Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tey-Marie Astudillo -- Freelance Journalist

A brief discussion about how I feature artists on this blog:  A short time after a person agrees to be interviewed by me, I will send that person a series of questions I believe are pertinent to the subject at hand.  So, too, with Tey-Marie Astudillo, who is a freelance journalist living in South Korea.  Not everyone who has been featured speaks English as a first language, so I assure them that I am able to work through the language differences.  I paraphrase, restructure, rephrase.  I believe it has worked out well thus far.

It became quite evident to me, however, that how I write this article about Tey-Marie and her work must be different.  Save for correcting some of those auto-correct features that now plague the modern world, I will present the interview in the question and answer format as I received it from her.  To do anything else would be akin to that poor woman who tried to restore that old painting; it just wouldn't produce the best results.  It should be noted that Tey-Marie requested that I choose the photographs to accompany this article.

I am very fortunate and honored to present Tey-Marie Astudillo:

Eaton:  Please introduce yourself.

Tey:  Ok, so how to do this without sounding like Wikipedia or going off in complete memoir type tangent. Well, my name is Tey and I’m a 25 year-old freelance journalist currently living and working in Seoul, South Korea. I moved here after completing grad school, where I had just finished a three-month residency at APTV (Associated Press Television) in Brussels, Belgium, helping to cover news concerning the European Union, NATO and Belgian politics. Before that I was a freelance national security correspondent for a bit in DC and an urban affairs reporter in Chicago.

Eaton:  What do you do?

Tey:  Technically I ‘do’ two things out here in Korea. During the week I’m a full-time English instructor, which I enjoy and get a great deal of satisfaction from on most days, but it isn’t what I would call my passion in life.

What I really enjoy doing, where my real fervor lies and ultimate intrinsic satisfaction, is from writing and documenting my experiences and the world around me. I started writing around the age of ten or so, mostly poems and prose, for just the sake of writing and as a way of making sense of the world around me.

My enjoyment of reading and writing really flourished during my first year in college - the exposure to so many philosophical ideas, complex theories and interesting information was a strong ignition for me and also set this insatiable craving inside my soul to see the world and all the places I was reading about, to learn about as many cultures as I could and to document the things I found interesting or unique along the way.

Being a journalist, to me at least, is the never ending opportunity to continue learning about anything and everything, and to share what you learn from your journeys and experiences with people around the world.

Eaton:  Who and/or what motivates and influences you?

Tey:  I find motivation and inspiration from a variety of sources. My motivation is mainly intrinsic, from my personal need and want to see the world and/or document the things and ideas I encounter. It would be something I’d do anyway, even if it wasn’t my job. But that fact that I can make a living off it and get paid doesn’t hurt either.

My inspiration comes from just life itself and all the interesting complexities that are part of it.  I might get an idea for a story by reading another article that just touches on something that I would like to know more about.  I might just be walking the street and see something and get an idea.  Often times the best inspirational sources are spontaneous and come out of nowhere all of a sudden.  I’ve learned the hard to way to keep a paper and pen next to my bed since ideas also tend to spring to mind just laying in bed at night as well.

Eaton:  Your educational background is in journalism, and communication and multimedia. According to your CV, you have been involved with a lot of journalistic work and assignments. Please share your experiences. How did you earn an assignment? What type of competition is there in the field?

Tey:  All of my reporting experiences prior to Korea were based on college work. Journalism is one of those things you can only learn so much about in an academic setting. To really learn the trade and skills required to be a journalist, you have to get out there and actually do it.

So in college I wrote a bit for my university newspaper and also freelanced for a local city newspaper as well. In grad school, our university was partnered up with various media outlets so we would choose a beat and pitch story ideas to our affiliates, and if they liked them, they would publish them. That’s basically how freelance journalism works, you come up with a story idea, strategize the best way to execute it, which medium you will use, who you will interview, what the focus of the story will be – and then you pitch it to an appropriate outlet based on the topic.

There’s definitely way more competition in corporate journalism than in freelance. Every media company wants to be ‘the first’ to break or write a story, so there’s a lot of pressure from management to get your story finished sometimes rather than having something more substantial.

But that really only exists on the corporate level. Through my experiences I’ve found journalists to be the best of comrades, even when working for different publications or companies. A great example of this was when I was interning at APTV. We covered all the EU summits and Heads of State meetings and stuff like that. As a wire service, our main objective was to get footage of the Prime Ministers and Presidents arriving and leaving, to cover their press conferences after their meetings and get the footage out right away to our clients.

Basically, it was always a slew of the same journalists at all the events, staged around the same areas, most of the time waiting hours just to get three minutes (if even) of footage of the politicians arriving and leaving. So the majority of the time we just hung around together, shared cigarettes, made jokes and talked with each other. You become friends with one another because your always seeing the same people, and even though you’re technically competition who are reporting for different outlets, you still help each other out and let each other know if something has changed like, ‘Oh hey, by the way, I don’t know if you heard or not but the press conference for Angel Merkel got moved to room 201 instead of 402,’ stuff like that.

At the same time if our agency got ‘a scoop’ on something that we didn’t think the others had, we wouldn’t go running and telling them about. Business is business after all.

Eaton:  You are currently a freelance journalist; how do you gain assignments and projects here in Korea?

Tey:  Freelancing in Korea is the same as freelancing anywhere else. The process can be broken down to a simple formula:

story idea - pitch - reporting - writing/production - submission

My personal strategy for coming up with story ideas is I just write about or pursue topics that I find interesting myself. Odds are if it’s something I‘d want to read or know about then others would too. Also, if it’s something I’m interested in then it’s something I look forward to doing, which will result in a higher quality product because it will have that much more energy and genuine care for the project.

