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Remembering Alex Tizon

Alex Tizon (Photo by the University of Oregon.)

In the wake of Alex Tizon’s passing, we asked current and former AAJA members and other journalists who knew him to share some thoughts on the impact he made in their lives and the journalism community. Below are some of those thoughts.

Alex Tizon inspired and taught so many, including me. Years later, his words — the pictures he painted, emotions he evoked, and the way he saw the world — still linger. From his descriptions of someone’s “meaty brown hand,” to that of two women sitting on rocking chairs on their creaky porch, post 9/11, talking about the need to “pray deep,” I felt like I got to know a little about people I’d never met, thanks to Tizon. And most of all, I loved hearing his voice — that guiding, conversational, singular voice — through his stories.

Whenever I would feel blocked, or not quite sure about how to approach a story, I would look up one of Tizon’s stories for inspiration and to see how he wrote them. It meant a lot to me to see an Asian American reporter practicing his craft so brilliantly and using it so meaningfully to write about people and communities that were too often overlooked.

— Janet Tu, Seattle Times reporter

When I say I stand on the shoulder of giants, I mean that I worked with Alex Tizon. He was an Asian American, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. His writing made me reach for the Kleenex more than once.

But Alex was so much more than his written word. There were plenty of great reporters to look up to when I first joined The Seattle Times as a three-year intern. Alex stood out among all of them because he was generous with his time, his friendship and support for young reporters.

His death is a painful, needed reminder of the responsibility we have to be there for one another.

— Sharon Pian Chan, VP of innovation, product and development, The Seattle Times

It’s a cliché. But it’s true. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. That’s the way it is with Alex. He was smart, a terrific journalist, always fighting for the little guy or gal. I am going to miss his passion and his commitment to giving a voice to those who don’t have one.

— Lori Matsukawa, KING 5 news anchor

I knew the byline before I got to know Tizon, the person. (A lot of us in the Seattle Times newsroom called him Tizon). His byline signaled: stop whatever you are doing and read. Because Tizon was about to take you on a journey that you didn’t want to miss. His storytelling drilled deep into your soul. His storytelling showed you humanity. His storytelling inspired journalists everywhere to report harder and write better and to this day, whenever I’m at a loss for how or what to write, I’ll pull up a Tizon story just to get lost in it and learn. But then there was Tizon my friend, my brown friend who understood what it was like to come from humble roots; how to navigate a world that doesn’t always see you; how to embrace your country of origin along with your home country; how to honor your difference no matter how much you wanted to fit into the mainstream. He was a Filipino man who wrote a memoir about Asian American masculinity but that story rang true for me, a Latina. I will miss his journalism and I will miss him. Terribly. I already do.

Florangela Davila, former Seattle Times reporter

I spent much of my Seattle Times career on the road and one of the first things I did when I returned was flip through all the newspapers published while I was gone, so as to never miss a story that carried Alex Tizon’s byline. Even the most seemingly inconsequential story was not to be missed when it was in his hands. Alex was deep — a deep listener, processor, communicator, friend, father. I doubt he was able to skim the surface of anything.

We both spent 17 years at The Times, are contemporaries, and came up at a time when Asian Americans were contemplating their place — not only in American society but in the newsroom as well. So many of us tend to be circumspect, but Alex Tizon took it all straight on — race, identity, other marginalized peoples. He crushed everything. In doing so, he emerged as the best of us. Whatever the measure — Pulitzer Prize, national publications … heck, he was audacious enough to have written a memoir — he broke trail to it. I for one felt as much pride in those accomplishments as if they were my own. I’m also an Asian American, male journalist who tends to go where my heart leads, so tracking Alex Tizon was tracking a path to feeling good about myself and my place in this world.

— Glenn Nelson, former Seattle Times reporter and columnist

I last spoke with Alex Tizon in 1997. On Sunday, March 26, 2017, 1997 became a “just yesterday.” 

