By Elizabeth Gyori
AAJA’s budget may be back to black following a tough 2009.
After closing with a $207,000 deficit, officials said, the governing board and the national AAJA office instituted aggressive measures – some unprecedented – to balance the budget.
“We are moving toward a brighter future,” said Executive Director Kathy Chow. “This is a great sign that even in the end of deficit from last year, we were able to pay off our deficit with interest already.”
Although national officials said Friday there is currently no deficit, the governing board refused to release how much AAJA has raised thus far until today’s National Advisory Board meeting.
Last year, AAJA borrowed $154,000 from the endowment to cover the shortfall. The loan was paid back in full, with interest, said National Treasurer Candace Heckman, totaling $160,000.
One of the measures used to ensure fiscal stability was asking individual
chapters to contribute money to the national office. Several chapters contributed more money than asked for and
were happy to help out.
Ameet Sachdev, president of the Chicago group, said the decision to give the national office more was not a difficult one. The chapter contributed
“I think that if (chapters) are not using those funds for the local activities, then they should give back to national,” Sachdev said.
Another major change was starting a fundraising policy that allows AAJA to accept money from companies outside the traditional media industry.
And as media outlets evolved, AAJA officials revamped the parameters.
For practical purposes, the definition of media funding sources has broadened to include not only companies such as NBC, but also Microsoft, which creates
new media enterprises.
Furthermore, AAJA can now accept money from any company that
share’s AAJA’s diversity mission. Government and in-kind donations – goods and services given by companies – can add to the coffers as well.
“I think we have a good balance of being able to protect our members
from conflicts of interest, but still seek the funders we need,” Heckman said.
Other changes also have added up to a projected balanced budget. For instance, the national AAJA office in San Francisco will be moving from Market Street to the Hearst Building. National President Sharon Chan said the move will save the organization $35,000 in rent expenses.
AAJA also switched from Bank of America to the Bank of San Francisco because of lower credit-card fees. The Bank of San Francisco also gave AAJA a line of credit.
But Chan emphasized that the national office is waiting to see how the convention ends before celebrating. Typically, the annual convention funds half of AAJA’s operating expenses and with last year’s loss officials hope to break even in Los Angeles.
“We had the worst crisis in our organization last year, but it’s history and we’ve shepherded AAJA through it,” Chan said.
Find Elizabeth on Twitter @LizGyori
By Candice Nguyen
At the end of 2009, AAJA’s national office was left with a $207,000 deficit.
That loss created a sense of financial emergency, pushing officials to ask for help from individual chapters with suggested donations as high as $12,000. Some have balked at the quota, while others are giving more. Donation amounts were not arbitrary, said AAJA National President Sharon Chan.
“We assessed the individual chapters’ accounts to calculate how much they’d be able to contribute,” Chan said. National officials worked with accountants to create a formula that figured out each chapter’s share.
The formula took a chapter’s bank account divided by the sum of all the accounts. Then it multiplied that fraction by the fundraising goal, which according to Chan, is $115,000. Membership numbers also were taken into account. Larger chapters with bigger budgets paid more while those with less paid a smaller amount. A payment plan was available for those chapters who couldn’t pay outright, said National Treasurer Candace Heckman.
Heckman said she’s not able to release exact figures of total chapter contributions so far until today’s treasurers’ meeting.
“In the end, all the chapters understood the mission and paid that formula that we came up with because, in the end, all of our money is together anyways,” Heckman said.
Chapters have pledged a total of $79,380. More financially stable groups, such as Sacramento and Atlanta, supported this fundraising method.
“We didn’t have a problem with paying,” said Vino Wong, Atlanta Chapter president. “Nonetheless, it’s about unity. If the mother ship sinks, we all sink.”
Earlier this year, AAJA National asked the Sacramento chapter for a $25,000 donation, which Sacramento delivered. Judy Lin, the chapter’s copresident, said it only initially wanted to donate about $10,000, but decided to donate the asked amount instead.
