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area.