Shadowing at the Tower

Dear Reader,

I had the unique opportunity to shadow Chuck Burke, senior editor and design editor at the Chicago Tribune, on March 17.

From 11:50 a.m. to 7 p.m., I had Mr. Burke (almost) all to myself, chatting, following him to his meetings, and peering over his shoulder as he designed the Business section of the Tribune for the next day. What a crazy experience!

Besides getting to talk and get career feedback from a higher-up at an extremely reputable newsroom, I also got to briefly meet the editor in chief of the Tribune, Gerry Kern, sit in on the editorial meeting during which they determined what would go on the front page for the next day, and tour the editorial floor of the Tribune Tower.

A picture of the Tribune tower in Chicago

The editorial floor was quieter than I expected. Men and women sat at their computers, some on social media, some on Adobe Creative Suite programs, and some typing busily to meet their deadlines. I followed Mr. Burke to his workplace, right on the outskirts of the main mass of editors’ desks which was separated by thin aisles of walking space.

Exiting the subdued buzz of the newsroom, we sat in a deserted glass-wall office and discussed my career, The Wheaton Record, and typography. Unsurprisingly, typography and design were where Mr. Burke and I found the most to talk about.

The man was a design connoisseur. I mean, one of his computer monitors was elevated by a stack of “Best of Newspaper Design” editions. No wonder he found his way to the top of the newsroom food chain!

I probably shouldn’t say too much about the whole editorial and design process, but I was heartened by the fact that these design editors, with all those big-time newspaper funds at their disposal, were still using Adobe InDesign as their main workhorse. That’s the software that we’re using at the Record! They even sometimes had to fill white space with “artsy” designs just like us. Their top editors met and argued like we do.

That gave me confidence that, even with all of our faults and obstacles, we are headed in the right direction and are doing the most we can with what we have.

I’m excited to return to the Tribune this Thursday, and promise to blog about my visit to the Tribune editorial board!

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.

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

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