Gene Park once took a “newspaper” class in high school at Father Duenas, and the teacher gave him what he considered a very mediocre grade of “C.” It’s a good thing he didn’t let that discourage him, or he may have never made it to the venerable Washington Post, where he is currently a social media editor for the Opinions section. “It was a grade I found laughably unacceptable, and it did nothing to diminish my passion for the craft,” he recalled.
Park has been working for The Post for about two years and is still pinching himself. “For any journalist, The Washington Post, along with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, is the destination. The fact that I work here is literally beyond my wildest dreams.”
He was living in Hawaii and persevering through two months of interviews before he found out he finally got the job through an early morning email. “It was a feeling of elation unlike anything I’ve ever felt…I called my parents who were and still are exceedingly proud. And I thought back to my beloved grandmother, who died only earlier that week in March 2015. She was the first to move to Guam, and she (and my mother) built the foundation of all who I am today,” Park narrated.
His focus is on audience growth and social strategy for the Pulitzer prize-winning columnists and editorial board. “The opportunity to help them reach even more readers is an honor I do not take for granted,” Park said. One of his challenges has been to not get overwhelmed by this large and powerful organization that employs more than 700 of the best and brightest journalists. “I am an island boy who only had experience in small newsrooms. It continues to be a welcome challenge for me to navigate a newsroom with the breadth of content and coverage we publish,” he added.
The Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, takes its social media seriously, according to Park. “There is a complete lack of understanding [by others] that not only is the web a completely different medium than TV or newspapers, but that every platform on the Internet is different from each other. An Instagram audience consumes and engages differently than [what] people do in Snapchat, Tumblr, or Twitter. It’s part of why the social media team I’m in focuses on having platform experts, so we can sharpen our understanding of various audiences across the Internet,” he said.
Park was born in Tumon, and graduated with the FD Class of 1999. He attended California State University, Fullerton and returned home to Guam in 2003 where he worked at the Pacific Daily News, covering business and education. But by 2006 he was desperate for a change in scenery. He left Guam and moved to Honolulu without any specific job prospects. “Which is probably the craziest thing I’ve done,” he admitted. After two months of job-hunting he was hired as a reporter by the now defunct Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
The newspaper business in Hawaii was going through a rough patch at that time. Two of the major newspapers merged, and eventually one of them folded. The silver lining is that during the uncertain times Park began exploring social media and its application to the future of journalism. “I never wanted to be laid off again. I wanted to brand myself as indispensable. In 2013, Civil Beat, an investigative news website started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be Hawaii’s first social media editor, and I excitedly accepted. I was never able to brandish my social media skills through the newspaper. I thought, ‘This is my last chance to prove myself that I can work in a larger market.’ Little did I know that my plan would work, and I would be working at a global scale.”
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that in his free time Park “reads for my own health.” He also likes to play video games. “For me it’s the purest sense of escapism.”
Among his personal influences is Bob Dylan. “His legacy is built on an unapologetic devotion to his craft, despite what the trends of the day were or what people thought about him.” He was also inspired by the late Mary Tyler Moore. “Her character in the [TV] show was independent, career driven, unconcerned about any societal pressures about roles or families, and she taught me that writers belong in journalism,” he said.
Park is exactly where he wants to be, where he always dreamed he’d be. “For now I am extremely happy here, and the only thing I want is to continue to be a better student of journalism. What better place than at The Post? What better city than at the nation’s capital? This is the greatest job I’ve ever had, and I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had in my whole life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
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