The chapter’s 25th anniversary is in 2010. Yesterday, the Sacramento chapter was awarded AAJA Chapter of the Year. It was the second chapter, after Minnesota, to donate funds through their “Issue Challenge.” Sacramento Chapter Co-President Pamela Wu says, “Our chapter was financially healthy. Then again, our members didn’t have to just reach into their pockets, they could seek sponsorships to help our chapter.”
At the same time, other chapters met the request with confusion and concern.
“It was more of a mandate, not a choice,” said Jeffrey Ong, Arizona chapter co-president. “I disagree with the usage of the word ‘donation,’ and I expressed that. It wasn’t a donation because a donation is a willing donat on to a cause. This was an assessment, from our viewpoint. I just wish it was a little more straightforward.”
The New York Chapter is scheduled to pay $12,626 to AAJA National, a large sum compared to most other chapters. At New York’s board meeting last May, members discussed pitching to AAJA National the idea of being given the bid as host of a future convention once they pay the amount.
Two years ago, New York lost a bid to host the 2011 convention to Detroit.
“We would love to have the AAJA convention in New York, but we’re not using our payment as a bargaining chip,” says Sital Patel, New York chapter president. “It was just part of the larger discussion.”
On all levels, 2009 hit AAJA hard. However, Chan reassures members: “This is a one-time thing. This was an SOS during the worst time for our organization.”
Find Candice on Twitter @candinguyen
By Dominique Fong
In April, AAJA adopted a new fundraising policy that has allowed the organization to accept money from nontraditional companies, a decision that has surfaced concerns about possible conflicts of interest.
Historically, AAJA accepted money from strictly media-related companies. Now, the organization can accept money from corporations and government organizations.
The change had some worried that the sponsorship would compromise an AAJA member’s ability to write a balanced article on the sponsor.
Representatives from sponsors Toyota and Google were present at this year’s convention. The U.S. Census Bureau tabled a booth at the career fair, in addition to traditional media companies such as The Wall Street Journal and The McClatchy Company.
The ethical issue is one that journalists may never agree on, national AAJA treasurer Candace Heckman said.
All donations, however, are still subject to the approval of the governing board.
That, Heckman said, makes the new policy clearer than a former version that allowed companies such as alcohol distributors to donate without restriction.
Convention attendees expressed mixed reactions.
“It’s good that the organization has relaxed its rules to help funding,” said Will Chang, a member of the New York chapter.
Conning Chu, a member of the Los Angeles chapter, said sponsorships from nontraditional companies should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“I think it depends on the company and what the money’s being used for,” Chu said. “Being a nonprofit, I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest, like if the money is being used for things like scholarships.”
AAJA also redefined the term “media company” to accept money from companies such as Microsoft, which owns MSNBC, and Google, which has websites such as Blogspot and YouTube.
Facing the recession and decreasing donations from traditional media companies, other UNITY organizations have had to implement similar policies to balance their budgets.
The policy is a matter of survival, said Russell Contreras, financial officer for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
“We have to still keep the doors open to provide services for the association to grow,” Contreras said.
Contreras said he is aggressively targeting companies that appeal to Latin American and Hispanic communities, such as soccer teams. Contreras has also pursued sponsorships from the Noche Latina campaign, which markets merchandise with word plays on NBA team names, such as “Los Lakers” and “Los Kobe.”
The National Association of Black Journalists has also focused on sports-related companies, this year raising more than $100,000 from the NFL , MLB and the NBA Players Association, among others.
The disparity between revenue from traditional and nontraditional sponsorships is like “night and day,” said Gregory Lee, national NABJ treasurer.
On the issue of ethics, Lee said the relationship between donor and journalist is too indirect to influence the commitment to objectivity.
“I’m not individually accepting money,” said Lee, who is also the senior assistant sports editor at The Boston Globe. “We accept the money as a group. It doesn’t compromise my ability to report a fair story.”
Find Dominique on Twitter @dominiquefong. Voices staff writer Elizabeth Gyori contributed.
By Elizabeth Gyori and Eunice Kim
Once known as the premier automotive center of the world, Detroit is now what some call “ground zero of the Asian American movement” – making it an ideal backdrop to the annual AAJA Convention.
