By Mary Jeneverre Schultz | Asian Avenue magazine

If you love writing, reading, learning something new and meeting interesting people. These attributes spell out a career in journalism. In an industry where jobs are scarce and pay is low, competition is fierce for the coveted journalism careers in broadcast and print. However, in the Asian American community, a journalism job does not hold the same credential as pursuing a medical or  legal career.

When Gil Asakawa, manager of student media for the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Boulder, shared his career aspirations with his mom, she answered ‘Huh?’ in a puzzled manner.

Asakawa, who wrote for Westword, Denver’s weekly alternative newspaper, after college as a reporter and as the music editor, blamed cultural values of Asians, rating legitimate careers in engineering, medicine and law as a way to succeed in life.

Being a reporter in a newspaper or a broadcaster in network television is “too public,” said Asakawa, who believes the Asian community needs to fight cultural biases.

But Asakawa wasn’t the only one confessing to their parents. Joe Nguyen, online prep sports editor for The Denver Post, shared his personal encounter with his dad. “He asked me ‘how are you going to make money?’”

Shanna Mendiola knew her career aspiration since 12. Her mother, who is a nurse, encouraged her to pursue science. Through her love of science, she is able to marry the world of science and journalism into the field of metereology, working on a four-person weather team for KDVR.

Diversity figures in the media
Setting internal and external factors aside within Asian Americans, the figures show dismal representation of the growing diverse neighborhoods of the U.S.

According to the American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) latest census, journalists of color represent less than 13 percent of the country’s newsroom employees. The disturbing disparity is clearer when put in the context of the country’s growing minority population, which now accounts for more than one-third of the U.S. population.

Asian Americans represent just a sliver of the country’s population—about 6 percent—but that share is growing faster than any other race, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In contrast, the ASNE’s latest newsroom census shows Asian Americans comprising just 3.1 percent of newsroom staffing across the country.

During the 1990s, Connie Chung worked as an anchor and reporter for several U.S. television news networks including NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and MSNBC. She left the industry in 2006. Growing up as latch-key kids, several reporters remember the formidable Connie Chung as part of their viewing regimen.

“Growing up, I watched a lot of TV to learn English and saw an Asian lady doing something fun,” said Kim Ngan Nguyen, director of new media at KMGH-TV. “I said to myself I can do that too.”

Faux Pas
Perhaps diversity could have prevented the mistakes of last summer. Or maybe, it’s just honing down on skills of reporting.

When Asiana flight 214 crashed in San Francisco last summer, the news was covered nationally. But a San Francisco TV station made an unfortunate error, when an anchor read the alleged names of the plane’s crew members on-air. The names were phoney (and racist and obscene), and were submitted by a pranskster. Asian Americans wondered how the obviously fake information could have made their way into a newscast, and why nobody showed them first to Asian Americans in the newsroom. If more Asian Americans worked in newsrooms, such mistakes could presumably be avoided.

Advice to students
Even if incidents of cultural faux pas could be avoided, veteran journalists provide advice to anyone hoping to “make it big” in journalism.

Chris Jose, reporter for FOX 31 Denver’s Good Day Colorado and Channel 2’s Daybreak, recommends finding mentors. “It’s a tough market and I thank my mentors for guidance,” he said.

In print journalism, Mitchell Byars, reporter for The Daily Camera in Boulder, encourages internships and networking. “If you are able to do well during an internship, it can lead to great opportunities,” said Byars, who has reported for West Hawaii Today, Boulder Weekly, Greeley Tribune and The Denver Post.

Legendary 9News anchor Adele Arakawa, who moved to Denver back in 1994, encourages students to learn everything. “Be smart. Learn all you can. Be the person in the room who can answer almost any question,” she said. Her suggestions include politics, the legal system, history, culture and even social media.

After learning everything, exercising the mental mind massages capacity. Tom Murphy, a freelance writer for Westword, encourages daily journal writing. “Get into the daily habit of writing,” he said. “Don’t be afraid and read more than you write to develop a style and voice.”

Hema Mullur, who anchors FOX 31 Denver Nightside at 10 p.m. plus Channel 2 News at 7 p.m. on the CW, echoes the same sentiment.

“Read EVERYTHING – entertainment, hard news, editorials, novels, nonfiction,” she said. “Nothing gives you more context than reading about the world around you.”

Ingredients to pursue journalism
Forget the glamour of being on television— hard work, talent and a little luck are the mainstay ingredients for a career in journalism.

In addition, persistence is a required trait. Danielle Kreutter, reporter at KKTV 11 News in Colorado Springs, applied to more than 100 television stations across the country before landing her first job. “It felt awful,” she said. “Even my supportive family was getting a little skeptical of just how realistic my career goals were.”

