Korea Exposé Went to Gyeongju for MT…

…which stands for ‘membership training,’ but in South Korea often means a group retreat with ample chances to drink booze and sleep in later than usual. And no work, of course, other than weeding. 

Probably not a common sight in most other Korean MTs.

The Korea Exposé team took this three-day vacation in May, just before the weather got too hot. It has been over a year since the platform incorporated and expanded to become a media startup.

We’ve been running ahead nonstop, trying all sorts of different things: ké radar (a quicker, shorter news service), KÉ 101 (a sort of bridge/induction into the biggest stories in Korea), business, and more. We started experimenting beyond text, developing an awesome video section and two podcast seasons (one of which is still in production, coming soon in the summer). 

Our hardworking podcast team, led by journalist Bruce Harrison. They missed out on Gyeongju (and the weeding). Photo by Haeryun Kang. 

So we really needed some time — empty of the pressure to churn out content — and reflect on the past year. What have we done wrong? What have we done right? Where do we go from here? We’d eventually discuss these questions, after a lot of drinking games, lazying around on the lawn, and walking around downtown Gyeongju in near-perfect weather. 

We arrived in Gyeongju on a Wednesday evening, after a five-hour drive southeast from Seoul. At dusk on a weekday, we’d normally be rushing to meet deadlines: last-minute edits, ‘setting the article up’ on WordPress dashboard, navigating the different promotion platforms. But that evening, we stayed at a grape farm, complete with a vegetable garden. 

There was a lot of salad. A lot of fresh air. A lot of conversations that had nothing to do with work. We walked around Gyeongju, enjoying Cheomseongdae, the oldest known star observatory in East Asia. There were a lot of red poppies — not the kind you make opium from, apparently, but we didn’t fact check this information.

Photo by Ho Kyeong Jang.

On our last evening, everyone pitched in to cook. (Okay, some people were playing video games, you know who you are.) We washed the vegetables, prepared soy bean stew, and checked there was plenty of alcohol in the fridge. 

Photo by Jihyun Kim.

With a somewhat heavy heart — because we had been having so much fun not working — I brought up the original aim of this MT. How did the team members assess the way Korea Exposé has progressed since March 2017? I thought I could see people inwardly groaning, not letting go of their beers and sojus, but we had to soldier on. I think I pointed to the person I like to torture the most and said, “JIEUN! You go first!” 

Maybe it wasn’t Jieun. Photo by Jihyun Kim.

I don’t remember much of the specifics, the who said what and when (I didn’t want to let go of my makgeolli glass either to take meeting notes). But some common points: 

  • We learned a lot about ourselves and the readers by experimenting with different types of content. We now feel more confident and focused about the kind of stories we want to pursue. 
  • We sometimes experimented too quickly, at the risk of overwhelming ourselves and diluting the spirit of Korea Exposé, which we agree is to report on the under-reported, to offer alternative perspectives and deeper insights. 

  • We are happy with the video section, which our director Youjin Do was instrumental in stabilizing. We did good to shift to a personally curated newsletter, from a previously automated e-mail three times a week. We’re excited about the podcast and the upcoming website revamping to make the reading experience much more enjoyable. 
  • But we still don’t have a solid business model. We have survived so far with the critical help of Mediati, a media incubator and investor, but we need to find ways to be financially independent. 
Se-Woong, our publisher and co-founder. We’ve come a long way since Herr Koo wrote the first KÉ piece in 2014.

Korea Exposé is never the same one month to the next. People are coming and going, new projects start and old failures are archived, and business ideas pop up like a light bulb one moment and fade away the next. A stable startup is an oxymoron, at least when you’re still trying to ‘make it in the market’ like we are.

We often joke, “This month is the critical month,” or “Let’s see if we’re alive next season.” But it’s a joke unveiling the truth, and we know that we couldn’t have come this far without all the jokes, the work, and spaces like Gyeongju to relieve ourselves from the pressure of survival.

Now, we’re back! And we’re ready to do this thing. 

 

All images, unless otherwise stated, were taken by Jieun Choi. 

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