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AAJA Seattle in 2009

Chapter President’s Report

Dear members,

This has been a year of great accomplishments for our Seattle chapter in the face of the worst recession in our lifetime. It’s because of you that we continue to take a stand for diversity in journalism, nurture students and support media entrepreneurship.

As we all know, 2009 was the year of convulsions for our industry as advertisers retrenched and everyone was affected either directly or indirectly by newsroom layoffs. Hearst Corp.’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the city’s oldest newspaper, published its last print edition on March 17 and laid off most of its staffers. Despite layoffs in 2008, The Seattle Times itself was on the brink of bankruptcy, and the staff agreed to painful concessions. Local television stations imposed wage freezes and eliminated jobs as well. Freelancers had a tougher time getting paid their usual rates and finding outlets for their work.

Yes, there were challenges and setbacks, but they didn’t extinguish our spirit.

Here are some of the highlights of 2009:

  • In February, AAJA Seattle held one of its most successful Lunar New Year fundraisers ever. Karen Johnson, managing editor of Seattlemag.com, coordinated a team of volunteers who pulled off the classy event, which was emceed by Q13’s Lara Yamada. Our National Board representatives generously covered our biggest costs: Athima Chansanchai donated the cost of renting the Wing Luke Museum’s gorgeous space, while Chris Nishiwaki donated the cost of wine.
  • Our “Choppy Waters” conference in January at the University of Washington’s Haggett Hall and “Reboot Your Career” workshop in March at Microsoft were a hit with attendees. A big shout-out to the UW’s Department of Communications for making Choppy Waters possible and to freelance writer James Tabafunda for working with me on organizing the entrepreneurship-focused program. Doug Kim, managing editor for Microsoft Office Online, took the initiative to offer a resume workshop for members hunting for jobs.
  • For the first time, AAJA Seattle partnered with the Seattle Association of Black Journalists (SABJ) to develop a video to inspire the next generation of journalists of color. Amy Phan, an editor for NorthWest Cable News, and Jessica Boyd, a former Northwest Journalists of Color recipient, produced the video. Lisa Youngblood-Hall, SABJ’s president, supervised the young producers.
  • We screened the video in June at the Northwest Journalists of Color scholarship reception at KING TV. The NJC scholarship program, run this year by Caroline Li, who publishes earthwalkersmag.com, awarded grants to Peter Sessum, Martha Flores Perez, Kassiopia Rodgers and Ilona Idlis.
  • At the AAJA National Convention in Boston, our Seattle chapter had a stellar turnout with 16 attendees, including Whitworth University student Yong Kyle Kim, this year’s recipient of the Founders scholarship. President Sharon Chan delivered an inspiring speech, and Marian Liu led the Voices Student Project with aplomb.
  • In another first, the Seattle chapter went to Vancouver, B.C., in September to support journalists of color there and establish ties with major media. Jennifer Chen, associate producer for CBC’s Early Edition, and Alden Habacon, manager of diversity initiatives for CBC Television, worked hard to put together a packed two-day itinerary that included newsroom tours, a panel discussion at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate Journalism School and a Lunar New Year-style dinner that brought out 60 local journalists.
  • And in November, AAJA launched the Asian American Small Market Broadcast Journalists group. Chapter member Shawn Chitnis, a reporter for KNDO TV in Yakima, is co-coordinator of the group.

These and other members of our Seattle chapter are the reason why AAJA Seattle is one of the best chapters in the country. Our members are also lucky to have an extremely dedicated board, and I want to thank this year’s officers for their service. If you’re interested in serving on our board in the future, please drop me a note.

We have reorganized and expanded our board, dropping the co-presidency and establishing two new positions – vice president for events and vice president for member programs. Many thanks to Venice Buhain, board secretary, for managing the restructure and chapter elections. Here are the chapter’s officers in 2010:

  • President: Sanjay Bhatt, reporter, The Seattle Times
  • Vice president for member programs: vacant
  • Vice president for events: Caroline Li, founder, Earthwalkers Magazine
  • Treasurer: Nicole Tsong, reporter, The Seattle Times
  • Secretary: Venice Buhain, reporter, The Olympian
  • National Advisory Board representative: Athima Chansanchai, founder/president, Tima Media

The board held a retreat recently at the home of Lori Matsukawa and Larry Blackstock and developed a roadmap for the chapter in 2010 and beyond.

As we look ahead, we will inspire the next generation of journalists, promote diversity and support media entrepreneurship. We will focus our resources on outreach, training and mentoring. We will strengthen the relationships we’ve built and develop new ones.

Next year we plan to launch a training series, hold social events with other professional groups, and sponsor pizza nights with journalism students at colleges and universities. We plan to send one, maybe even two, students to the AAJA National Convention, Aug. 4-7, in Los Angeles (and hope to see you there).

Have an idea for a chapter event? Come to a chapter business meeting! We plan to hold them every other month on the second Saturday. Subscribe to updates at www.aajaseattle.org.

There are many ways you can support AAJA: Become a member. Attend an event. Volunteer your time or expertise. Make a tax-deductible donation. This is your community.

Thank you and happy holidays!