The AAJA Michigan Chapter is slated to host the 2011 convention next summer in the state’s largest city after a compelling presentation that won it the bid over New York.
Joe Grimm, a longtime Detroit journalist who spent 25 years with the Detroit Free Press, expects the convention to be “very insightful, educational, uplifting, and thought-provoking.”
Detroit’s unique place in the Asian American movement begins with the hate-crime murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. The Chinese American draftsman was murdered by two American autoworkers after they mistakenly assumed that he was Japanese and blamed him for the loss of American auto jobs to the Japanese car industry.
After Chin’s death, the Asian-American community in Detroit banded together to support each other in the face of racism and discrimination, sparking the Pan-Asian movement in the United States.
Frank Witsil, co-chair of the 2011 convention, believes there are a number of incidents – from the murder of Chin in the 1980s to the dying auto industry and the 9/11 terrorist attacks – that have “galvanized communities nationwide and sparked a series of changes in laws” that have united several minority groups like Arab Americans.
“AAJA has had a long and rich history with the Arab American journalists beginning with the formation of the original Detroit chapter in 1988,” said former AAJA Dallas Chapter president Esther Wu. “Members of the (chapter) reached out to this diverse community to make sure their voices were heard and that they were afforded fair and equal coverage. In turn, I believe this visibility helped attract a number of journalists of Middle Eastern descent to join AAJA.”
Detroit Arab-Americans followed the footsteps of the Asian American population in Detroit after widespread racism and discrimination developed following the 9/11 attacks. This trend is what made the anniversary of 9/11 a pertinent issue for the Detroit bid.
“The 9/11 anniversary was a factor. As much as the New York Chapter said it was their issue, it was our issue, too,” Witsil said.
Ankur Dholakia, the convention’s other co-chair, said that there are a multitude of innovative programs flourishing in Detroit – from the development of Arab-American journalism in Detroit to the Executive Leadership Program Media Demonstration Project that teaches journalism to seventh graders.
“Our motto is ‘Time to Engage,’ ” Dholakia said. “Engaging minds, engaging different opportunities in journalism.”
With so many possibilities, even New York members are eager for the event.
“We’re all very supportive of it … we’re excited about going there,” said Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author and freelance journalist who helped lead New York City’s 2011 bid.
The convention will also celebrate AAJA’s 30th anniversary, a milestone that AAJA’s Executive Director Kathy Chow is thrilled to honor.
“A lot of organizations go through a lot of turbulence and stuff and 30 years is a huge opportunity to celebrate the excitement of what has happened in our history,” Chow said.
Keeping the wallets of struggling journalists in consideration, AAJA officials said the inexpensive appeal of Detroit was another major factor in the selection process.
The Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau offered AAJA $10,000 to host the convention in the city, a cost-lowering benefit that New York didn’t offer.
“Coming out of college, I have to look at my finances and check whether or not I have the wherewithal to go to Detroit,” said Cheng Sio, who attended the AAJA Convention for the first time in Los Angeles.
And with room rates $100 lower in Detroit compared to New York’s lowest room rate of $274, cost may be the largest deciding factor for others like Sio.
“It’s a cool, international city (with) a great music scene, it’s a travel bargain, and there’s this really interesting Arab-American community right there,” Grimm said. “I think it’ll be a really pleasant surprise for a lot of AAJA members.”
By Vivian Wong
Ron Brown has devoted the last 40 years persuading corporate America to believe what he holds to be true: diversity is a business priority.
“Many corporations have learned how to gain benefits from pulling for similarities, but they are just beginning to see the strengths of using differences and the different backgrounds that people bring,” Brown said.
A company must utilize all its strengths, he says. Making them realize that diversity is one of them, however, is the trick.
Brown, a leader and innovator in diversifying businesses, is a management consultant and public speaker. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a San Francisco-based management development firm that evolved from another organization he founded, Pacific Management Systems. He recently stepped down as an Executive Leadership Program trainer for AAJA after 15 years.
