Hannah Bae works in public affairs for the U.S. State Department in Seoul. A native of Washington, D.C., she arrived in Korea in 2007 as a Princeton-in-Asia journalism fellow at the JoongAng Daily, the International Herald Tribune’s Korean news partner. During her time in Asia, she has contributed to media organizations including the Associated Press, Yonhap News, CNNGo, IDG Connect and the Miele Guide to Asian restaurants. Previously, she was a journalism initiatives intern at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, Fla.
Who do you look up to in the news industry as a role model?
Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of Knight Foundation, was my first boss out of college. Previous to working with Eric and his team at Knight, I hadn’t had much of an interest in new media. I very much considered myself a traditionalist for some misguided reason. But it was amazing to work with such a forward-thinking group of professionals who were not only accomplished in the world of traditional media but also open to the most innovative ideas in journalism and, in fact, helping to make those ideas happen through funding. Eric also showed me the importance of networking and having a good sense of humor, which are two traits that are essential to being a journalist.
How did you get involved with AAJA?
About a year into my time in Korea, I was making the rounds asking all the seasoned journalists in Seoul for career advice. One of those journalists was Jean Lee, the Koreas bureau chief for the AP. She strongly recommended that I join AAJA, and after I waffled around for a few months, I decided to take Jean’s advice. Later, when AAJA National President Doris Truong went on her tour around Asia [in late 2010], I had the chance to connect with more members in Seoul, which sparked my interest in AAJA-Asia’s first regional conference in 2011. That’s where I met Chapter President Ken Moritsugu, who encouraged me to take all my rah-rah enthusiasm and channel it into building AAJA’s presence in Seoul as regional vice president.
Why did you decide to become a journalist? What inspired you?
In high school, I thought about what I was good at and decided it was writing. I figured journalism was a career where I could put this love of writing — and reading and talking to people — to use in my daily life. I had amazing journalism professors in college at UMiami— my favorite was Tsitsi Wakhisi, who was the type of professor who would give you an F for misspelling a source’s name in a story — and she showed me what professional journalism was all about. I got a chance to write articles for the Miami Herald as an undergrad, and I was really motivated when Tsitsi once told me, “Girl, you are a WRITER!” I’m not working as a journalist anymore — I’m now working in public affairs for the government— but I’m glad that I’m still very involved in media and working closely with journalists. It’s similar to my experience at Knight, in that I get a bird’s-eye view of the media scene. And as an added bonus: I feel more patriotic!
Why is media diversity important to you?
When I was a student, I was lucky to be in an incredibly diverse city like Miami, where the journalists came from everywhere. It showed me that not all journalists were men and Caucasian and that journalists are best able to reach the communities they serve when they came from those communities.
What do you love most about being Asian American?
Growing up, I was the biggest “twinkie” ever. I didn’t identify with being Asian at all. But I think moving to Asia to work as a journalist was the best thing I ever did. I really got to explore my roots here in Korea, and I’m proud to be from the same stock of these amazing people who have built this vibrant democracy and dynamic economy at such incredible speed. As I travel around the region, too, I’m excited to witness the rise of Asia — even in terms of U.S. foreign policy — and I’m proud to represent a nexus of both the U.S. and Asia.
Learn more about other AAJA members profiled for AAPI Month.