AAJA Author archives for Athima Chansanchai

Until the recent closure of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I was a full-time reporter on the Life & Arts staff, covering local talent, trends and events. I am currently a regular contributor with MSNBC.com's Technolog and also produce/edit for the Technology & Science section. I am also writing and editing freelance projects, starting my own events-based web site and fielding consulting assignments. In 2009, I also founded a media strategy company, Tima Media. I began my journalism career more than a decade ago at the Village Voice in New York, right after going to grad school in journalism at Stanford. I moved to the mainstream newspaper world by joining The Baltimore Sun in 2000. (That's right, I have "Wire" cred.) There, I covered children's literature and general assignment features before plunging into the metro side of the newsroom. I covered police, courts and municipal government. Sensational murder trials, weather stories and animals on the loose in sub-rural Maryland became part of a daily routine that never lacked for excitement. Tropical Storm Isabel didn't even stop me, although it tried: I ran into a tree on the way to an assignment that impaled my windshield with a branch. Moving to Seattle in 2005 exposed me to the sub-cultures of the Pacific Northwest, where my city-driven news features have covered the return of the Roller Girls, parkour, local hip hop, a non-profit that takes the homeless off the street and into the kitchen and the Tacoma mall shooting. I am also on the National Board of Directors for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).

I still love you, Tiger mom, dad

I’ve been struggling to write this since Amy Chua’s book reading Friday night, which brought back a lot memories for me.

The Yale professor’s latest work, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” has been getting a lot of ink lately (both digital and print). The memoir, her third book, is about her experience as a strict parent raising two daughters – and her views on parenting as they relate to being Chinese. Since it was published in January, it has been controversial — garnering positive and negative attention from readers.

I even tossed my hat into the ring, writing a lighter twist on MSNBC.com on what I knew about the brouhaha and the memes it generated.

On Friday, Chua read to a group of us at the Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, and as she did, it triggered memories of disappointing my dad.

He isn’t Chinese, but as a Thai father with high-expectations and the kind of restrictive parenting style Chua describes in her book – no grade less than an A, no sleepovers with American friends, nothing less than No. 1 is acceptable – it touched a nerve. As a rebellious eldest child caught between two cultures, it reminded me of the epic clashes we had. His rules and overbearing personality made me feel helpless and enraged me. I could relate so well to Chua’s younger daughter, who brought her mother to the brink.

But, the book reading also gave me a chance to reflect on that, too, and to try to understand my father from another perspective, of a parent trying to do his best.

After years of getting my buttons pushed by not living up to his expectations of me, I’ve made peace with my father — and who I am.

And that night, I saw Chua in a similar way: human, fallible – a parent struggling to do right by her kids, and who’s still learning. I realized that as much as she pushed her daughters to be better, she realized that she could be better, too. And although she came across as somewhat defensive to the criticism and the attacks on her parenting style and book, I saw her offer humility, too.

“This is a story of how I was humbled by a 13-year-old,” she said.

Some of the harshest criticism of Chua came after the Wall Street Journal published a book excerpt, which she said ran counter to the lessons of being a real parent with a real child who does not always conform to the rigid rules she wrote about at the beginning of the book. But, she said, the excerpt, independent of the end of the book, was a caricature of what she had been.

She told those of us in this packed, standing-room only basement that she wrote her book in a “moment of crisis,” and it turned out to be a coming of age memoir — for her. She acknowledged she was raised by “extremely strict, but extremely loving immigrant parents who had very high expectations, coupled with a deep foundation of unconditional love,” and she hoped to pass on the same model to her own children.

But, she said, she realized, almost too late, that her methods would not work on her younger daughter, who like her, “was a firebrand from the very beginning.”

This daughter, she said, was her comeuppance who locked horns with her from day one until they had a showdown.

As I previously mentioned, I get that dynamic. My father and I started arguing when I was in the second grade — over long division tables — and I think we both realized right then that I would not be the obedient, quiet daughter he wanted. The tension built up for years, reaching a crescendo on a family vacation to California when I was a teenager, with us almost coming to blows over having to replace a ripped contact lens for me.

Those were some dark days. But light eventually broke through. I went away to college — at least a plane ride away.

What I got from Friday night’s reading:

Chua wants, more than anything, for her kids to be confident, happy, social, independent and close to her. And she thinks she’s succeeded, but not without a considerable amount of challenges. “The message is not, I don’t love you,” she said. “It’s not about grades, but to help your child be the best you can be. And it’s almost always better than what they think they can be.”

The message, she said, was: “I’m not going to let you give up.”

And maybe in his own way, that’s exactly what my father was trying to tell me.

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High School Students: Apply to AAJA’s J Camp!

AAJA’ers: Encourage, nurture and inspire the next generation of journalists by recommending they apply to the FREE, multicultural program that is J Camp!

AAJA’s signature training program for aspiring young journalists is geared toward high school freshmen, sophomores or juniors (who are at least 16 years old by July 30, 2010) who are interested or thinking about journalism as a career.

