By Caroline Crisanto-Monge, Qing Huang, Christian Urrutia and Aya Yoshida
Writing, whether it is for a publication or just as a hobby, there must be passion. For Harry Mok, 48, what drives him to create content that matters are racial issues. Mok has experienced racial discrimination not once but twice in his lifetime. One time when he visited the emergency room for a broken thumb and another in junior high when a fellow student called him a “chink” will forever be ingrained in his memory.
According to Mok, many journalists write stories because they want to make the world a better place through their works. For him, the world, where he is particularly passionate about, is minority groups as he grew up within an Asian-American community.
“I guess that’s my motivation,” he said.
For four years, he managed an independent Asian-American news and culture magazine called “Hyphen.”
“Asian-American is hyphenated, but some people don’t use that hyphen that is sort of ‘hyphenated’ second class citizen, second class status, so the name was taken in that way,” he said.
Making a own magazine is hard, but this is his “dream job,” according to Mok.
Swaying ever-so-slightly on the balls of his feet, he humbly explains to students that to cover stories, you must figure out what is interesting. Find what you are passionate about and write about it with every ounce of effort.
For him, it was about mixed race issues and other factors that Mok thought he could add something and make a difference as he explains in The Harry Mok Project he wrote on Hyphen.
“It’s about the growing demographic that the community is talking about,” said Mok.
The topics Mok has tried to cover are what have been done before, what is interesting and what is new and what is happening now in the communities. He grew up in Woodland, Calif., where his family ran a Chinese vegetable farm. As he spent a year in China for genealogy program in grad school and saw where his family, he got familiar with the community. It is important to go in depth from different angles and he believes those stories show the full picture of human beings.
Currently, he is a part-time copy editor at San Francisco Chronicle and he always tries to get facts right and be accurate as the work of copy editors was introduced in an article by New York Times. Yet, he points out some issues in coverage, which he seek changing as a journalist: accuracy and lack of coverage about minority groups.
“I think not just Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ… media has a shaky history of covering sort of different communities,” Mok said. “That’s an issue within the industry is still ongoing.”
To address the issue, he monitors news media organizations to maintain the standard of accuracy and fairness in the coverage of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders as a member of Media Watch Committee of Asian American Journalists Association.
Despite the coverage of his online magazine is focusing on Asian-American people, Mok tries to cover the things that may not necessarily be associated with Asians or the Asian community. In journalism, it is about adapting to the situations in ways that may not come naturally. It’s about making that extra effort to speak up for yourself and your work.
“You want to work somewhere that you have the freedom and resources to tell great stories,” said Mok.
San Francisco State journalism professor Jim Toland said copy editing is, “a solid way to stay in the news business while also creating projects that you want to explore on your own.”
“You should be loyal to an employer as much as is reasonable but, in the end, we are all working for ourselves,” Toland said. “We owe it to ourselves to develop our own careers within the framework of ethical behavior.”
Although Mok generally likes every process in journalism, he is more likely to identify himself as an editor and writer. At this point, Mok smiles as he said this and added he’s better at writing than reporting. He said he was always good at writing since he had an interest in journalism.
The hardest story he ever covered in his career thus far was about talking to the families of a loved one who has just died. It was when he was an intern at Associated Press in 1999. He talked about his struggle during the interview and advised to students who may face the same problem in the future.
“Just be professional, ask your questions be respectful, be mindful what they are going through, but still try to do your job,” Mok said.
Also, he, as a journalist, told how to survive in the industry by referring to changes in the media world.
“I mean everything is changing so fast,” Mok said. “Just a few years ago, social media was not a thing when I was in college where there were not computers like this, so it is rapidly changing, so the need to keep up (involves) probably learning a lot of things I do not know right now.”
Including a master’s, he has three journalism degrees, from American River College, San Jose State University, and UC Berkeley. His journalism career began when he was a high school student and worked on the school newspaper. At the time, he also helped out a local newspaper called “Daily Democrat.” He remembers when the first time his story got to print on a “real publication,” and saw the byline, his name on the story, it was exciting.
Through his long career in journalism, he now has a new goal: working as a freelancer. As he has met a lot of people and built good connections with them, he thinks it would help his work in the future.
“I think it would be something like (using) my journalism experience: writing and editing experience,” he said about what he wants to do in the future. “I am open to different things: more journalistic and even more non-journalism (work) like the site for UC ideas, for example.”