Some companies, like Avon Products Inc. in New York, had no difficulty learning the lesson of diversity as an element for business success. Working as a consultant, Brown saw the company’s flat sales and advised it to consider diversity as a critical part of developing a corporate plan. Making diversity a strategic intent allowed Avon to return to aggressive sales results.
Procter & Gamble was Brown’s first taste of corporate America in the 1970s. There he picked up the tools he would later use in his seminars on power, leadership and achievement. Since then, he’s worked with major corporations such as McDonald’s, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Eastman Kodak, Arthur Andersen, General Mills, Shell Oil, and Reebok International.
Brown received his doctorate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He trained to be a psychotherapist up until working with Procter & Gamble, where he found his passion. Though he never went back to pursue psychotherapy, his background in psychology laid down the foundation for his career in consulting. He explained, “Psychology is understanding how people work together, get along, and interact to get results. (Similarly), organizations are about relationships, a lot of individual personalities working together effectively.”
Dinah Eng, the founder of ELP, asked Brown early on to share his wisdom with the AAJA community as an ELP trainer. “He would always come up with a great view of how to deal with people’s fears and anxiety,” she says. “He just has a great understanding of human nature that I really appreciate.”
Brown understands the diversity of his audience. He has taught more than 25,000 managers. “I’m very aware of how to teach (the seminar) in a way that responds to different cultural perspectives, because each culture has a different response to the same material,” he said.
For example, he says, Asian Americans have cultural expressions that portray power as something that needs to be deserved or earned a cultural perspective about power or leadership that may not be true in many organizations.
Jeannie Park, an ELP facilitator and colleague, recalls sitting in on his sessions. “He reminds you that things are never quiet, that you can never rest at work,” she says. “Even if things seem to be going well, even if you’re happy, there are always things you can be doing to help yourself down the road. I’ll literally hear Ron’s voice in my ear.”
Not only are his lessons invaluable, but his charisma makes the lessons unforgettable, she says. “I don’t know if he wins over 100 percent of the people, but 100 percent are stimulated intellectually by what he’s saying even if they don’t necessarily agree. He’s so dynamic, you have to think about it.”
Persistence describes Brown’s attitude, as well as “straightforward, humorous, direct, honest, and tough love,” he says.
People, Brown says, is why he thoroughly enjoys his job: “I’ve met a lot of people along the way. I had a chance to work inside some of the largest most powerful corporate institutions, and I’ve had a unique access to many leaders. It’s really been a rewarding, interesting, and challenging career.”
Find Vivian on Twitter @vtwong
By Eva Dou
When a Fox Broadcasting executive came to talk to graduates of AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program on Tuesday, one of the first questions he got was: “Did you ever take a pay cut for more responsibility?”
“Absolutely,” replied Todd Yasui, Fox senior vice president for late night programming. Empathetic nods rippled through the room.
Many in the audience had agonized over similar decisions: It’s these common struggles to climb the ladder that drew them together.
Since Dinah Eng founded it in 1995, ELP has been AAJA’s program for mid-career journalists looking to become leaders in the newsroom. The program teaches skills include navigating office politics, understanding corporate culture and becoming a self-promoter.
The specific workings of the program are shrouded from outsiders. Facilitators are wary about revealing all their tricks and won’t discuss their participants in detail, because discussions can get highly personal and are treated as confidential.
But according to participants and facilitators, ELP is nothing short of life-changing. Many ELP graduates go on to get raises or promotions. Many have become AAJA leaders – both candidates for AAJA national president this year are ELP graduates.
There are some who, after the soul-searching of ELP, decide to leave the journalism industry.
Lloyd LaCuesta, former AAJA president and long-time ELP facilitator, said the program is even more important today as budget cuts shrink opportunities for promotion. In an indication of the times, LaCuesta said fewer companies were covering their employees’ costs to come to the program, but participants were still coming and paying out of pocket.
The program itself has not changed significantly over the years, said Eng, who started ELP when she was AAJA president. As an editor at Gannett, Eng was the first AAJA president to have news leadership experience.
