Interview with a Magazine Editor
By: Nicole Friets
The BW INSIDER SERIES: Part 10
"You take from what you’ve done before to help you make future decisions. There’s never enough time, there’s always something that can be improved, so, you do the best you can with what you have."
In Part 10 of The BW INSIDER series, we interview Journalist and Social Media Manager Harry Mok, the former Editor-In-Chief of Hyphen Magazine. In the interview, we talk to him about his entire experience at Hyphen Magazine, the challenges that non-profit magazines face, and why he eventually decided to leave a successful venture.
B is for...book. What is your favourite childhood book?
A is for… animal. If you could transform into one animal for one week, what would you be?
I’d love to become a dolphin and swim the seas.
N is for… necessary. If you were banished to a desert island and could only bring two items, what would they be?
A satellite phone and lots of water.
A is for… authentic. How would you describe yourself in three words?
Thoughtful, sincere, kind.
N is for… novelist. Which writer do you most admire?
There are so many it’s hard to pick one.
A is for… appetite. What is your favourite banana themed food?
Banana cream pie.
Why was Hyphen magazine started?
Hyphen was started after a.Magazine shut down in 2002, and a group of young journalists, writers and artists saw there was a void in Asian American media. They put their minds together and said, “Why don’t we start our own magazine?” They wanted to cover the diversity of Asian America, from the cities to the heartland, and fill in the blanks left by mainstream media.
What were some of the initial challenges?
I came on as one of the early editors and writers after the magazine got rolling, and we were all volunteers. Most of us had other jobs, so this was truly a labor of love, and everyone was dedicated to the cause. With people working in their spare time, meeting deadlines for print publication was a challenge. We were relying on donations, so there wasn’t much money for anything other than printing and production costs.
We were all young and had big ideas, some of with journalism experience and publications, others who were writing their first article or editing their first story. It was challenging, and still is for the current staff, but for the most part, we rose to the occasion.
How did the initial team form?
The driving force for Hyphen was its first Editor-in-Chief, Melissa Hung. There was a core group of journalists, writers, artists and people with marketing and business experience. I can’t name them all, and if I tried, I’d leave someone out. It was a diverse group who all saw the need for a voice in media for Asian Americans and set about to do it themselves.
Proofing pages with Managing Editor Lisa Wong Macabasco
What was a typical day for you when you worked at the magazine?
Most of us had day jobs, so I’d spend many of my non-working hours editing stories, or planning over email about the magazine.
Most of the time, we’d only meet in person once every couple of weeks, so a lot of work was done remotely. The “cloud” didn’t quite exist yet, but we did what we could virtually as far as editing story drafts and reviewing page layouts and art. We’d meet in person more frequently as the print deadline neared to look at pages and do final proofs before sending the magazine to the printer. We started a blog, and online content became a part of the process as well.
What are some of the sacrifices you have had to make along the way?
Like I said, Hyphen is an all-volunteer effort, so you’re taking time away from family, friends and other things you could be doing. It is time well spent, but there is a burnout factor, and that’s probably a reason there is constant turnover in the staff.
What did you enjoy the most about your job?
I enjoyed the camaraderie, working with so many talented people, and knowing we were putting out some good work and adding to the discourse about what Asian America is and what it means to be Asian American.
What did you like the least about your job?
In an ideal world, Hyphen would be self-sustaining, and we would have all had full-time jobs there and not have to spend so much time away from family and friends.
How did you decide which articles to publish?
Most publications get more submissions than they can publish. You want to have the best content for your readers, that’s first and foremost, and what works for the publication.
People often learn from their mistakes. Were there any editorial decisions you regretted or wished you could have done differently?
You look back, and if you had more time, you could have done this or that. Publishing is a process with deadlines that sometimes forces you to make compromises. You take from what you’ve done before to help you make future decisions. There’s never enough time, there’s always something that can be improved, so, you do the best you can with what you have.
As you look back at the magazine now, how do you feel?
Working at Hyphen was one of the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve had. Some of the long hours, I don’t miss so much. I think back to that time, the people and the stories; we did something good.
How did your role in the magazine change over time and why did you decide to leave Hyphen?
As Editor-in-Chief, as the staff grew, I line edited fewer stories and focused more on organizational planning and staff development.
I was Editor-in-Chief for four years and a staff member for another four years, so it was time to move on, let a new voice take over and spend more time with my family and friends. I think I left Hyphen in a better place, and it’s still going strong, so I have that to be proud of.
Working the bar at the Mr Hyphen contest 2009
What advice do you have for individuals who are looking into starting their own magazine?
With online capabilities and social media these days, there are fewer barriers for publishing.
If you want to take on Time magazine or something more commercial, think about what you’re trying to accomplish and whether there is an audience for it.
Do a business plan to help figure that out and how you would finance it. Most of all, there has to be good content. If you don’t have that, it won’t work.
What is the next article in Harry Mok’s life?
It’s being written. I’m in a career transition, so if anyone is looking for an editor or writer, drop me a line.BW