On rare occasions publications will reach out to me to do a story instead of me contacting them. Either because they’re payroll reporters are swamped covering other things and they need to hire some extra freelancers to help out or because my particular location is important for their story and it’s much cheaper for them to pay me to write an article than to pay to fly out one of there people and put them up in the hotel for an article.

Eaton:  Congratulations on being one of the bloggers at Worldwide Korea Bloggers. What did you do to earn this position? I surmise there is a lot of research involved in writing a post about all things Korean. What are your best experiences while writing for this organization? Who have you met while doing this?  What do you want to take away from these experiences?

Tey:  It’s actually a bit of a funny story because I had just recently gotten to Korea and was randomly browsing sites researching about the country and culture, etc. I came across the Korea.net website with a final submission deadline for the opportunity, which was only two hours away! So I emailed them my resume, answered some application questions and sent some previous work clips. A couple weeks later I was notified that I was selected to be one of the Worldwide Korea Bloggers, which basically means whatever articles I write and post to my blog about Korea they will republish on their website as well.

I think I benefited both personally and professionally from this opportunity.  It encouraged to me to get out, see, experience and research a lot more about Korean culture than I otherwise probably would have.  It also brought a good deal of traffic to my website, resulting in more exposure for my work and what I do.

Eaton:  (A note to readers - I viewed some videos produced by Tey to prepare for this article.  The paragliding video I mention in this section is located here.  Her website has several other videos to view)  Your video of your paragliding is fantastic. “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz happens to be one of my favorite songs. What preparations do you make when working on a video assignment? What does a client usually want to show or share with video? Please share any details that are important regarding videography.

Tey:  Videography and writing are like apple and oranges. Both are fruits of journalism, but they’re quite different in terms of reporting style and execution. In my undergrad journalism courses we read a lot of Marshall McLuhan, particularly from his work ‘The Medium is The Message.” It struck me then that with the highly evolving communication technology mediums, to be the most well rounded and best journalist that I could be, I would need to be able to tell stories via all mediums, so that’s when I started taking classes and learning about videography.

Most of the time, like with the paragliding video you mentioned, I just record and produce videos on my own for no client. However, I do offer professional videography services for hire as well. So far, I’ve been contacted by an author to do video chapters for her book and some non-profit organizations looking to showcase videos of their work on their websites. Each client wants something different, and just like reporting, content and style vary depending on the aim of the video and what the client wants.

Videography is actually quite similar to photography. It’s all about subject, composition, framing, lighting, etc. The main difference is rather than taking a single captured shot, you’re recording one shot as a clip, usually between 10-15 seconds long.

Eaton:  Your photography has a beautiful artistic look and feel. What do you look for when you photograph a subject? What do clients often want with photographs?

 Zen Buddhist Temple - Skokie, IL, USA
© Tey-Marie Astudillo

Ethnic Festival - Evanston, IL, USA
© Tey-Marie Astudillo

Nightscape - Amsterdam
© Tey-Marie Astudillo

Inside Fukuoka Tower - Fukuoka, Japan
© Tey-Marie Astudillo

Rain Dance - Chicago
© Tey-Marie Astudillo

Tey:  Thanks for the compliments on my photography, that means a lot coming from a professional photographer like yourself. When photographing I keep in mind the same things as I mentioned earlier with the video (subject, composition, framing, lighting, etc.) I’ll probably take between 10-20 photos of the same exact thing from different angles and using lighting hoping that in post-production I’ll come across at least one that perfectly encapsulates the moment and mood I was trying to capture. That’s always easier said than done though.

Eaton:  What are your goals? What do you want for the future?

Tey:  Right now the bulk of my journalism work consists of feature and travel articles. I currently contribute to a wide range of publications and am always busy with one project or another, which I love.

I want to get into covering more social and humanitarian issues regarding Asia and Korea. I’ve got a couple of projects and ideas in mind (documentaries/photo essays, etc), which I hope to execute by the end of this year.

I’m also in the works of writing some materials that I will try to get publish, or if not, self-publish myself. It will mainly be a collection of essays regarding various topics and examinations of expat life in regards to Korea – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – things that people would want to know if they are considering living and working in Korea for some time and also just a documentation of my experiences here.

At some point within the next 5 years or so I’d also like to go back to school to get my Ph.D. I find mass communication theory very intriguing - the impact that media (and now especially social media) has on news, information, perceptions and people’s lives, as well as the overall direction of how communication technology is developing and changing the world, either for better and worse. That still won’t be for some time though, as I’m really enjoying doing the fieldwork aspect of journalism right now.

My dream job would be to one day immerse myself in and cover a ‘conflict’ zone. This doesn’t necasscarily mean a war zone, but any place that is highly troubled due to a particular reason – to expose that, how it affects the peoples lives there, how they are coping and ultimately to bring enough attention to it around that world that brings a change for the area.

Eaton:  Please let the readers know of any websites they can visit in order for them to view your work.

Tey:  All my work can be found on my website: http://teymarieastudillo.com/

I also love meeting new people and making new connections whether professional or personal, so everyone should feel free to add me on Facebook here, or follow me on Twitter at @TeyMarie


  1. I believe the depth of Tey's current work is just a hint of what she will accomplish in the future.

  2. Really a very nice post! It’s something I have never thought about, really, but it makes a whole lot of sense. Thanks for sharing the valuable information regarding Freelance Journalists.

  3. Sam, thank you for taking the time to comment and to share.

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