Sanjay Bhatt
President, AAJA Seattle

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2009 NJC grant recipients

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Thanks to AAJA Seattle member Caroline Li, who publishes earthwalkersmag.com, for coordinating this year’s Northwest Journalists of Color scholarship program. Meet this year’s award recipients!


Peter Sessum

Peter is a business and journalism major at Edmonds Community College and is the current editor in chief at the Triton Review, his campus newspaper. He says, “As a journalist of color, last year I thought it was important to report from a different perspective, especially writing about those of us of mixed heritage and how we feel trapped in the middle. Now as the editor in chief, I encourage the reporters to report on their own ethnic perspectives. Diversity now has a voice on campus.”

Peter is also part of the Washington National Guard and recently transferred to a public affairs unit, which specialized in journalism. Through that program, he will be trained in broadcast journalism. He says, “ I am not young and idealistic, yet I am excited to see the direction journalism will take in the coming years and I look forward to being a part of it.”

One of our scholarship judges said, “ Peter is doing something different by going into journalism via the military route. He is also running a paper and taken it to the next level.

Martha Flores

Martha Flores Perez

Martha is an English and Spanish and Latin American Studies major at the University of Washington, Seattle Campus. She’s been a teacher and mentor to the local community youth through various programs that she is involved with. She says, “One of my goals is to work for a bilingual publication, whether it is a newspaper, online media or literary magazine…My experiences as an immigrant, as my family’s translator and with struggles to continue with my education have taught me about social injustices that often go unreported in the mainstream media.”

One of our scholarship judges said, “Martha shows a lot of initiative by her intern work and going to UNITY. She obviously has a drive. She’s going to be a reporter whether or not she gets this scholarship.”

Kassiopia Rodgers
Kassiopia Rodgers

Kassiopia is journalism major at Seattle University. She’s also a volunteer writer at the Spectator, Seattle U’s campus newspaper and a current intern at the Seattle Weekly. Last summer she participated in a study abroad program to India called, Mass Media in modern India, where she was able to interview the local journalists there.

She says, “ Committing to a career in journalism means falling in love and staying in love. You are your craft…I hope that with my hard work and dedication, I can inspire women of all backgrounds and show them that money should never be a determining factor when it comes to their own future.”

One of our scholarship judges said, “Kassiopa has both experiences as a writer and a blogger. She knows what students need to succeed in today’s journalism world.”

Ilona Idlis
Ilona Idlis

Ilona is a senior at Sammamish High School in Bellevue and plans to attend the University of Washington next year.

She says, “I am fascinated with the unknown and unfamiliar; I crave the smells and sounds of distant countries, the sights of novel faces and metropolises. I welcome culture shock- I need it.”

One of our judges said, “Ilona has strong opinions and huge potential.”

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“I Am A Journalist”

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This year the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) Seattle chapter and the Seattle Association of Black Journalists (SABJ) partnered to produce a new video aimed at young minorities who are interested in pursuing careers in journalism. We wanted to counter the prevailing sense of doom and gloom, highlight outstanding local leaders and show the breadth of job opportunities in the industry.

In the spirit of encouraging young journalists’ creative spark, we handed it to two young women – Amy Phan, a former seattletimes.com intern who is working part-time as a video editor and a school teacher, and Jessica Boyd, a former NJC scholarship recipient who is continuing her education at Harvard in the fall.

Amy and Jessica conducted the interviews and shot the video, and Amy applied her video editing skills to create the final product. Thanks to all the journalists who agreed to participate in this project, and to Seattle University’s Prof. James Forsher, who made it possible for Amy to access the institution’s video editing equipment.

Also a big thanks to those journalists who sent in their own videos to be incorporated into the piece: Paris Jackson and Barbara Serrano. Email the video link to your friends. We hope the video goes viral and inspires many young journalists!


Donations to NJC, which AAJA Seattle administers, are fully tax deductible. Since 1986, NJC has provided scholarships to more than 100 outstanding college students in Washington state with a demonstrated passion for journalism. Make a pledge today! For details, contact Sanjay Bhatt at sbhatt@seattletimes.com.

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Remembering Vu

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At this year’s Northwest Journalists of Color scholarship reception, we honored the life of Vu Nguyen, a former Seattle Times reporter and AAJA Seattle member who died suddenly last month at age 34. We held a tribute to him at the reception because he embodied many qualities that we seek in new journalists – intellectual curiosity, passion for the craft, determination to get the story, and a sense of humor.

A memorial fund is being established in Vu’s name by his family and friends in Orange County. Another is being established in the Midwest where Vu got his master’s degree. If you’d like to make a donation to the Northwest Journalists of Color in Vu’s name, you can know that 100% of your donation will go towards scholarships for young minority college students interested in journalism. Contact Sanjay Bhatt at sbhatt@seattletimes.com for details.

NOTE: Some people wonder why Vu’s byline (Nguyen Huy Vu) put his last name first. That’s the traditional Vietnamese way to honor the family name.

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2009 Northwest Journalists of Color scholarship reception

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Northwest Journalists of Color

This year’s NJC scholarship reception will be held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, June 9, at KING 5 News’ headquarters at 333 Dexter Ave. N. There is parking in lots on Dexter and Harrison and metered street parking. There are several Metro buses that stop nearby as well. Mark your calendars and RSVP to aajaseattle@gmail.com with “NJC2009” in the subject line.

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