As I have scoured the stories on his death, searching for clues to connect the years between our last exchanges of friendly hugs (at a party being hosted by our fellow journalist Paula Bock) with the present moment, I have wondered: Can you call someone you last saw in 1997 a friend? How do you grieve someone you didn’t know all that well for the past twenty years?

I think I connected with Tizon (I don’t remember calling him Alex that much) because we shared the experience of being Asian American. I like the idea that he was the rock star for journalists of color, as another one of our colleagues, Florangela Davila, put it. But as much as I respected his superb storytelling, I didn’t see Tizon as a rock star. Instead, he was a friend: the guy who loved shots of tequila, who read African American literature for inspiration, who wrote about sleeping as a child with a clothespin on his nose, who made our project to bring more youth of color to journalism through The Seattle Times’ Urban Newspaper Workshop “boot camp” into an enterprise aimed at revolutionizing the world.

As Asian Americans, we were the children of migrants – of people moving across the globe, searching for opportunities and ways to create homes. We became migrants ourselves, moving through professional and personal vicissitudes of life seeking out our own identities and our own places in the world. That quest defined Tizon and his stories. That quest is his gift to us to continue.

— Himanee Gupta-Carlson, former Seattle Times staff writer

Alex Tizon was a demigod for all of us who care about storytelling and struggle with it, late at night, searching for verbs and voice and meaning. Even though he often wrote about darkness, his stories were a joy to read. The rhythm. The authentic characters. The facts that came at just the right moment. Even if Tizon wasn’t such an incredible writer, he’d still be a demigod because of his laugh and his honesty and his willingness to share with us his remarkable perspective. Voice of the voiceless. Aching void now that he is gone.

— Paula Bock, former Seattle Times Pacific magazine writer

When I was at the Seattle Times, I had the opportunity to edit some of the paper’s finest writers and one of them was Alex Tizon. 

Was I intimidated? Heck yeah. By then, he was already a Pulitzer winning writer. I was a temporary editor with way less experience. I admired Alex’s commitment to journalism and his drive to find stories about people whom mainstream media ignored. I loved his writing. It was so beautiful, so seemingly simple, but in actuality, quite complex because emotion seemed to flow from every sentence. I aspired to it.

I was his editor for the shortest amount of time, but it was a memorable experience for me. Alex did what great journalists do — they reported, they wrote and they had impact. We worked together and bonded. He was kind, always. He was good, always. And we laughed together. Always.

— Lily Eng, former Seattle Times reporter

I’ve known Alex Tizon since 2001, when he was one of the most celebrated journalists at The Seattle Times and I was a lowly intern stationed at the desk across from his. I was a young reporter still honing her voice, and Alex taught me that it was OK to write about what mattered to me, and to write the hell out of even the most mundane story.

His words served as a North Star for me over the years. Whenever I found myself stuck as a writer, I would re-read one of his profiles to remind myself of what was possible. I deeply admired his commitment to telling the unsung story, and the beauty and brutality with which he told it.

Our paths crossed again six years ago at the University of Oregon, where I saw him instill in our journalism students what he once instilled in me. I witnessed him captivate a 400-person classroom without a single Keynote slide. I heard from students who said his lessons on storytelling changed their lives. And I had the wonderful chance to reconnect with a friend. 

A week ago, I was lucky enough to be able to tell him how much he’s meant to me over the years. What a gift to get that chance. I am devastated by his passing, for his friends and for his family. His death is an enormous loss for us all.

— Lisa Heyamoto, former Seattle Times reporter

One of the very best things about working at The Seattle Times in the ’90s and early 2000s was the fact that you got to work with Alex Tizon. Even for those of us who mostly just watched what he did. We knew the place was just that much more special, just because he was there.

I only edited a few of his stories, which was always a daunting task. Not because of him, he was always considerate, and listened carefully to feedback. He listened carefully to everything. You just didn’t want to pull the string that would unravel something so exquisitely, painstakingly crafted.

