Tag Archives: AAJA

Emil Guillermo: Winner of the 2015 Dr. Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice

Humbled and honored at this year’s 15th Asian American Journalists Association national convention.


Twenty years of column writing and reporting on Asian American issues, the last five at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s site, http://www.aaldef.org/blog

Emil Guillermo: Why I do what I do as an Asian American journalist

young picture

I was young when I knew I would be a writer, or somehow be in the media. At five, I was already practicing my standups.

So is it a surprise I’m still a member of AAJA?

At the 15th Asian American Journalists Association convention being held in San Francisco:

I saw a woman I met at a previous AAJA who told me she was taking a leave to have a baby. With her female partner.

I saw a person with his wife and two young kids, making it a family vacation. Last I heard, he was not regularly employed.

I saw old friends who  were recently laid off or forcibly retired.

I saw a guy who could have been my boss had he taken a job ten years ago, but who is now happy as a stay-at-home-dad.

I saw an old agent, who is now a “producer.”

I saw a former colleague still trying to make the transition to digital.

And then there was a guy who showed me his gold watch after 25 years in one place. And another guy who told me his company didn’t give out gold watches. Not even after close to 40 years.  The paycheck was enough.

Lots of stories at AAJA about the evolution of the media and the media worker.

And as tough as some tales were, there were signs of hope too.

Young guys still climbing the market ladder getting air-time coming up to me saying they saw an old tape of mine, thanking me for showing the way. Another guy getting a national shot as a fill-in on a big time show.

We’re all still there because  AAJA always felt like a safe place to gather once a year and reassess why we still do what we do.

It’s a smaller gathering these days. Many have left the business, burned out, bitter, bummed. Or becoming lawyers. Involved in some other way with life.

But many of us,  after all these years are still here. Because the paycheck alone never defined us.

This is what we do.

See my piece on “Why I Write…” on the blog of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.


Emil Guillermo: Update with NTSB’s Sumwalt statement on how train accident could have been prevented; 8 now dead, 200 + injured in Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia; AAJA president Paul Cheung was on the train, and goes from passenger to eyewitness; And some thoughts on infrastructure as the investigation begins.


Update on the NTSB investigation on the train accident 5/13/15:

Robert Sumwalt, Board Member of the NTSB just summed up at a press conference Amtrak’s inadequacy by pointing out how an Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement device has not been installed completely on the Washington-New York line.

“It is not installed for this area where the accident occurred,” Sumwalt said. “That type of system, we call a positive train control system, is designed to enforce the civil speed to keep the train below its maximum speed.  We have called for positive train control for many years. It’s on our most wanted list. Congress has mandated it be installed by the end of this year. ”

“We are very keen on positive train control  based on what we know, we feel that had such a system been installed  this accident would not have occurred.”

Sumwalt confirmed train had reached speeds of 106 mph, on track suited for 50 mph speeds. Said engineer induced braking to 102 mph around time of derailment.

See more later in this post about the high-tech fix that Amtrak and Congress are slow to complete.

From earlier:

Paul Cheung was a passenger on the train. He  had attended the big White House AAPI Summit and was heading back to New York.

He says he was watching Netflix when his Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia.

Cheung was one of the lucky ones, as he tweeted his status last night.

Cheung’s AP colleague Jim Gaines,  49 of Princeton, New Jersey was identified this morning  as one of the 7 dead.

Reports have the number of hurt at more than 200.  As of Wednesday afternoon, eight passengers were still in critical condition, said Dr. Herbert Cushing, Chief Medical Officer at Temple University.

Cushing said there was a high number of rib injuries but just one head injury from the crash.

“Things could have been worse, ” Cushing said at a media conference.

Reports now say we have a 100 mph train going around a 50 mph curve.

NTSB is investigating.

Human error may play a significant role here.

At the same time, the tragedy is giving the nation a real  lesson in what the term “infrastructure” means, and the importance of  making sure our country’s public systems are safe.

Compared to the rest of the world, America has been remarkably behind the times when it comes to trains.

Modern bullet trains can go near 300 miles per hour. But not in America, where the average speeds for high speed rail  are closer to 150 miles per hour.  As Philadelphia shows, you can only go as fast as it’s safe, and while the train had no problem reaching speeds of 100 mph, the track was only rated for 50 mph.

Modern train systems already exist to regulate speeds of trains going too fast.

As an exclusive Reuters report points out, the Positive Train Control (PTC) system is partially installed  on Amtrak, but is awaiting Congressional funding to be fully operational in the U.S.—by 2020.

The Philadelphia tragedy is almost certain to change the politics on that issue, and maybe even the implementation speed of real safety solutions.


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Asian American Journalists Association conference #aaja2014 — CSPAN panel, some observations.

I’ve been coming to these conventions since the very first one in the 80s. But the “convention” has evolved, as has the media itself. It’s  more like a modest, yet big meeting. But still very valuable as it brings together veterans and young people who haven’t given up on journalism as a career, or as a way to make a difference.

The drive for diversity plays some role in that, but the young are less conscious about the civil rights aspect of journalism. Free speech? First Amendment? The new generation hates trolls slightly more than racists. (Sometimes they’re one and the same. But in this digital post-racial world, racism doesn’t quite compute. Until you experience it first hand).

