Interview - Kim Mock

Interview: Kim Mock, Journalist, Athens Banner-Herald: 16th July 2003

Kim Mock has enjoyed an unusual and interesting path into the media business.

Media Man Australia recently read one of Kim's articles on NWA Wildside, and was impressed by its upbeat feel, wit and balance.

Now a feature writer at the Athens Banner-Herald, Kim reflects on her career.

What's your background?

By background, I suppose you mean where I'm from/how I got to Athens, Georgia, why I'm a writer, et al.

I'm a native of the great state of Florida and the oldest of two kids. I came to Athens in the fall of 2002 to begin work on my Master's degree in writing. In November, I applied for a news writing job at the Athens Banner-Herald thinking I would at least be a less-poor grad student. Alas, it was not to be the case. So here I am!

How did you get your break in the media business?

Whew - long story. I guess I got my first taste of professional writing when I was in sophomore in high school in 1995. I've always been known among friends as a rather witty person with a lot of opinions and a ridiculous amount of senseless knowledge, which I get from my father, who is a professor of history. Anyway, my then-best friend was an editor at the school newspaper and she needed someone to write a debate column on the penalties of a then-new Florida law regarding penalties for high school students found with tobacco products on property surrounding a school. I agreed, wrote the debate and went on to write a series of debate-like columns, but never joined the staff. I never imagined that I would write professionally, so it seemed like a waste of time.

After graduation, I went off to a private university to study art. When I got bored with that and decided I didn't want to be a professional artist, I transferred to Florida State University, where I changed my major to Creative Writing and had the pleasure of learning from some great writers -- Mark Winegardner, Robert Olin Butler, Ed Flagg and Ned Stuckey-French were some of my favourite professors and writers who all worked at FSU when I was there.

Two weeks after starting at FSU, I started writing for the Lifestyles section of the FSView & Florida Flambeau Independent Student Newspaper for a measly $5 an article. I did the best I could and within 6 months had changed sections to become assistant Arts & Entertainment editor. I had no clue what I was doing, but I guess I did okay because I was named A&E section editor about 4 months later, which was a total shock. I was A&E editor for more than a year until I graduated. Working there was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was on-hand during the 2000 presidential election debacle, I was able to go to numerous press junkets across the U.S. and I learned a lot about how the music and entertainment industries work, both locally and on the national scene. I graduated from FSU in 2001, and was intent on being a professional A&E writer. That didn't happen -- A&E jobs are hard to get, and September 11 all but squished the American media market -- but I was fortunate enough to get a gig as a politics and government reporter at a daily newspaper in metro Atlanta.

I quit after 8 months because I hated it and came to Athens to attend the University of Georgia. After a few months, I thought I could take on a job and applied at the Athens Banner-Herald. I supposedly beat out about 60 people for the job and started writing news here in November of 2002.

In March 2003, the Features editor asked me to apply for a position as a full-time features writer at the paper. I somehow tricked her into giving me the job and have been writing features full time every since.

What do you like to write about the most, and why?

Two years ago, I probably would have said music. But now I think the quirkier things about American society have a great appeal to me, because they allow you to play with your writing. It's interesting, and often shocking, to see what different people are passionate about.

What motivates you?

Reading old James Wolcott articles in Vanity Fair. He's the master, as far as I'm concerned, and I'd like to be one-fifth as good as he is someday.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Really just looking around. I think sometimes you have to be protean to "get it" when it comes to entertainment writing. If you aren't, you don't really feel the emotion of the people you're talking to or the place where you're doing the story.

How do you describe your writing style?

It depends what I'm writing about. If I think I can get away with it, and it's appropriate, I can be borderline sardonic. I don't try to be disrespectful of anyone, but I think you have to have a sense of humor about life, and I hope that sometimes comes through in my writing. People need to embrace the fact that some of the things they do are quirky. The weird and different things about people make them interesting. I wish people would better realize that, yes, you are strange if you drive 5 1/2 hours to watch Elvis impersonators sing on the front porch of a rural Georgia town and eat $5 peanut butter and banana sandwiches in honor of Elvis' birthday. Which is a festival I'm doing a story on in coming weeks.

How did you come to specialize in writing about the music industry?

I don't know if I'd consider myself a specialist. But I think I do have a handle on how musicians are. I've always been friends with a lot of people in bands so I think I have a pretty good grasp as to how to talk to those people. To me, I don't care if you're Thom Yorke or your average weekend bluesman -- if you're getting interviewed by me, you're going to be treated the same as everybody else I talk to, which is with respect, but sans pretense.

What works of yours are your personal favorites?

I definitely don't like everything I write, but there are a few pieces that stand out to me. One of my favorites is the first articles I wrote for the FSU student newspaper, and the only reason I got away with writing what I did is because we were a publication independent of the university. It was in the fall of 1999, and it was called "How to Date a Virgin". My dad's a professor there, so I'm sure he loved seeing his only daughter's byline on those articles.

I've written several fun pieces about relationships - how to get revenge on your ex was another goodie, although all the exes I interviewed seemed to be rather disturbed people, and that definitely came out in the article. But in general, I love any story I can have fun with and just go crazy on, which I definitely did on the wrestling piece about the NWA performance here in Athens.

What do you consider to be some of the highlights of your career so far?

Definitely the opportunities I've had to interview several of my favourite bands. And in the fall of 2001, I was able to attend a press conference with the president in Atlanta. Although I'm not a Bush supporter, it was an honor to hear him speak in person and witness first-hand the pomp and circumstance associated with high profile members of the national U.S. media.

What are you most well known for?

That depends on who you ask. I'm a different person to different people, but these are the most common facts about me: You don't want to play me in Jeopardy. You definitely don't want to treat me like I'm stupid. And yes, I've heard a million times or more that I'm definitely Shannon Doherty's doppelganger.

How did "The Mummy" and NWA assignments come about?

When at FSU, I did a series of press junkets after making one random phone call to a major movie studio. After you do one press junket, the doors open up to you. All you have to do is ask.

In April 2001, I flew to LA to do a triple junket -- Shrek, The Mummy Returns and another film that I can't remember right now - something with Simon Rex and vampires maybe? Anyway, as part of "The Mummy Returns" junket, I was able to interview The Rock, who was in the film. We talked mostly football - he went to the University of Miami, and I being a huge FSU football fan my whole life, had to chide him about their loss to us that year.

With NWA Wildside, I had seen a note about it somewhere and I volunteered to write the article and somehow, despite my ridiculousness, it made the cover of our A&E section. I really hope Bill Behrens doesn't hate me for it!

Do you have much say in what you write about?

I do have a lot of say in what I write, although I often am given assignments that I don't want to do. Last week, I had to write a story on new trends in lawn/patio furnishings for our Home & Garden section, which was a chore. I'm 23. I live in an apartment. I don't have a patio or a lawn. I have no clue as to where to even buy lawn furniture, much less what styles are "trendy". But my boss wanted me to do it, so I did.

Where have you traveled?

I've been to Europe, the Bahamas/Caribbean. I've been to California, all along the eastern seaboard - DC, New York - all along the Gulf Coast. I don't think there's anywhere in Florida I haven't been. Next month I'm traveling to Boston, to which I've never been.

What else should our readers know about you?

That if they've read this much about me and have found it at all interesting, I'm greatly impressed.


Editors note: An inspiring interview with one of America's young, talented, arts and entertainment writers.