He was unflinching in his truth-telling, and he wouldn’t want us to treat him like a saint now. He had a gentle manner, but made no attempt to hide the rawness in him, the fearlessness in sharing his own doubts and demons. Maybe that’s what got people to open up to him, to tell him things they would never share with any other stranger, or maybe even someone close. He did not make things look effortless. His stories cut razor-blade close to the heart. Whatever amazing truths he pulled out of people, he did so because he could relate so intensely to their struggles, to the hard things that make up our humanity.

That’s what the best writers do, they show us the truth in ourselves, and in each other. Even in a room crowded with outrageous talent, no one did that better than Alex Tizon.

— Doug Kim, former Seattle Times arts editor and senior web producer

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Longtime Seattle journalist Alex Tizon dies

Alex Tizon (Photo by the University of Oregon.)

Sad news to hear that longtime Seattle journalist Alex Tizon died Thursday night at age 57. Mr. Tizon, who was born in the Philippines and immigrated as a young child with his family, was a reporter at the Seattle Times for 17 years, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on a federal housing program for Native Americans. He also was Seattle bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times from 2003 to 2008 and wrote “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self,” about Asian male identity.

Since 2011, he had been a journalism professor at University of Oregon.

Our condolences go out to Alex Tizon’s family, friends and colleagues.

The Seattle Times posted a news obituary on Saturday night.

A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, at the Newport Covenant Church in Bellevue. Flowers may be sent to the church, or donations can be made to the Asian American Journalists Association.

Correction: the original headline on this post incorrectly stated Alex Tizon’s age. This post also added information on Alex Tizon’s memorial service.

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Announcing: 30th Anniversary Fund Grants

In 2016, in celebration of AAJA Seattle’s 30 years of promoting diversity in media, the board announced the 30th Anniversary Fund, to help mid-career AAJA members with their next stages in the next stages of their careers.

We’re excited to launch our grant application, which is open to mid-career AAJA Seattle members. The AAJA Seattle chapter will offer grants of half the tuition cost of ELP or any other AAJA-affiliated training program. Members pursuing other types of programs may apply for reimbursement of up to $500 by the board, at the board’s discretion and determined by the availability of funds.

Eligible programs include masters’ degrees, programs and workshops that build journalism or leadership skills.

Decisions will be made quarterly. Recipients may receive funding once every three years, though applicants who are denied a grant in one quarter may apply again for the same or a different program. Continue reading →

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Applications open for the 2017 KIRO-TV/NJC Internship

Deadline: March 24, 2017

In partnership with the Northwest Journalists of Color, KIRO 7 will offer one recipient the opportunity to be an Intern for the KIRO 7 News Department for summer 2017.

An Internship at KIRO 7 provides the opportunity to be embedded in the news environment to learn about the behind-the-scenes workings of a TV and digital newsroom. Interns will assist the producers in researching stories and writing show scripts. Interns will also have the opportunity to accompany KIRO 7 news crews in the field on occasion. In addition to learning in the newsroom, this intern will be able to meet people from other departments to understand the business of the television station as a whole. The program is open to college students.

The intern will be selected by a three-judge panel, including members of the KIRO 7 news staff and NJC program volunteers.

Click here to download the application.

Internship Requirements:

  1. The student must be registered at a University, College, Community College or Vocational-Technical Institute.
  2. The student should have junior or senior status, or be in the last year of a Community College or Vocational-Technical program.
  3. All internships require 20-30 hours per week covering a period of 10-16 weeks, depending on the school’s quarter or semester length. The internship starts in June.
  4. While KIRO 7 considers the Internship program format valuable in observing the student’s attitude, talents, and skills, it is understood that no guarantees are given for future employment.
  5. Students will only be offered an Internship after completing a pre-employment drug and background screening.
  6. Proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. will be required upon employment.
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Meet AAJA Seattle’s newest board members

This post is long overdue, but AAJA Seattle is happy to announce its new board members!

