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.