It is held the week before the annual convention. This year, the program will run from July 31 – August 4 at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

This program houses the students on the university campus while they receive hands-on training in writing, photography, broadcasting, online media, and reporting from professional journalists. The program comes at no cost to J-Campers thanks to the generous support of funders such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bloomberg, Dow Jones Newspaper Fund; AAJA chapters (sponsoring and/or subsidizing a student from their region when one is chosen for the program); and also from individual members, such as Jennifer 8 Lee and AAJA Governing Board member, Frank Witsil.

J Camp scholarship includes return airfare, transportation, university housing, and access to some of the brightest and best media minds in the country.


Take a look at what past J Camp students had to say about this life-changing experience:

“What’s All the Hype About?”

“It Will Change Your Life”

“Who Will You Meet?  Connections of a Lifetime”

You can also visit us at AAJA J Camp Facebook.  For more information, go to AAJA or contact Nao Vang, AAJA National Student Programs Coordinator at (415) 346-2051 x102 or programs@aaja.org.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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Knight/Berkeley Web Publishing Workshop: Apply Now

This is great opportunity for those of us who are transitioning into the world of journalist/entrepreneur – a world I became very excited by when I attended the Online News Association conference in October. Apply to the Web Publishing for Independent Journalists Workshop, from March 21-26, presented by the Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

They’ll cover hotel room & tax as well as meals, but you’re on your own as far as flights go. (Luckily, visiting my family often and going to AAJA board meetings in San Francisco, I’ve found that flights from Seattle to Oakland or San Francisco via Virgin America, Southwest and Alaska Air can usually be found for reasonable fares.)

Check out the description sent to us about this workshop:

The career path for many of today’s journalists is merging with entrepreneurship. Journalists who once covered topical, feature and investigative news for established newspapers are becoming independent publishers of specialty blogs and hyperlocal community news site. These sites fulfill an important role in the emerging news and information landscape.

Powerful and easy to use Web publishing tools make creating quality online news sites easy and affordable. These new tools are allowing individual journalists and community journalism to flourish as part of the evolving news eco-system.

The Knight Digital Media Center at the University of California Berkeley is offering an innovative new training workshop for journalists who have or are actively seeking to venture into online community or specialty news publishing. The Web Publishing for Independent Journalists Workshop will provide journalists with the hands-on training and tools to get started with an online publishing enterprise.

Participants in the Web Publishing for Independent Journalists Workshop will receive training on:

  • Setting up and maintaining a WordPress blog
  • Establishing a brand
  • Shooting good video and video editing
  • Using Photoshop to prepare images for publication
  • How to sell advertising
  • Data visualization at the community level
  • Basic Mapping and Data-driven Maps
  • Using social media to develop and engage with audiences
  • SEO and Google Analytics

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WHO SHOULD APPLY: Journalists who have already begun or are in the process of launching an online news venture.

HOW TO APPLY:  An online application form and instructions are available here.

To fill out the application, you’ll need to register at the site (and confirm that in an email link). By registering, you’ll be able to save your application and return later to edit, update or complete. The application includes questions about your contact information and your proficiency in various equipment and software, as well as a statement of interest by you, a letter of recommendation from a colleague who knows your professional work, and a resume summary of your journalism experience.

If you have any questions, please contact Alisha Diego Klatt, KDMC program specialist, at aklatt@berkeley.edu or (510) 642-3892.

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Asian Canadian Journalists Meetup: Olympics Coverage

One thing about having a flexible schedule: you can take off to places like Portland and Vancouver during the week.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, I took a mini-road trip (3.5 hours door to door from Seattle to Vancouver) to attend a dinner meeting organized by the Asian Canadian journalists we met in the fall. As a representative of AAJA, I wanted them to know we’ll support them in any way we can. I made it there with hours to spare, so I used the time to catch up with my friend and host for the evening, and explore Commercial Road (on first glance, Vancouver’s version of Seattle’s Capitol Hill) before she dropped me off at the Azia restaurant downtown.

About 20 people turned out for the event, which featured speakers talking about the one topic that is impossible to ignore in this part of the world: the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb.12.

They all agreed on one thing, too, that some of the biggest stories from the Olympics won’t be the sporting events, but the impact of the Games on the city and its environs. Ed Watson from CTV – the Canadian broadcast rights holder to the games – said he expected transportation to be the biggest story coming out in the next month, as in how both tourist numbers and the number of athletes and those who cover them will affect those who live in Vancouver.

“The first week is going to be chaos,” he said.

Stories about daily life and how the Games are reported abroad will also be interesting, he said. Because of the strict rules regarding recording inside the venues, news organizations are stretching their resources and creativity in finding and reporting stories beyond sports coverage.

The CBC – represented by organizers Jennifer Chen and Tiffany Chong – said their strategy is to do “everything but the Games.”

Chen said, “We’re doing what we can to report as best we can, the stories in the city.”

Bev Wake, Olympics editor for the Vancouver Sun, said her paper has been planning for the Olympics since the 2006 Games. She was sent to Turin and Beijing, where she learned a great deal about how to cover such a massive event. She told us about the challenging logistics and the advantage that can sometimes come with off-camera interviews: candor.