“I was very fortunate throughout my career to have mentors who taught me how to move to the next level,” Eng said. “I wanted to share that knowledge.”
The program teaches participants leadership and networking skills and also delves into the clash between Asian culture and Western boardrooms. In traditional Asian culture, younger people are supposed to stay quiet, learn and listen, Eng said, while at American meetings, they’re expected to actively participate, lest they be seen as timid or inattentive.
Other key points in ELP are learning to network and understanding the corporate structure.
“I think the most important thing people learn is that every organization is political,” said Boston WHDH-TV/NBC anchor Janet Wu, a 1998 ELP participant. “You have to learn that and understand that in order to succeed.”
Over the years, ELP has seen an increase in multiracial participants, which has put a new perspective on the program’s discussions of racial identity, Eng said. Discussion topics have also changed from year to year depending on the state of the industry.
By Van Tieu
The box of tissues is ready in her hand as Dinah Eng makes her way to the podium for her last Executive Leadership Program Summit luncheon.
For 15 years, she has mentored and inspired hundreds of journalists — not only to achieve success in executive positions, but to live their lives with meaning and impact. And now, having announced she is stepping down this year as leader of ELP, she knows full well that her emotions will likely take over.
“I’ve come prepared,” Eng jokes to the crowd, holding up the tissues.
Tears have become somewhat of a defining characteristic of Eng, founder of the ELP, which teaches mid-career Asian American journalists how to advance their careers.
Owen Lei, an ELP alumni describes Eng and her program this way: “Blood, sweat and tears- with an emphasis on the tears.”
But with the jokes, ELP graduates are equally quick to say that those tears come from a genuine and compassionate source — a strong sense of love that makes up this woman known as “Mother Eng.”
“I always thought that the crying at ELP was annoying,” says Ti-Hua Chang, a 2005 ELP alum, “but with Dinah, you know it’s real. You can cut Dinah, and you’ll find, at her core, pure compassion.”
She’s always been that way, he says. Eng and Chang were classmates at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1977.
He remembers her as a Texas country girl arriving in New York with a bee-hive hair-do style that was two decades past its time.
One incident stands out in particular. Her professor recognized her talent early on and put her on-air for CBS. Eng says she doesn’t remember this, but Chang recalls other students being envious and even mean to her.
“It never bothered her,” Chang says, recalling the compassion she held even then for others. “Dinah was never bitter.”
Over the years, Eng has brought that same life philosophy to her ELP sessions: To live positively. To never judge. To be strong enough to tune in and communicate your emotions.
As the ELP luncheon draws to a close this Wednesday afternoon, alumni, past mentees and fellow ELP trainers flock to Eng for photos. Each snapshot looks like a family photo with Mother Eng’s hands on mentee’s shoulders.
With Eng’s schedule even busier than ever at AAJA this year, my scheduled interview with her turns into a walk-and-talk conversation as I help her take bags to her car. Even that, however, proves challenging, as she navigates a gauntlet of hugs and thank yous with me in tow. I watch as many alumni linger in their hugs. Some use both hands to softly, even protectively, grasp Eng’s hand to hold it.
Twenty minutes later, I am at last alone with Eng. We stuff her bags into her car trunk. And after witnessing the sincerity of her ELP family, I feel like I finally understand everything people have been telling this week about Eng and the inspiration she has been.
Now the main question that remains for me to ask is the one so many alumni have also posed over the past week: Why is she leaving?
It’s plain and simple, Eng says. “I’m just tired” she says with a laugh.
With her newfound time, she plans to spend more time with family, start new projects, and even write a movie script inspired by her “oddball imagination.”
I tell her she’s like the mother bird letting her chick spread its wings.
“Yes,” she says. And I see she’s not looking at me anymore. For a moment in the parking lot — after a long day spent with the people she’s devoted her life to helping — she seems to transport back into the past, reliving memories of the past 15 years.
“I’m so thankful for the trainers…,” she begins to say.
Her eyes start to well up and her voice trembles as we stand there next to her small red sedan. She stops herself for a second, and a tissue materializes in her hand.
