An Open Letter

Note: This letter appears in the August issue of KoreAm Journal.

The Flashing Question Mark
If you could help save KoreAm Journal, would you?

By Julie Ha
Illustration by Eric Sueyoshi

It started with a flashing question mark that appeared on her screen one day, and the next thing my co-worker knew, her Mac wouldn’t turn on. She lost everything: word files, photographs, music and downloaded e-mails. The techies couldn’t save her hard drive and, unfortunately, she had never backed up her files. She wept at the Apple Store and took her old hard drive home in a Ziploc.

Her story jolted me, as I could empathize with the sudden loss. And I couldn’t help but think about how we would conduct ourselves differently if we were forewarned about pending losses.

It’s a point that hits close to home at a time when our industry is experiencing tremendous change as a result of competition from the Internet, a declining economy and perhaps a decreased social appreciation for the printed word. Sadly, those changes of late are manifesting themselves in the form of cuts and closures. The Los Angeles Times recently announced yet another round of staff cuts, including 150 newsroom positions, on top of reductions announced in February. Similarly, other daily newspapers across the country have announced staff cuts this year.

Closer to home, despite its popularity and impressive production values, a fellow English-language ethnic magazine, Tu Ciudad, folded in June to the shock of many, including members of our staff who had become fans of the publication targeting U.S.-reared Latinos.

As I read eulogies for Tu Ciudad, I couldn’t help but think about how much this magazine held in common with KoreAm Journal. Both magazines mix(ed) celebrity with the serious, and struggle(d) to find the right balance of coverage that would appeal to bicultural Americans who might have varied interests and values, but still felt bound by their common ethnic and cultural identity.

“It was easy to dismiss Tu Ciudad as frivolous, but for some reason I saved every copy,” wrote L.A. Times staff writer Agustin Gurza, who covered the closure of Tu Ciudad. “It filled a void, so it felt important, even historic.”

When my friend, a Korean American, told me about Tu Ciudad going belly up, I detected a troubled urgency in her voice. She sounded slightly traumatized, and told me, in light of the bad news, she was so grateful KoreAm was still kicking.

Just a week after that phone conversation, KoreAm’s editor-in-chief James Ryu gave the staff some sobering news about our own company’s financial woes. Fortunately, no one was let go (yet), but significant cuts to salaries and budgets were announced. Last year, we suffered a 30-percent dip in advertising so, of course, there would be consequences. Still, the news felt surreal because, for the first time, I felt an urgency greater than ever before that we could lose this voice in our multicultural forest, just as Tu Ciudad was suddenly gone. Just as A Magazine, an Asian American monthly, had gone before that. Just as the English-language Korea Times Weekly had gone before that.

I began to think about what the Latino community of readers who appreciated Tu Ciudad’s presence and voice would have done to save it, had they known the ax was about to fall. Would readers with free subscriptions start paying for them? Would folks in the community with deep pockets reach there and make donations? Would conscientious business owners who normally only advertised in Spanish-language or mainstream media have steered some dollars to the unique publication? Would a group of Latinos who appreciated the power of the written word and the need for humanizing coverage of their community have led fundraising and marketing campaigns?

Could Tu Ciudad have been saved?

We’ll never know.

KoreAm has 18 years under its belt. It seems a small miracle it is still around. At the same time, I know the reality of how and why: It has come at the personal sacrifice of individuals like my boss and the lost list of editors, writers, designers, photographers and artists who believed in the cause and worked to the point of physical and spiritual exhaustion to keep it alive over these many years.

My boss doesn’t want me to alarm the community or scare away advertisers by talking about our situation. Perhaps, it isn’t professional of me. But I worry that our silence may lead to a similar fate as Tu Ciudad’s. By that time, it will be too late to say or do anything.

Just imagine your world without KoreAm. Certainly, Korean Americans have made great strides in getting placed on the mainstream map, but who besides KoreAm will devote multiple pages to the touching Sisipyhean journeys of our immigrant pioneers and their descendents? And if an event like the 1992 Los Angeles riots or the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, we would just be left holding our breaths and hoping for the best as to how our community would be covered by the mainstream media. There would be no outlet for us to take a stab at the story on our own terms.

I do this work, in part, for my two daughters, third-generation Korean Americans. I want them to feel like they can do or be anything, even though they bear no physical resemblance to the Disney princesses. That an immigrant heritage means more than that their grandparents can’t correctly pronounce their R’s and L’s. That Korean Americans may have cultural attributes unique to them, but we are as colorful a people as their Play-Doh collection.

I want them to be exposed to well-rounded images of Koreans in a way I wasn’t during my childhood. The images and stories in KoreAm make me feel more human, too.

My message is this: KoreAm is not immune to what’s happening in our industry and this economy. If anything, we are more vulnerable as the betwixt-and-between underdog magazine trying to serve the betwixt-and-between bicultural generations who find exploration of our unique identity and stories worthwhile. If you believe in what this community magazine stands for and the service it provides, you need to support it in concrete ways.

There just is no getting around the simple truth that our existence is directly tied to our community’s investment in us. Without it, I fear that flashing question mark may only be a blink away. And like so many others before us, KoreAm will suddenly be gone.

If you believe in our cause or have ideas on how to help KoreAm survive and thrive, please comment here!


3 Responses to “An Open Letter”

  1. arirang Says:

    I let my subscription lapse for 2 years. I’m signing up again. Magazines like KoreaAm are absolutely critical, especially going forward.

  2. Monica Martin Says:

    I absolutely love Korean American Journal Magazine & have told all my friends to subscribe to it. Please keep up the great work. If I win the lottery, I’ll send big bonuses your way!

  3. Margie (Third Mom) Says:

    I believe in the KoreAm cause. I’m an adoptive mom; my children are Korean.

    The Korean adoption community needs KoreAm. You provide us with a view into the Korean American community we could never otherwise have. I’ll spread the word that KoreAm must stay in print!

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