Seven Questions for Richard Kim
  • By
  • May 15, 2014

Richard Kim was a Nation intern in 1997. He is currently the executive editor of TheNation.com and a monthly columnist for the magazine. In this interview, Spring 2014 intern David Kortava talks to Richard about his career, breaking into the journalism industry, and the future of The Nation.

Richard Kim was a Nation intern in 1997. He is currently the executive editor of TheNation.com and a monthly columnist for the magazine. In this interview, Spring 2014 intern David Kortava talks to Richard about his career, breaking into the journalism industry, and the future of The Nation.

1. Was your ascent from intern to executive editor a smooth journey? An arduous climb?

Has it actually been an ascent? Sometimes I wish I were still an intern, circa 1997, when there was only one shared computer for all the interns, and we spent most of our days reading novels and trash talking. My trip since then has been full of zigs and zags: I went to grad school, fact-checked lipstick prices, ghost wrote liner notes, taught college, abandoned a dissertation and spent a lot of time at process-y organizing meetings. Nobody should look at what I did as a model for anything at all.

2. What are the prospects for aspiring journalists today? Do you have advice for us?

There are more opportunities now for young journalists than there have been in quite some time. The bleed in print and newspaper journalism has stabilized; meanwhile, a lot of exciting new digital ventures are hiring. My advice is not to be too fussy about the first job. It might not be at your ideal publication, or in a city you want to live in, or aligned with your values — but worry about all that later. The most important thing you can learn at this stage are the basic mechanics: how to get an assignment, report, file on time, get edited, promote yourself without being obnoxious, gracefully correct your mistakes, etc. You can learn all that writing about almost anything almost anywhere.

3. Did you have mentors or role models as you were developing your craft?

A lot of Nation folks helped me learn how to edit and write, but especially Katrina vanden Heuvel and Betsy Reed, who worked with me on a 2004 special issue of The Nation on marriage, which was my first big editing project. Also, there were a lot of writers, especially in my early years as an editor, who were secretly mentoring me, even as they continued to let me pretend that I was editing them. That was super generous and sneaky of them.

4. A number of formerly print publications have gone completely digital. Do you see The Nation going in the same direction?

The practice of injecting soy or petroleum-based ink on dead trees and then delivering those dead-tree products via the United States Postal Service has an obvious expiration date. I'm just not sure when that will happen for The Nation. It could be in 5 or 10 or 20 years and will involve factors outside of our control (postal rates, for example). We might be one of the last publications to get out of print, since our readers are late adopters of technology (read: old) and our production process has low fixed costs (read: we print on toilet paper). Whenever that change happens, however, I don't think it will shake the core mission of The Nation, which will always devote itself to smart, radical journalism.

5. If you could host a dinner party for journalists and activists from antiquity, who would be among your guests?

Is this question inspired by Judy Chicago? If by antiquity you mean, before the Middle Ages, I have to confess that I am too uneducated to even hazard an answer. But I have been thinking a lot about the generation of gay men who were lost to the AIDS epidemic: writers like Bruce Chatwin and Randy Shilts and Vito Russo, artists like David Wojnarowicz and Robert Mapplethorpe, the poet Essex Hemphill, actor-playwright Charles Ludlam, historians Michel Foucault and John Boswell. I would cook — and then get out of the way.

6. Had you not gone into journalism, what profession do you imagine you might have taken up?

I would have been an unhappy adjunct professor living in a small midwestern college town. Left-wing journalism is my sell-out plan—and that's saying a lot about the crisis in higher education.

7. Victor Navasky has said on occasion that The Nation "is more a cause than a business." I've heard at least one Nation staffer give voice to a contrasting view, namely that "we're more a magazine than a movement."What's your take on this ongoing existential dilemma?

I don't see the tension. Every iconic magazine has a mission—whether that's to preach the gospel of free market capitalism or teach Americans to fawn more obsequiously at the altar of beauty and fame. Our mission just happens to be a righteous one.