Gently dabbing it to her nose, Eng tries to explain, “People always say I cry a lot, but I don’t think so.”
By Dominique Fong
As a child, photographer Stan Honda listened to his father’s stories about imprisonment at the Poston, Ariz. internment camp.
Honda heard his father, aunts and uncles reminisce about Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and the sand that incessantly trickled into the living area, memories that moved him to embark on a personal project to understand his family’s past and a shameful part of American history.
“They talked a lot about it,” said Honda, a sansei, or third-generation Japanese American. “They talked about the harsh conditions, how there’s just sand that came into the barracks, which drove some of them literally crazy. There was sand through the floorboards and dust everywhere, 24 hours a day.”
Over a period of five years, Honda, now 51, and his older sister journeyed to nine of 10 internment camps, where thousands of Japanese Americans had been incarcerated during World War II under an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1994, Honda came across an announcement from the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) that a group of volunteers planned to dismantle barracks at the Heart Mountain, Wyo., internment camp and reassemble them at the museum parking lot.
Honda, who had been working for Newsday in New York at the time, thought it would be a timely opportunity to travel to a camp he had not yet visited and snap photos of the museum project.
“It was something that would probably happen once, and it probably wouldn’t happen again,” Honda said.
Honda and the volunteers traveled halfway across the country that fall, eager to see the barracks that were still in good condition.
A preservation architect accompanied the group and advised them on how to take carefully take apart the interior and exteriors of the fragments so that the relics could be reconnected without being damaged.
While the volunteers, some of whom had once been held at Heart Mountain, took the barracks and sent them off to Los Angeles on a flatbed truck, Honda was busy taking pictures.
“Everything caught my eye,” Honda said. “Historically, I think it was important to document the project because of the rarity of a whole barrack and the volunteers who were there.”
Some of Honda’s photos were included in a book by Sharon Yamato, who had also attended the museum project to interview people and document the process.
Honda, Yamato and several of the volunteers reunited Monday at a JANM exhibit named after Yamato’s book, “Moving Walls: Preserving the Barracks of America’s Concentration Camps,” where Honda led a presentation about the project.
Yamato said that the tearing down of the barracks was a breakthrough for her work, and she wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times about the experience.
She admired the way that Honda remained discreet about taking photos with the Leica black and white film camera he carried.
“He’s very low-key,” said Yamato. “He’s always in the background. He captures things without you even noticing that he’s taking pictures.”
Yamato’s favorite photo is a portrayal of her cousin, a shadowy figure among the play of light and dark hues. She appreciated that Honda was able to encapsulate on camera how men, laboring and sweating even in their 60s and 70s, were so emotionally invested.
“He captures personality, not just scenery or background,” said Yamato. “He really captures the essence of people.”
Honda said he even braved his fear of heights to climb to the top of a building, where from his bird’s-eye view he could see over the camp.
Honda learned photography in high school and worked for the campus newspaper at the University of California, San Diego. He later worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. In 1989, he moved to New York, where he has for the past seven years worked as a staff photographer for Agence France-Presse.
“I think telling people’s stories and communicating visually what is happening in the world is the real job of photojournalism,” said Honda. “Showing viewers how people live.”
Honda’s father, Masami Honda, was 24 when he entered the Poston camp. The oldest son in the family, the elder Honda would travel by train to visit his own father, who was a first-generation immigrant arrested by the FBI and detained in a different location.
Masami Honda was also the youth sports director in his camp and directed sports teams, including baseball. His openness about his experiences were a way of educating his children about a period in American history when racial prejudice against Japanese Americans was supported by the government.
Stan visited the Poston site three times, once with his father and two sisters at a ceremony, a reunion with friends from the war.
Honda nearly reached his goal of visiting all 10 camps. The final one, the Gila River War Relocation Camp, was too difficult to access because it is on an Indian reservation, Honda said.
Honda said he was glad to have participated in the JANM project, which is still on public display today.
“To me, it seemed like it was a unique project,” said Honda. “I don’t think anything like this had been done before in the Japanese American community.”
Find Dominique on Twitter @dominiquefong