Copenhagen story: learning to use the philosophy department

Dear Reader,

Just to clarify, I have walked into the philosophy department before. I even took Philosophy 101, which I found delightfully rewarding. I’ve just never saw a reason to enter the Blanchard Hall first floor offices after that class besides the occasional cup of hot chocolate — which the philosophy department secretary serves free of charge.

But for the first time since I’ve started to write for the Record, I interviewed a philosophy professor at Wheaton — and I learned that philosophers are a great crew for journalists to have on call!

The article I was writing was titled, “Copenhagen: a twofold conversation about expression and religion” on millennialinflux.com, and likely to be named something else when it comes out in the Record this Friday. Read it here!

Assistant professor of philosophy Adam Wood gave me nearly 42 minutes of dense, well-thought-out answers to my interview questions, which flowed in a confident stream from behind his book-laden desk. Dressed in a Notre Dame sweatshirt and jeans instead of his usual button-down and thick tie, it became apparent that, prepared or not, he could zero his philosophical mind onto a topic he was only vaguely familiar with and form cogent, educated assessments of the situations I presented him with.

What Dr. Wood was able to do a few minutes into the conversation was decide for me how to make Wheaton College students care about the Copenhagen shooting. His philosophical training made him focus on the fact that Islamic terrorist organizations have eschatological beliefs, he deconstructed the premises of their arguments for committing horrendous acts of violence, and he compared those acts to the extreme deeds of medieval Christians preparing for the end times.

Amazing. The philosophical minds of professors like Dr. Wood seem to me to be mines for offbeat translations and combinations of seemingly unrelated topics. The ability to explicate a perplexing topic by disentangling premises and piecing them back together in a different order is a priceless tool for journalists, and sometimes we need a more veteran thinker to do it for us.

I think that the first floor of Blanchard will see me a little more often, and for more than just their beverages.

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King Abdullah II of Jordan story — why Wheaton people are amazing

Dear Reader,

This last week, I wrote a story which ended up being titled, “King Abdullah II’s approval high, students say.” I was pleased with the title because it simultaneously captures the subject, the event, who I interviewed and how it applies to the student body.

It was published in The Wheaton Record’s Feb. 13 issue 20, and you can read it online here.

I learned about the event during a car ride to Minneapolis, MN — the editor in chief and the managing editor were discussing the week’s upcoming issue during the 6-hour trip — and knew that I wanted to write about it. Here’s how our managing editor pitched the idea:

“So the King of Jordan said that he’s going to personally lead airstrikes against ISIS!” (Or something close to that.)

How could I not be interested? Imagine Barack Obama picking up a rifle or jumping in a cockpit to teach the IS a lesson! If the leader of Jordan was going to be spearheading a bombing run, it meant something huge about the difference in value placed on honor and military displays of power between the US and Jordan.

Those rumors turned out to be false, but still pointed to the level of approval that King Abdullah II enjoyed.

The story also promised great interviews with students who studied or worked abroad in Jordan over the last few semesters (our managing editor being one of them — shh!) so I took on the story and was not disappointed with the material I collected from the dialogues.

Perhaps the most substantial lesson I learned from writing this story is that Wheaton has some amazing people. Four of these students travelled to the water-poor and threatened state of Jordan to pursue what they individually loved. Terrorist activity is high in Jordan — mostly targeted against US citizens — and violent demonstrations break out frequently. But Wheaton was still willing to send them there — one student went through a HNGR (Human Needs and Global Resources) internship, which means that Wheaton trained her specifically for her experience in Jordan. For all the talk about Wheaton being the safest place in the world, it sends its students to some of the unsafest places for the sake of experience, learning and spreading the gospel.

Much respect, Wheaton.

-Kirk

Photo credits to The Royal Correspondent

Behind the scenes of “Closer Look into World News”

Dear Reader,

Every Wednesday is publishing night for The Wheaton Record. Usually, I’ll stay up into the lonely hours editing, finalizing the latest edition with the managing editor and the editor in chief. Once we’ve uploaded our PDFs to the printer, it’s finally time to drag ourselves to bed — usually after a treacherous walk back to our housing in below freezing weather — and to prepare ourselves for the next day.