Mendiola, Weekend Pinpoint Weather Anchor for FOX 31 Denver News, had a similar experience. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” said Mendiola, as she recalled working behind the scenes in a non-air job in San Francisco. Her back-up plan was to teach science in an elementary school.

She also shared that her sixth-grade Chinese teacher dissuaded her from pursuing a career in journalism. ”She told me I could not do it as an Asian-American woman,” said Mendiola, adding her Chinese teacher’s husband sent her a congratulatory note for her recent accomplishments.

To learn more about the community and give back to their neighborhoods, working journalists are engaged with social events, fundraisers and charitable activities. Jose volunteers as an emcee for Asian-American banquets throughout Denver, while Mendiola competed as a ballroom dancer at the Dancing with the Anchors 2013 competition at the Highlands Ranch Mansion in Colorado. She raised more than $7,000 dollars for the Anchor Center for Blind Children.

But networking and connecting with community started from the beginning for most of these journalists. A local chapter of American Asian Journalist Association (AAJA) is a great way to meet peers, find mentors and guidance about building a career in journalism. Jose, who credits his career planning to local AAJA in Washington, participates as an active member even with his busy schedule.

Career goals and a balancing act
Journalists, both print and broadcast, described their long and unusual hours. With two hours in front of the camera, most of the preparation is done ahead of time. For example, Jose begins his regular work week at midnight.

Mendiola admits she doesn’t have much of a social life, using her spare time to catch up on sleep or studying for her meteorology certification. Her duties include reviewing webcasts, preparing for each show, researching weather using the station’s computers, providing weather for radio broadcasts, manually entering graphics for her segment on the newscasts and posting constant updates on social media.

During last year’s floods, weekend morning anchor Christine Chang of Denver’s 7NEWS, recalled the exhaustion of working 12-hour shifts for two weeks straight. “The community depended on us for the latest news,” said Chang, adding schedules are never consistent.

Favorite assignments
Despite the long hours and hard work, gems appear throughout a journalist’s career in favorite, hard-hitting, and even celebrity assignments.

Byars, who previously worked as research intern for Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated, shared his favorite assignment was covering the court trial of an ex-Boulder cop who shot and killed an elk last year. “There are so many twists and turns,” Byars said. “It couldn’t happen anywhere else.”

At The Denver Post, technology reporter Andy Vuong enjoyed covering the court trials of former Quest CEO Joe Nacchio. “It consumed me but I was excited to live through it,” said Vuong, who worked 12-hour shifts during the eight-week duration of the trial.

Kreutter’s favorite assignment originated from a viewer’s tip, who shared the growing concern over the condition of livestock and horses on a nearby property. Kreutter followed the lead by showing images of horses and cattle living in deplorable conditions.

Her story resulted in seizing the animals, charging the owners to animal abuse and seeking additional animal care training for local sheriff’s office.

“I think journalists perform a very important public service,” Kreutter said. “A part of that is to investigate a community need, hold those in charge accountable and if a change comes out of that, that’s ideal.”

Investigative reporting that brings change entices ambitious reporters. While working in Cedar Rapids, Jose busted a homeless person panhandling for money, who really owned a home and several cars. He received an Emmy nomination for his investigative work.

Jose’s favorite work includes his recent reporting on the Denver Broncos coverage and the NFC Championship in Seattle. As an avid sports fan, he was thrilled to see both the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks play at the Super Bowl. Even though he has lived in Denver for more than three years, he holds a soft spot for his hometown Seattle team.

From sports to music, if you have a favorite subject, target on becoming an expert.

Murphy, an avid underground music aficionado, said he conducted more than 500 interviews for Westword. His favorite assignment occured recently, interviewing singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis of Love and Rockets.

Current trends: uploading on YouTube, tweeting on Twitter and posting on Facebook
The general public is consuming news in different venues, including online social media.

Asakawa, an advocate of online media, advises his colleagues on familiarizing themselves with social web portals such as Twitter and Facebook. He feels those who don’t attempt to learn about it will miss the boat on the next wave of journalism.

“Journalists are a funny bunch,” Asakawa said. “They are intrinsically conservative in doing their jobs.”

Social media is evolving as part of day-to-day job duties. Joe Nguyen admits the ease of finding more sources for his stories and to inviting potential readers. “Facebook is a must to promote your stories. Everyone is on there,” said Nguyen, who blogs about beer, video games and nerdy gadgets.

While veteran journalists are resisting change to use digital tools, the younger generations of reporters are embracing social media as part of their day-to-day tasks. Mendiola makes time on Twitter and Facebook to answer questions, post teasers of her upcoming newscast and learn more about Colorado.