She revealed her own candor in the anticipation of the Games: “I’m looking forward to it starting.”

Working with a web first strategy, she will oversee a team of 54 company wide, including 37 reporters at the Sun. There will be about 1400 news people representing the broadcast consortium covering the Games. While the number of mainstream reporters is dramatically reduced, the number of those representing social media is up, she said. While rules are strict about not being able to do audio recordings within the venues, it is likely that a generation accustomed to uploading to YouTube and Twitter will find a way to share their observations with the rest of their worlds – as long as they have a data plan that works in Canada!

Sing Tao’s Grant Hsu told us his main objective is to introduce the Winter Olympics to Chinese readers and ended the evening by playing a Japanese folk song on an ocarina.

Thank you, Asian Canadian Journalists, for inviting AAJA to your event, and again, making us feel so at home! Hope to see you south of the border after the Games!

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Farewell, P-I

Athima Chansanchai

Athima Chansanchai was a reporter with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until the newspaper published its last edition March 17, 2009. She is currently working on freelance and consulting assignments. She is a graduate of AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program and serves as a representative of the AAJA Seattle Chapter on the National Advisory Board.

She submitted the following essay to AAJA national within days after the P-I closed.

The death of my newspaper, the death of my mother

We put the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to rest a week ago. The newspaper managed to survive for 146 years. I am mourning the loss along with my 170 or so colleagues who also worked there, and the city we served.

I have known for months this would probably happen. As a Buddhist, I was raised to believe nothing lasts forever.

Now that the end has come, I am grappling with the challenge of rebuilding my life without something that was dear to me.

I moved across country four years ago to work at the P-I and I loved every moment of it — almost. I was encouraged to be creative in my writing, to be dogged in my reporting, and to find new ways to use technology to reach readers. This was a writer’s paper. I became a blogger.

The death of a newspaper is hardly the same as the death of a person. But as I reflect on my experience at the P-I and the emotions it brings out in me, I find myself drawing on some of the final lessons my mother taught me last year before she lost her last battle with cancer.

In some ways, I see parallels between these two losses. From the time of her final prognosis to her death, it was about two months. From the time Hearst announced the sale of the P-I to the last print edition, it was about two months.

But in many ways, the P-I – like my mom – will always be with me.

My mother taught me the value of diversity and working at places like the P-I reinforced that value. The paper employed nearly 20 journalists of color, including two national officers of the Asian American Journalists Association. I am one of them. It was a place that treated people well — like family. I heard about how P-I management welcomed back employees who had gone out on strike. Later as an active Newspaper Guild member and a member of two negotiating teams, I saw first hand how civility ruled in the outcome of contract and severance talks.

The P-I was a place where I felt appreciated.

It took me a while to find a workplace where I was as comfortable as I was at the P-I. I went to high school in Florida and I earned a degree in history and East Asian studies from Oberlin College, and a master’s degree at Stanford University. I left California without a job. I found one in New York, where I worked at the Village Voice. A couple years later, I moved to Baltimore, where I became a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. I was there for 5 years, and left to come to the P-I in 2005. I worked first on the news side before finding a home in features.

Until the P-I closed, I was invested in its success, and the success of Seattle. I hope for the best for my colleagues who remain with seattlepi.comam and I am still invested in the city’s success. I bought my first home here — a home my mother thought suited me. She also liked that I was so much closer to her home in northern California.

In October, my mother died.

My mom, a physician and lifelong newspaper reader who subscribed to three daily newspapers, imbedded in me the value of being informed by fair and accurate coverage. This would be an ongoing theme in my life, especially with the mission of AAJA. She gave me my curious nature and passed on her appreciation for public service and good writing — even though English was not her first language. She also instilled in me drive and determination — especially when it came to the nobility of purpose in a profession. It was interesting that she as a healer and I as a journalist would both hold high the ideals of comforting the afflicted.

Taking care of her in her last 2 months of her life I did things I never did before: I learned how to test blood sugar and inject insulin, administered several medications on a schedule and re-taught my mother how to swallow water. It was painful for me and my family to watch her wither away.

It was painful watching the P-I die too.

And now I’m doing other things I never thought I’d have to do, like applying for unemployment and counseling colleagues and friends who haven’t had to submit a resume in decades.

At the same time, when my mom died, there was – as there is now with the end of the P-I — a sense of relief, liberation and release after months, then days, of uncertainty.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss my mom. I had to learn to live without her.

But she taught me not to be afraid of the unknown. She taught me to believe in myself. Caring for her those last two months of her life taught me that the best parts of her will always live on in me, that nothing can take those memories away. She gave me her thoughts in scrapbooks she made, stories she told, e-mails and letters. The P-I’s family and training stays with me the same way: in stories and meetings, in writing coaching sessions and the freedom of writing features that took me all over Seattle. Nothing can take those experiences — or friendships — away from me.

I will have to learn to live without my P-I, too, but thanks to my mom, I know it too will live on in me and my former co-workers.

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