▲ Erwin is no stranger to nights spent writing, though her favorite medium is the radio. Photo by Alpha Newberry
From being an anchor for KCTV, a reporter for Arirang radio and a writer for The Jeju Weekly, Nicole Erwin has spared no time in trying to create a name for herself on this isle of ours. A Kentucky native, she came to Jeju a year and a half ago with big ambitions. Since her arrival she has worked for the three major English media companies on the island in several different capacities. Her ultimate goal is to have one of her stories broadcast internationally.
Armed with her southern twang and a “can-do” attitude, Erwin has not let rejection, meddling translators or language barriers obstruct her path to obtaining the story. She says radio is the most rewarding due to its ability to create pictures with sound and to leave something to the imagination.
For Erwin, being a journalist is not simply a career choice but also a great way to get to know the community. On an island that at times is closed to foreigners, Erwin believes that her position on Jeju has provided her with an “in” into a community that she otherwise would not have such an intimate knowledge of.
You have participated in three different forms of media on Jeju; KCTV, Arirang Radio and The Jeju Weekly. Why?
Because I can. I think that’s the biggest thing about this place is if you have the slightest bit of ambition and you want to try something new you contact them and keep at it and it will happen. All you have to do here is speak the English language, pretty much. And I had experience so I could sell it I guess a little bit.
What do you find interesting about working in media?
The most interesting part is getting into the community. I mean I don’t speak the language and I teach at a school where I still have yet to be invited to dinner or anything. It seems like I’m well liked there but I’m still isolated ... The media here is the perfect way to get into the community. To know what’s going on, meeting people you wouldn’t meet otherwise and also I really appreciate media back home, for here, just the leg work is twice as much, you have to rely upon someone else constantly. You can’t do it on your own and like an interview that would take 30 minutes back home takes two hours because either the person doesn’t want to answer your question and you have to say it three or four different times or the translation, everything.
You wanted to become apart of the media here even before you came?
Yeah, teaching is secondary, even though that’s what puts food on my table and I love the kids but that’s not what I do. I’m always thinking about what’s happening.
What are some of the more interesting things happening on Jeju?
Development. Like the naval base is wild to me that people aren’t talking about it all the time. What else is happening? The English education city is pretty interesting to me, The New York Times has reported on it, but it’s still not talked about that much. It is but the foreigners don’t really know that much about it.
What was your most interesting experience?
Well, story-wise it would be the April 3rd massacre. It’s kind of a hobby to read up about what’s happening, finding out more about the island, interviewing that guy who was talking about when he was a boy and his family was killed. It happened during the Korean War and I’m still talking to someone who lived through it. It’s pretty fascinating. And then the most fun for me was Seongsan Ilchulbong, the new years, my friend Madison and I, we had dinner with the mayor and there was this huge spread of food, which you know, anytime you eat with Korean people that happens, but it was just a lot of fun.
What do you hope to accomplish on Jeju?
I want to produce a piece that I can send home to air internationally. I kind of idolize Ari Shapiro, at age 29 NPR hired him full-time. He is the youngest reporter to join NPR at present. He is incredibly talented, graduated from Yale and was a Kroc fellow, working at WBUR in Boston. I would love more than anything to be the next youngest reporter hired … hopefully some of the stuff I have done here will move me up the list a bit.
What do you hope to accomplish for Jeju while you’re here?
I want people to know more about the people of Jeju, the islanders like the struggle with the naval base. This is going to make me sound biased but I don’t feel like people really hear what a lot of them are saying, like interviewing the government or specific talking heads that tell you whatever they want and rarely it seems that the people get a voice like back home, people just have no idea, they don’t know anything about Jeju. I didn’t know about Jeju. I knew there was a South Korea.
What was one of your worst experiences as a reporter?
I went by myself for an interview and the guy speaks English, but not well enough apparently and we sat for two hours and I didn’t have one question answered. The guy just talked about whatever he wanted. It was the most frustrating thing. It took up my day and then another frustrating thing is being told by your translator that your question is not appropriate or that it’s rude. Well it might be rude but that is what I want to know. You are limited, you are being edited even before you attempt to do your story.
What was it like to be an anchor woman on for KCTV?
I was so excited that I couldn’t remember my friend’s phone number. I was so excited I wanted to call them and tell them back home. But I thought I was more prepared for it, because with radio I read script all the time it wasn’t that big of a deal. But that first day I went in and I sat down and I was ready to go and it was after a minute of being in it I started shaking and my stomach turned upside down and I was sick until 3 o’clock that afternoon. It wasn’t that I wasn’t confident in like my abilities, it was like, face on the camera. I don’t like that. I didn’t like that at all and then I was worried about my pronunciation with Korean because I don’t speak Korean but it was good and it was a lot of fun actually. It was probably some of the most fun I’ve had.
It’s just totally different. You wouldn’t expect it to be that different but it totally is. And once you actually see it it’s just, a picture tells an entire story and I was used to doing that with sound but not, and I’m still completely reliant on other people, but here, I write the story and you guys edited it, or I send something back home for broadcast, I write it and somebody edits it but there I was the final say. It was kind of added pressure but it was cool too because I didn’t have to worry about somebody telling me I had to change something.
What is your favorite of the three mediums?
Radio. Because radio will always be around and it is always accessible, which I guess now you can have TV too with cellphones, but with radio it seems like it is something that will never go away. And it still kind of leaves a bit to the imagination. You hear the sound and the story and you can kind of go there with it. With TV, it paints a complete picture pretty much, or print… I always thought print was the most difficult but I don’t anymore. I don’t know why, I just don’t think it is as difficult as radio. Radio is the most challenging and radio is just the best. [Laughs]
What is the most difficult of the three?
TV. Just because you’re so conscious about ... something besides the story which is my number one concern. I care about the story, I don’t care about my [expletive] hair or if I’m glancing at the screen properly or, you know? I don’t want to be conscious of something other than my story.
When will you leave Jeju?
The plan is August, but who knows.
Do you feel you have accomplished what you came here to do?
Not yet. Almost. I want to have an international story back home before I leave. I’ve done national here but that wasn’t that difficult to do. I had accomplished that in five months.
Will you leave without that international story?
Probably not, actually. That is probably what would keep me here.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published without the prior consent of Jeju Weekly.
Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org | Phone: +82-64-724-7776 Fax: +82-64-724-7796
#505 jeju Venture Maru Bldg,217 Jungangro(Ido-2 dong), Jeju-si, Korea, 690-827
Registration Number: Jeju Da 01093 | Date of Registration: November 20, 2008 | Publisher: Song Jung Hee
Copyright ⓒ 2009 All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published
without the prior consent of jeju weekly.com.