Other journalists have taken a step forward through filmmaking to engage with the YouTube generation.

Denver video journalist Mike Shum started his career as a hobby. Dressed in body armor and surrounded by machine guns, Shum has explored and filmed documentaries in Central Africa and Iraq. He is on the team that is filming a documentary of the world-renowned conflict journalist Chris Hondros, who died in Libya alongside rebels attempting to oust leader Moammar Gadhafi.

As a world traveler, Shum has studied abroad in Tanzania and learned Swahili. His experience and skills has taken him to Congo and Chad.

Despite the list of recent visits to conflict-ridden countries, Shum does not classify himself as conflict journalist.

“I illuminate stories to make a difference,” said Shum, adding he just completed a short video about broccoli. “I want to cover every inch of the world.”

His passion for storytelling helps share topics that are important to him and those around him. “Life is stranger than fiction,” said Shum, whose work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today.

Shum, who has posted most of his videos on YouTube, encourages the next generation to find ways to tell the story better.

After spending ten years behind the camera, Anna Pan is planning strategically to move to California and get in front of the camera—as an actor, not a journalist. Her video work has included filming an interview of James Cameron and a college speech by President Barack Obama. Her credits include working for The Seattle Times and the Seattle TV Channel.

Her strong Chinese accent places her at a disadvantage but she is not one to shy away from her aspirations. “It’s my dream and I don’t want to spend more time regretting that I did not follow my dreams.”

As Pan transitions into the acting world, she encourages the younger generation to consider online and video mediums – two areas to make a difference in journalism.

Future of Journalism
Print journalism is a dying field, according to media experts. More consumers are getting their news from Facebook or Twitter feeds. Online and electronic media are avenues for the future.

“Adapt or die,” said Kim Ngan Nguyen. “It’s important and vital to reach where the audience is.”

Nguyen, responsible for the overall operation of TheDenverChannel’s website, adds that under 18 years old are not touching the newspaper nor are they watching news regularly.

“How are you going to reach the younger demographics?” Nguyen challenged, sharing the latest trend include consumers reading news through buzz words on social media.

Versatility will allow journalists to rethink and revamp skills and talents to survive in the industry.

The broadcast industry is shifting into the ideas of favoring the “backpack” journalist. This industry term refers to a reporter who can shoot, write and edit their stories all by themselves.

“It’s a big challenge to ‘make it work’ when nothing seems to be working out, which makes the job even more rewarding when you do find a way,” said Kreutter, who worked in Grand Junction as a reporter before arriving at KKTV 11 News in Colorado Springs.

Expand your horizon by checking every possibility in the world of journalism. Other incredible jobs include producers, photojournalists, editorial directors and assignment desk managers.

“Journalism is a fantastic, fun career that will give you front-row access to what is happening in your community and in the world,” said Mullur. “For those willing to put in the effort, you won’t find a better job out there!”

Mary Jeneverre Schultz started her journalism career as business reporter in California. Follow her on Twitter @Jeneverre.

Panelists share their journey in journalism

On the afternoon of Sat. March 22, a panel discussion was held at the studies of KDVR Fox 31 to encourage Asian youth to pursue a career in journalism, facilitated by Gil Asakawa, President of Asian American Journalists Association – Denver.

Chris Jose of Fox 31 KDVR, Christine Chang of 7NEWS Denver, Emilie Rusch of The Denver Post and James Simms, a Scripps Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Journalism and Mass Communication program, explained their jobs and why they chose journalism as a career path. The youth were from the Asian Pacific Development Center, ranging from 10 to 18 years old.

Asakawa said, “The group was engaged, lively and smart—and a couple told us they’re now thinking about studying journalism in college!”

The youth represented a diverse ethnic range including Karen, Thai and Vietnamese and attend various middle and high schools across the metro area.

After the panel discussion, the youth received a tour of KDVR and sat in the studio to watch the entire 5 p.m. newscast. Shanna Mendiola, KDVR’s meteorologist, presented the weather newscast to a live audience sitting just feet away. During the broadcast, the youth visited the control room and observed the insider’s view of how a show is produced. It’s an experience they’ll remember for a long time.


Who’s Who Among Colorado Journalists

Adele Arakawa
Ethnicity: Japanese
Education: Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tennessee; University of Tennessee in Knoxville
Current Position: 9News Anchor
Why Journalism: “I was looking for a summer job between my junior year of high school and college and a radio station hired me. I was immediately bitten by the bug. I was a disc jockey, did ‘rip and read’ news and a little bit of production. Obviously, it was a small town station!”
Contact: [email protected]