중앙데일리

Expat perspectives on life in Korea

Aug 01,2007
Steve Kuiack, left, publisher of The Groove magazine, talks in a recent interview at Gecko’s in Itaewon. Julian Kong, right, publisher of ROKon, discusses his magazine at his residence in Haebangchon, Yongsan, Seoul. By Moon Gwang-lip
When Greg Wentworth makes his monthly visit to Itaewon, the expat-frequented area in Seoul, he makes sure to pick up two magazines.
The magazines ― The Groove and ROKon ― are the 34-year-old English teacher’s favorites among several free monthly magazines distributed by and for expats in Korea.
Wentworth said the two publications provide an up-close and creative glimpse into Seoul, the city where he has lived for about a year.
“I think they are fun,” he said in Indigo, a restaurant in neighboring Haebangchon.
“I read some other magazines and newspapers, but usually I reach for those first. Maybe that’s because they write stories about my neighborhood, or because they are sometimes interesting and useful.”
The Groove and ROKon, two of the newer and most widely circulated independent English magazines published in Seoul, are a growing presence in the city.
Hanging out at Gecko’s, an expat bar in Itaewon, Steve Kuiack, publisher of The Groove, says diversity is one of the appealing traits of his magazine.
“It’s a key point as far as I am concerned,” said Kuiack, 33, from Ontario, Canada.
For example, the cover stories of four recent issues of the magazine ranged from athletics to culture, from social activities to fashion.
The magazine, founded last fall, covered the growing boom of tattooing in Korea last month, with a detailed history that not many Koreans know about.
In April the magazine featured a women’s rugby team.
The May focus was on lotus lantern festivals on the occasion of Buddha’s birthday that month.
The June edition featured Korea’s famous beaches.
“Some magazines might offer certain aspects, but I think our magazine is all-encompassing,” Kuiack said.
“It incorporates so much for the readers. We try to be as diverse as possible.”
The idea of launching the magazine came after years of experience as a freelance writer, Kuiack said.
While working at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul since 2000, Kuiack, a political science major, contributed articles for magazines and newspapers in both countries.
English magazines circulating in Korea at that time were O.K. but not quite satisfactory, he said.
So Kuiack and his wife Shannon decided to establish what they call a “diverse, entertaining, informative, high-quality English publication that serves as a bridge between foreigners and Koreans.”
Eight people ― writers, a designer and a photographer ― have joined them as the regular staff for the monthly.
The Groove also carries travel stories, human interest articles and world news.
The Groove’s interview subjects are also diverse ― from Matt Randle, an American baseball player pitching for Korea’s Doosan Bears, to Korean B-Boys, North Korean defectors, ambassadors, business executives and military generals.
Kuiack said those high-profile subjects demonstrate the increasing credibility of the magazine.
“The interviews are certainly not easy to arrange,” he said.
“First, they look at the publication to make sure the quality is worthy of their interview. Those people want to be in a quality magazine.”
ROKon is a couple months older than The Groove.
It was recently redesigned under new management. Julian Kong, the new publisher, says it will become a magazine that is not money-driven but focused on creativity.
“This magazine is not financially motivated,” said Kong, a 37-year-old Korean-American who lives in Haebangchon. “We just want to have a very stylish magazine.”
Kong, a visual communications major who previously worked for an advertising agency in Los Angeles, came to Seoul a year ago.
After a few months of teaching English, however, he became involved with ROKon magazine “to be a creative and productive member of society,” he said.
The first issue under Kong’s leadership was published early last month. The reaction was better than expected.
“Readers say it was very professionally done,” Kong said.
“The photography was nice. The section they loved most was the music section, obviously,” Kong said.
Due to the personal interest of many of the magazine’s staff of 20 people, including Kong, music has been heavily emphasized.
Human interest stories are among other regular topics carried in the publication.
Kong said the local music scene will continue to be a central focus of the magazine.
ROKon also started a street fashion section that the publisher describes as one of the magazine’s more popular sections.
The printed magazine reflects only half of the change at ROKon, Kong said, referring to its Web sites (www.rokonmagazine.com and www.myspace.com/rokonmagazine.com).
The Web sites contain video clips and other content produced by the staff.
The Groove has been online since it was first published. The Web site , http://mygrooveonline.com, which Kuiack calls a concise guide to Korea, is updated on a regular basis.
“We wanted to be able to provide access for people, not just those living in Korea, or visiting Korea, but also people who are planning to come here,” Kuiack said.
“We think the Web site is very extensive and very helpful for the foreign community. So our print magazine is one part of our operation, and the online magazine is another part.”
As private magazines battling corporate publications and the Internet, the publications may be expected to struggle financially.
But both are keeping their head above water for now.
According to Kuiack, The Groove now boasts a distribution of more than 5,000 copies a month with 150 distribution points, including restaurants, bars and medical clinics.
“And there is always room for expansion,” he said.
Kong declined to reveal the circulation numbers for his magazine, but he said ROKon has loyal sponsors.
He said its staff is “working tirelessly” to expand distribution.
Going semi-bilingual is one of the magazine’s expansion plans, said Kong, adding he is looking for Korean writers.
“We want to have some Korean-language material as well. It’s cross-cultural,” Kong said.
“We expats don’t just hang out with each other. We have Korean friends and most of these people are very open-mined, venturesome and cultured.”
The ambitious expansion plans are not about making big money but for increasing the “good” influence of the publication, Kong said.
“I want the next person who comes into the community to sort of use our magazine as a place to begin,” Kong said.


By Moon Gwang-lip Staff Writer [joe@joongang.co.kr]



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