In our 11th edition of Behind the Byline, our interview series helping you get to know the journalists who bring you the news, we talk to video editor Corinne Chin about the power of visuals and how she developed a passion for telling untold stories.
Corinne Chin has been all over the world. She’s worked as a journalist in Washington D.C.; New York; Nairobi, Kenya; South Africa; and Brazil. Of all the places she’s lived, she said Seattle has taken the longest to adjust to.
Corinne speculates that maybe it’s because Seattle is smaller than other places she’s lived, or perhaps because she thinks the city has a complicated relationship with race.
In her four years living in Seattle, Corinne has wasted no time diving into these issues. In 2016, she co-edited Under Our Skin, a video project that went on to win a plethora of awards, including an Online Journalism Award in Explanatory Reporting and a Kaleidoscope Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. She also founded The Seattle Times’ Diversity and Inclusion task force, which helps promote diverse, inclusive and equitable coverage.
Corinne stays busy outside the newsroom, too: She’s the president of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, mentors fellow journalists via digitalwomenleaders.com and curated the Diversity section of the American Press Institute’s Better News resource website.
So how does she juggle it all? Corinne says it doesn’t feel like work when “you’re working on stuff that is so personally important to you.” She also has a great network of journalists to collaborate with. “I definitely can’t do it all alone.”
Q: How did you become interested in journalism?
My mom is a dentist. As a new American, she was working all the time and couldn’t really afford child care, so I was in the waiting room reading every magazine that she had sent to her office.
I did a magazine internship in New York when I was an undergrad, and that’s when I first realized that if you actually work for a magazine, it’s not necessarily the long-form writing you learn in journalism school. You do a lot of reviews and TV show recaps, and it wasn’t really what I wanted to do.
My friends at Northwestern University convinced me to sign up for this class that was about reporting on immigrant and refugee communities, and I thought, “This is where I come from; why would I take a class on it?” But I registered with my friends, and through that, I had the amazing opportunity to report at a refugee camp in Malawi while I was still an undergrad. The program lent us cameras, so that was actually the first time I ever had a camera on a reporting trip. And that’s when I thought, “Hey, I really like the power of visual storytelling, this is something I’m really interested in.” I got my master’s in video storytelling, also from Northwestern. But it was really that experience at the refugee camp, and seeing how this could have been my life if [my family] didn’t end up in the States — people like me have been stuck in refugee camps for decades — that really made me more appreciative of telling stories that I really felt like I hadn’t heard in the news. I didn’t want to be sorting free women’s cosmetics in a room in New York City as a magazine staffer; I wanted to work in other types of storytelling.
I think another reason I was such an avid consumer of journalism as a kid was because in many ways, reading stories taught me how to fit into a narrative I wasn’t built to fit into. Mainstream news is not made with immigrant families in mind; the news doesn’t always report what’s relevant to these communities. When I read YM magazine in the dentist’s office, I learned how girls were “supposed” to dress and what conversation topics would make me seem less like an outsider. And all the models illustrating those stories were white. I would love for young girls of color to be able to read the news and not feel like they’re on the outside looking in, or like they need to act a certain way to belong – as I did – and that’s what inspires so much of my work today. Representation matters.
Q: Which story have you worked on that has had the most impact on your career?
Under Our Skin went way beyond what we expected. That was really a passion project and a total experiment; it was unlike anything we had ever done at The Seattle Times, and we didn’t know how it was going to be received. And it was received amazingly. We got emails from all over the world, people in Israel, people in England, asking if they could use it in training [their employees] — which is so interesting because we really wanted it to focus on race in America and Western Washington specifically. And yet, these stories are universal.
Q: Who are other people in the newsroom that you like working with?
I’ve been working with Erika Schultz, Bettina Hansen and Lauren Frohne for as long as I’ve been here, and it’s really been awesome to work in that unit with strong women who are incredible visual storytellers. They inspire me every day. We can constantly be elevating each other’s work.
Q: How do you prepare for an assignment?
Double-, triple-check your gear — I’m in video! I think a lot of people are surprised when I come to an assignment. They’re like, “Why does this woman have so many bags?” You’ve got your tripod and your other tripod and your camera and all these lenses.
But just on a human level, do your research. The thing I look forward to most when I’m crafting a story is the interview. I think it’s so, so important to be a skilled, personable interviewer, and also very genuine. What you’re trying to do is get people to open up to you and be honest about something that may be challenging for them to talk about. And if you want to make a compelling visual story, it’s really important to have true emotion in there, for people to not feel like they’re performing on camera.
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Q: What do you wish people knew about your job?
I think people have this picture of a journalist that’s this tough person asking really hard questions, but you can also be a gentle person and ask really hard questions that help people work through feelings and beliefs they may not even fully understand. I think that you can be strong and sensitive at the same time. You can do this job with humility and treat people with dignity – without being aggressive or demanding.
Q: Are there any particular story ideas that you’ve recently been interested in pursuing?
I’m in the newsroom all day. I see a lot of news. And if there’s ever a community I’m not seeing reflected, I’m like, “We definitely need to see that.” So that’s something that all three of us on the video team will consciously do. Lauren Frohne, Ramon Dompor and I are very aware of our power as visual storytellers and the instant impact of seeing something on screen. We make an effort to represent a very diverse set of people in our video stories.
Q: Anything in life, in general, that you’re excited about?
Seattle is such an exciting place to do journalism now because it’s changing so much. And of course, a lot of that change is really painful — which is why I think we really need a strong, robust community newspaper to accompany the city along this evolution. We need journalists who are from Seattle, and we need to bring in journalists from outside of Seattle with a different perspective who may have experienced things in a different way. To bring that all together in a newspaper, I think can be really powerful and productive.
NOTABLE STORIES BY CORINNE CHIN
Under Our Skin: What do we mean when we talk about race?
Under Our Skin grew out of conversations about how we at The Seattle Times were covering race during a time when national events like the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement were dominating headlines. The project features people from the Seattle area discussing race and identity. (June 20, 2016)
Trailblazing Seattleites run a family farm on the pot frontier
Legal pot farming has brought this Seattle family closer together. The Hollingsworths are a family of former athletes, retired executives and history-making trailblazers from Seattle. Now, in rural Mason County, they’ve begun a new chapter as cannabis farmers. (November 28, 2016)
Mother-daughter powerlifters ‘dont care what people have to say’
One is a bodybuilding mother battling fibromyalgia. Her daughter is a teenage powerlifting protege. Chisato, 54, and Sachie, 18, train together as competitive powerlifting and bodybuilding athletes. Together, they’re breaking barriers. (September 21, 2018)
Artifacts of Injustice: An American History Collection
This is American history, the hard-to-digest parts that put a nation dedicated to liberty in conflict with itself from the very beginning. On this page, you will explore artifacts — some ugly, some inspiring — that take you into that history. (June 19, 2018)
You can find previous Behind the Byline interviews on our Inside the Times page. Want to learn more about your favorite Seattle Times journalist? Send a message to engagement editor Gina Cole.
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