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Melville, N.Y. (works in Queens, N.Y., bureau)
You have an interesting beat, something that probably did not exist 20 years ago. Why is it important now?
The beat's been important for the last few decades but increasingly important now as the complexion of our country continues to change and evolve. We need to report on who the new arrivals to the country are and teach people about them, because at the heart of the matter, they are similar to you and me. They value freedom, opportunity, safety, and a good education for their children.
The immigration beat is also important because new immigrants often are not finding news that are of interest to them in many mainstream papers. They end up turning to their ethnic papers to find out what's going on in their home countries and what U.S. immigration laws affect them.
I see myself as sort of the bridge that helps immigrants find their way in a new country, and at the same time, help Americans discover who their neighbors are.
What are some of the things you've learned as a result of covering this beat?
One of the most important things I've learned covering immigration issues and the immigrant community is the strength of the human spirit.
Over the years, I've interviewed hundreds of immigrants from all over the world. Many have left behind families, friends, home and a culture they are comfortable with to come to the United States, often under grueling conditions. They come with hope that they can make their lives or the lives of their family better. The sacrifices they've made are admirable. I often wonder if I were in their situation, whether I would have had the courage to start a new life in a new country.
This beat has also made me appreciate how small the world really is. I've come to see how the events in one part of the world have a domino affect that can touch the lives of many people living in the United States.
Another thing I learned covering the immigration beat is patience. There are times when you and the person you interview aren't fluent in the same language. Sometimes the person you interview doesn't trust the media due to experiences in his or her home country. It's often important to invest time and make the person feel comfortable enough with you to give you an interview.
What are some of the critical skills needed to be a good journalist?
Being inquisitive is a great start. Learning not just to accept what is visible to the naked eye but also questioning why things are the way they are is important. "Why" is among my most favorite of words in the English language. For a word with three letters, it can be quite the conversation-starter.
It's also important to be comfortable in your own skin. There are many styles one can use to report and write a story. It's important to find out what your style is. I've had colleagues who are bold and brash when they interview people. I've had other colleagues who sweet-talk people into giving them scoops. Find the style that you're most comfortable with and that is appropriate to the situation. Otherwise, you'll come off awkward and fake. And no one wants to talk to a reporter they don't think they can trust.
My editors seem to rewrite every story I submit. Help!
The next time editors want to do that, ask them to call you over so that the two of you can go through the changes together. Don't be afraid to ask your editors why they are making the changes because after all, it is your name that goes on the stories. Asking the editors to talk to you about the changes will help you learn to be a better writer.
On the other hand, don't always think that just because editors want to make changes to your stories that your writing is sub par. Sometimes it's just a style preference that an editor has. Some editors are also writers by training, and they're just used to re-writing all the copy they see.
Writing is often the most difficult part of being a reporter. But I've come to learn it's an integral part of the job. You can get a great scoop and report it thoroughly, but if the presentation isn't attractive to the reader, then your efforts have largely been wasted.
Tell us about your goals as president of the Asian American Journalists Association.
It's a challenging time for AAJA. At a time when we are trying to offer more programs to our members and be a greater resource for them, it's gotten really difficult for us to raise funds to provide new services. So we're in the process of prioritizing our needs and trying to find untapped sources of funding. Some of the programs we would like to launch and are awaiting funding include a mid-career mentor program as well as skills-training workshops to be held around the country separate from our annual convention.
More than 20 years after we were formed, it's also time for AAJA to re-evaluate itself. For that, I've set up a committee of forward-thinking, industry leaders to help plan for the future of AAJA. The future's task force will make its recommendations to the AAJA board later this year.
And finally, one of my other main goals is to make AAJA a more powerful force in the industry. I want the organization to be more vocal in advocating for diversity in the newsroom and for fair and accurate media coverage of Asian Americans.
In the last few weeks alone, we've commented on the lack of initial coverage in mainstream media when Shaquille O'Neal made racist comments about Yao Ming. We also brought attention to how our most visible Asian American on-air male broadcaster, James Hattori, can no longer be seen on television (his contract with CNN was not renewed) and how that will negatively impact the next generation of males going into broadcast journalism. My hope is that we will continue to actively and aggressively pursue issues like these that are at the core of our founding mission.