Staff Q&A: John Kwon

John Kwon

When he’s not editing Penn’s online bioethics journal, John Kwon helps media savvy professors connect with the wider world.

Internet project director and editor for the American Journal of Bioethics, Center for Bioethics

Length of Service:
4 years

Last year he walked 200 miles across northern Spain “to visit small villages and meet local people.”

When “The Today Show” comes calling, seeking insight and sound bites from one of Penn’s professors, there’s no need for the expert in question to travel all the way up the turnpike for a five-minute face to face. That’s because Penn has its very own satellite uplink facility (, PennStudio, where academics can connect directly with the media without ever leaving campus.

The studio where all this happens is small, barely 12 feet x 16 feet, but from this modest space—located in the Center for Bioethics—Penn “talent” can take a seat in front of the camera and talk to the world.

In charge of daily operations is the Center’s Internet Director, John Kwon, who also edits the online edition of the Penn-published American Journal of Bioethics.
We caught up with Kwon to chat about the media, remote controlled cameras and what it takes to give Penn professors their 15—or five—minutes of fame.

Q. So how did PennStudio end up in the Center for Bioethics, rather than Annenberg?
Glen McGee [the Center’s associate director for education] and I came up with the idea about two years ago. Art Caplan [Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics], Glen and some of the other faculty are so media savvy that they wanted to be in close proximity to the facility. But also we had other missions. One of the grants that we wrote was about doing long-distance outreach programs to high school students. We wanted to use the camera to reach out to students in rural areas or under-funded areas. But we also saw an opportunity for the Penn community to use it, and we’ve gotten a good welcome here from the faculty.

Q. Which schools use the facility the most?
For now, the frequent flyers are Wharton and the Medical School, plus Annenberg and the University Communications office.

Q. How do the interviews work?
Let me give you an example. Today we have two interviews involving the Wharton School. CNBC’s “Kudlow & Kramer” wants to talk to Professor of Finance Jeremy Siegel regarding the stock market and they want to do a live interview, so he’ll come in and sit at the table, and we’ll arrange our camera. Our provider, a company called VideoLink, controls the camera remotely. We don’t actually control the camera or lighting.

Q. Where are they controlled from?
Either from their Boston or Philadelphia office. Everything is done remotely.

Q. So once the camera’s rolling …
The interview starts and the professor—we call them the ‘talent’—answers the producer or anchor. For a live tape, it usually lasts five or 10 minutes maximum. Sometimes we do live-to-tape, which means they tape the show and then edit it and put it on later. That could be a little bit longer.

Q. Do the professors find it awkward talking to a camera rather than a person?
Some of them are more experienced with the media so they know exactly what to do—look at the lens. Some need a little more help getting adjusted to talking with no one in front of them. Sometimes we stand behind the camera to give them a face to talk to, but they quickly adapt.

Q. Do you have face powder on hand to stop the talent getting too shiny?
Yes, we have a little makeup kit, though most professors like to keep the natural look. We have snacks too.

Q. And you have different backdrops for different professors?
Depending on the talent who’s going to be sitting here, we can change it. There’s a general Penn image with College Hall in the background. Sometimes we show the Wharton School and we have different scenery shot at different times of day. If the interview’s in the morning we use the morning shot. If it’s at night we use the night shot. We also have a backdrop with books on a bookshelf, but we’ve never used that.

Q. I guess a lot of different topics get discussed in here.
Yes, it ranges from finance to politics to science. There’s a new TV show called “The Biggest Loser” that’s about weight loss. The person who loses the most weight wins. So a professor from the Medical School came and talked about the consequences—both health-wise and psychologically—of extreme weight loss. Art Caplan has talked about stem cell research. Kathleen Hall Jamieson [communication professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center] has been here on almost a daily basis to talk to different networks about political ads. Jeremy Siegel is talking today about the economic side of the election.

Q. You must learn a lot just listening in.
It’s kind of interesting because you do get to learn a lot. And on top of that you get to meet the professors and chat afterward and get some insight, so that’s fun.

Originally published on November 18, 2004