Thursdays start with thinking about what I’ll write about for my “Closer Look” column. When I come back from classes, I’ll groggily check my go-to news sources, including New York Times, CNN, BBC and USA Today. One source I periodically check is Christianity Today, because their content relates to an evangelical community like Wheaton’s.

The topic I write about is usually the first one that piques my interest. If there’s not an aspect of the story that I don’t find interesting, I’ll hate myself for writing it. That being said, it’s very easy to get me interested in something that affects the world, so I’ve written about topics ranging from the drug cartels in Mexico to street children in Manila, and I’ve done so happily.

After touching base with my News editor and researching the topic, the next step is to find intriguing interviews. Sometimes, the interview comes before I’ve even decided on a topic — an editor might mention that so-and-so has an opinion about this-and-such, and the process may commence from there. I always like doing face-to-face or phone interviews better than email interviews because the interviewee doesn’t have as much time to craft their responses, leading to a more honest, off-the-cuff answer to my questions.

Then comes the writing process. Since every time I sit down to write, something completely different happens, I can’t generalize and say, “This is how I write my articles.”

That being said, some things stay the same. More often than not, there are dozens of tabs open in my Internet browser, including other news articles, email and a thesaurus, with three or four Word documents cluttering my laptop desktop. Spotify frequently blocks out background noise with classical music turned up high — I can’t concentrate wholly on my writing when other ideas and words are being sung.

When I finish polishing the article, I’ll email it to my managing editor, editor in chief and news editor, and await their feedback before printing it off for the copy editors. The next time I see my article, it’s been through at least three copy editors and pasted prettily on page 3 of News. Then, we rinse and repeat for the next week!

-Kirk

Where am I writing?

Dear Reader,

I’m a columnist with The Wheaton Record and a journalism student at Wheaton College (IL). This means that I’m publishing on a weekly basis, and pushing out stories rapidly. If you’d like to keep up, check out the following websites!

The Wheaton Record: I write weekly about world issues that concern Wheaton’s student body. This means that I interview campus experts or individuals who have some experience with the topic at hand. It always makes for an interesting interview, and I’ve been passionate about each story I’ve written in this column.

Millennial Influx: I take a Global Journalism course with Professor Timothy Morgan, the senior editor of ChristianityToday and my advisor. Our class posts weekly articles about topics that range from sports and entertainment to social justice. At the link listed before, you can see my archived articles, but heading to the main website will let you see all my fellow students’ work as well!

Thank you for reading,

Kirk

Closer Look into World News: getting up to speed

Dear Reader,

For your viewing pleasure, I have listed all of my articles that have been archived on wheatonrecord.com for The Wheaton Record, my college newspaper. The majority of them were written for my column, named “Closer Look into World News,” so I listed those first as they reflect my approach and voice in news writing. In “Closer Look,” I examine headlining world issues (or lesser-known ones) and connect them to the Wheaton campus by multiple means, including interviews. The last three articles are from my general assignment news articles, which cover various, equally intriguing topics. To clarify, these stories are only ones that were put online. The many others I’ve published are in only print. Let me know what you think!

President Ryken establishes connections in South Korea — I remember writing this article clearly because of the interviews they contain. I had the exciting opportunity to interview the president of my college, Dr. Philip Ryken and the director of the Men’s Glee Club and Women’s Chorale Mary Hopper.

Boko Haram: a growing threat to Nigeria and the Church — My journalism professor and advisor, Timothy Morgan, first notified me about the horrific massacres carried out by the terrorist organization, and I felt compelled to write on it. I was fortunate enough to contact graduate students at Wheaton who were from Nigeria and were personally affected by Boko Haram.