Corinne Chin, Interim National Advisory Board Representative

Corinne Chin, Seattle National Advisory Board Representative

Corinne Chin is a video editor at The Seattle Times, where she works with a dynamic photo staff to film and edit short documentary films and compelling visual stories.

Before joining The Seattle Times in 2014, Corinne was a freelance video journalist reporting in Washington, DC; Nairobi, Kenya; São Paulo, Brazil; and more. A Chicago native, Corinne also taught fine art photography and documentary film to underprivileged teens on the city’s West and South Sides. Corinne earned a bachelor’s degree in magazine writing and a master’s in video journalism from Northwestern University, winning a Midwest Emmy for her master’s capstone, a documentary on an ex-gang member fighting gun violence in North Lawndale, Chicago. Her work has also been recognized by several other groups, including the National Press Photographers Association, the Illinois Press Photographers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the GroundTruth Project. She has lent her skills as a coach for the Story Arc cinematic journalism workshop.

AAJA Seattle’s National Advisory Board Representative represents the Seattle chapter at national board meetings.

Patranya Bhoolsuwan and Michelle Li, Co-Vice Presidents of Events

Patranya Bhoolsuwan and Michelle Li, Co-VPs of Events.

Patranya Bhoolsuwan and Michelle Li, Co-VPs of Events.

Patranya Bhoolsuwan is a reporter at KIRO-TV. Before coming to Seattle, Patranya was a reporter and weekend anchor at KLAS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas. It was there where she won the title of “Best Reporter” by the Nevada Association of Broadcasters. She also earned an Emmy award for her investigative news series on the bullying epidemic in Las Vegas public schools.

Patranya has also worked as anchor and reporter in Redding, Reno, and Washington DC. She started her journalism career as a writer/producer at KRON-TV in San Francisco.

Patranya was born in Bangkok, Thailand. She grew up a diplomatic brat and traveled around the world with her family. She moved to the U.S. to pursue her dreams of becoming a reporter. Patranya graduated with honors from the University of San Francisco with a degree in communications and political science.

Michelle Li is a journalist at KING5. Previously she worked as the primary anchor for stations in Wisconsin, the Coastal Carolinas and Southwest Missouri.

Michelle is a modern television journalist who is known for interactivity work. Google often showcases her unique livestreams in newsrooms across the country.

She has received 8 regional Emmy awards, including 4 consecutive ones for interactivity in the Chicago and Nashville markets. She’s received multiple Emmy nominations and awards for her reports on synthetic marijuana, deadly tornadoes, foster care concerns, women’s reproductive health, national scams and distracted driving.  In 2012, she was named Anchor of the Year for the Carolinas by the state broadcasting association. And, she’s earned 3 regional Edward R. Murrow awards — two for writing and one for feature reporting, including a national Murrow for feature reporting.

Michelle is a Korean adoptee who spent many summers volunteering with adoptive families and in orphanages in Seoul. She also started a television program in Missouri to help foster kids find permanent solutions. For that, Congress honored her work with an Angels in Adoption Award. She later returned to Washington, D.C. as a guest speaker at the National Press Club on behalf of Holt International.

Michelle grew up in a rural area near Kansas City and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.  She loves to volunteer, cook and spend time outside with family.  Michelle’s husband Jim is also an Emmy-award winning journalist who now works as a mobile developer for a news corporation. Together they have two big breed dogs named Minnie and Piper.  And Michelle played a reporter in the movie “Tammy” and on the TV show “The Following.”

AAJA Seattle’s VPs of Events plan fundraising and outreach events such as the annual AAJA Seattle Lunar New Year and the AAJA Seattle Chef Showcase.

AAJA Seattle Chapter Board, left to right: Venice Buhain, president; Patranya Bhoolsuwan, co-VP of events; Shirley Qiu, secretary; Corinne Chin, national advisory board representative; Michelle Li, co-VP of events; Sarah Wallace, treasurer. Not pictured: Jovelle Tamayo, VP of Programs

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