Margaret Kim ’91, an influential figure in American media who is currently the president of MGK Media, paid the College a visit last Saturday to talk about the challenges in the subsequent rise in the world of media since her time at the College. The event, hosted by Koreans of Williams (KOW), took place in the form of an informal and open Q-and-A session.
Prompted by a question about her motivation to enter the world of media, Kim revealed that her father, a prominent journalist in South Korea, was her inspiration. “I am from a family of storytellers,” she explained. From a young age, Kim was exposed to tales of her father’s travels, including a visit to the USSR. Kim’s father was the first South Korean journalist to do so and she felt inspired to follow in his footsteps.
In her time at the College, she majored in political science and paved her way into the world of media with a WCFM radio show and an internship at PBS. Kim notes one particular college experience with gusto: she turned to political science professor Mark Reinhardt, seated to her left, and exclaimed, “I don’t know if you ever knew this, but you changed my life.” Backtracking a little, it turns out that Kim was inspired during winter study of 1990 to investigate the role of the Catholic Church in Poland, but with no contacts, money or knowledge of the Polish language, this didn’t seem likely to happen. By the end of May, however, despite all the roadblocks, Kim had persevered through ceaseless letters and phone calls (in, as she reminded us, a pre-internet world) and was finally offered a job by the editor-in-chief of Polish solidarity newspaper Gazeta International. Reinhardt was the one who gifted Kim with $700 and finally made it possible for her to fly to Poland and embark on a journey from which she claims she returned a different person.
This theme of perseverance is also evident in Kim’s later ventures, from her three-year stint as a coffee-fetcher at an ABC desk after graduating into a poor economy, to being assigned notoriously difficult documentary topics to produce under even more infamously tougher bosses. No matter what her task or position, Kim emphasized her willingness to work as long and hard as she could, performing her absolute best no matter how menial or intimidating the task. In this manner, she worked to “lay the foundation, brick by brick” of her career in media. Her hard work paid off, and after receiving her master’s degree from Columbia, Kim worked for various companies such as ABC, CBS and MSNBC first as an associate producer, then as a producer.
Kim highlighted some of the ways that she learned to handle the specific challenges she was dealt. As an Asian American woman, she had to deal with stereotypes, such as those that assumed she would be “docile” rather than a force to be reckoned with. In addition, she added, “The real world is not there to see you succeed,” especially the “shark pit” that is the world of producing and media, where Kim found herself often placed in unfair situations. She found that it was essential to have a firm understanding of who she was and what she stood for, which for her meant her Christian faith. For Kim, her Christian identity comes before every other part of her, and it was often her faith in God that got her through the toughest times.
So what does the future hold for Kim, now that she is a successful producer and director who has worked in the business for over two decades? Kim hopes to be able to use her position in the media to inform and educate. She sees TV as a recently and rapidly changing medium, though not necessarily for the better. Kim feels that it is nearly impossible in today’s television to find high-quality programming focused on youth, and finds it increasingly more difficult to find projects to work on that don’t go against her personal faiths. She seeks to create her own internet network to fill this need, establishing complete creative control and adding yet another title to her long career: businesswoman.
And in the long run? Kim described her awe the first time she saw the incredible intricacies and sheer scale of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain: “Somebody imagined each little part of that, and bit by bit, every single part was constructed.” As Kim says, “Now, I want to build my own Alhambra.”