Pope Francis fights corruption in the Philippines — The pontiff doesn’t get much face time on the flagship evangelical college’s newspaper, but once I caught wind of the distressingly ironic rumors that street children were being incarcerated to clean the streets for a pope who spoke against governmental injustice, I knew I had to cover the story.

ISIS’ new currency: doomed but powerful — There are times when all the stars align, and I can write about nearly all of my interests in one article. This was one of those times — I was thrilled to be able to write about a headline-dominating organization making an economically foolhardy move (putting that almost-obtained business degree to work!) and even more excited to link it to Wheaton.

What you should know about Ebola — This was my first article I wrote for my column, and it was the one that proved my mettle, cementing my position as weekly columnist for The Record.

Andy Crouch: the 2014 Ivan Fahs Memorial Syposium speaker — Here’s another great interview story! I was fortunate enough to grab the famous editor of ChristianityToday Andy Crouch to interview him in The Record office, and even gained valuable insights about the Christian journalism world, off the record.

Wheaton students showcase their talents in the annual talent show — In print, this article was titled, “Wheaton students refuse to bury their talents.” Get it? That’s why I love Wheaton: it’s one of the only places in the world where obscure Biblical references will not go unnoticed!

A sincere goodbye to Chappy Mac and an earnest welcome to Chaplain Blackmon — This was my latest above-the-fold story, and my coverage of it led to many more great interviews. I learned so much about the inner workings of the Wheaton chaplain search committee (over the last year, Wheaton has been searching for a new chaplain) and interviewed our interim chaplain and the director of the Office of Multicultural Development, Rodney Sisco.

Photo courtesy of Bella Naija.

My kind of journalism

Dear Reader,

My name is Kirkland An, and I am a business/economics major pursuing a journalism certificate at Wheaton College in Illinois. I’ve started this WordPress site to publish all my journalistic musings and to push my printed publications as well.

The quiet suburb of Wheaton, IL isn’t known as a thriving hub of media activity, but my searching has led me to a group of ambitious, clever individuals that makes up The Wheaton Record editorial staff. I started my sophomore year as the associate editor of the newspaper and stole a 700-word space in the News section of each edition for my weekly column, “Closer Look into World News.”

Those two activities keep me busy. As associate editor, I edit each article that is published in the Record, manage the copy editing staff, and act as the resident AP style expert. Consequently, this website may — unintentionally — end up AP-consistent. It wouldn’t be surprising; I text in AP style.

As a weekly columnist, if I’m not writing, then I’m researching, planning or interviewing possible sources for next week’s article.

All that being said, being busy doesn’t mean that it’s overwhelmingly exciting. Wheaton College was rated the #1 safest campus in the United States and The Record’s weekly public safety blotter acts as a running gag — more often than not, public safety, as hardworking as they are, are most called upon to stop water leakages and stave off the odd idling car. This also explains why the latest death to shock campus was a squirrel’s — it encountered a key generator that unfortunately shut down the campus power for a few hours.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t intriguing news to cover at Wheaton College. My fellow students, thanks to the opportunities presented by our marvelous international relations, travel across the globe to conduct research and network with world leaders, and I get to tell their poignant stories to the student and staff bodies through my world news column.

But my degree and studies don’t make up all of who I am.

I’m an Taiwanese/Chinese-American male journalism student at a small Christian liberal arts college in the midwest, which puts me in a very, very small demographic niche. 8.6 percent of the Wheaton College student body identifies as “Asian,” which includes a whole slew of nationalities including Indian and Southeast Asian. I personally know of three other Asians in the journalism certificate program, all of whom are Korean, and all of whom are female.

What does that mean? It means that I am unique and I identify myself as a unique individual. I recognize the fact that I am different from my peers. My writing reflects the observant, analytical eye of a stranger in alien land, a non-conformist style in the face of overwhelming uniformity (I’m talking about you, my dear midwest), and my resolve to cling to Christian values.

My writing has been molded by inhabiting a world of “different.”

So hello world! (Thanks, default WordPress title.)

I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and that after reading, you can say that I have stuck to my guns. Thanks for reading!

-Kirk