Generational differences in perspective actually make AAJA more interesting. In DC,  I said hello to old friends, some who met their spouses at AAJA, had babies while at AAJA. Some have kids who have entered journalism/media/writing.

My personal memory from my years of convention going? It’s not asking Connie Chung a question in an open meeting about her lack of involvement with AAJA. It’s not even our nice chat at the 2010 LA convention when we were both among the “Pioneers.” No, my personal AAJA story is about coming back from an opening night of the first Chicago convention, and then being forced to leave the next day.

I got a call. My mother had died.

AAJA. It’s  journalism, life, and death.

These days at conventions, I speak more often to young people than the veterans. (Most of the best ones have retired, or  like Dith Pran, have passed on).

In DC, I’ve met with young men and women who are working their way through the path we’ve left.

And with each one, comes a reminder of why we’re all in this game to begin with and why we stay.

We’re all yearning to have a voice.

This is the panel I was in, moderated by Phil Yu, Angry Asian Man, that discussed the Asian American community and the Media.




Are you ready for Unity Lite? Some thoughts on the Hispanic withdrawal and the future of the minority journalism group once known for its unity; (UPDATING with “Post-Racial” Unity)

I’m not sure if there is a point to Unity if two of the biggest groups have decided to abandon whatever sense of unity might exist among minority journalists.

When the black journalists left the group and weren’t at the convention last year I was dismayed. But I thought maybe Unity could still survive, especially if there was even a remote possibility of NABJ returning.

Now that the Hispanic journalists of NAHJ have pulled out, I think it’s really over.

Here was NAHJ President Hugo Balta’s message on its website this week:

“As I’ve repeatedly stated NAHJ is open to working with UNITY and look forward to discussing proposals that meet our mutual [associations’] mission.

“We wish UNITY good luck in their future endeavors.”

Sound like the kiss-off speech you get when you’re fired or laid off?

(Haven’t experienced that ever? Then you’re really a protected minority).

If two of the biggest groups aren’t represented, we have a different kind of “Unity” that is no longer unified, diverse, nor even necessary.

A group that includes AAJA, the Asian American journalists group, and the two smallest minority journalism groups from the LGBT and Native American communities, represents an organization with diminished numbers, resources, and power.

We should have figured something like this would happen when the tag line was changed last year from “Journalists of Color” to “Journalists for Diversity.”  Diversity? Or some reasonable facsimile?

Diversity without the two biggest minority groups in the organization is just a joke.

It’s also disheartening, though not surprising, to see business and financial reasons come up as the wedge that divides the different groups over the common goal of diversity.

Of course, joining a bigger group makes perfect sense to the minority of minority journalism groups representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, and Native Americans.

But how can Unity make sense for everyone else?

What kind of formula would lure back NABJ, NAHJ?

What kind of arrangement is needed to keep even AAJA members interested?

The current president Paul Cheung has just sent an e-mail to AAJA members, saying that since July the remaining alliance members are working to restructure Unity to make it “more nimble, flexible, and financially sound.”  Furthermore, it says AAJA has taken a leadership role in coming up with solutions.

I’ll be open to whatever the remaining Unity reps come up with. But if it doesn’t compel NABJ or NAHJ to re-join, then it may not be good enough.

The group certainly shouldn’t be called Unity.

I’ve been to every Unity convention and believe in the mission of bringing the power of all the organizations together to make our case for diversity together.

But what good is a new and nimble Unity without the blacks and Hispanics?

Do we really need Unity Lite?

(Clarification: NAHJ as of August had 1,279 members and was the second largest Unity partner. AAJA was the largest with 1,597 members in August. NABJ withdrew from Unity in 2011. It has nearly 3,000 members,  according to Richard Prince’s Journalisms/Maynard Institute website).

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ADDENDUM: (10/24/13, 11:24 am PDT)

Without the blacks and Hispanics, you essentially have a GAAJANA (Gay Asian American Journalists Association/Native Americans). It would be a different organization, just not “Unity.” And probably not worth it to organizations to take  time from their own specific concerns. Too bad the formal idea has  already been built and established,  but there’s no will to do what’s right for all. No one uses the good of the people argument here.

A “Unity” without all the groups is really like a Congress without 50 states. But  Congress has its problems with gridlock and “doing the right thing.” Why did we expect anything different with our journalism organizations?

UPDATE (10/24/13 11:43 am PDT )

Disappointment but willingness to let go from a significant early member of Unity, who compared the situation to marriage, essentially saying sometimes it doesn’t work out and you move on. That’s a sign that the old Unity is  really gone forever. Anything from here on will be brand new and be very different. 

Initially, I called it Unity Lite. But it’s really a kind of “Post-Racial” Unity.

So here’s an idea:Why don’t we just try to diversify existing mainstream groups like SPJ, RTNDA, and the like instead of creating a brand new Unity?

I’m attending the Asian American Journalists Association convention in New York…but it’s actually more likely I will be stopped and frisked than bump into Connie Chung

Emil Guillermo, the first Asian American male to anchor a national evening news broadcast in 1989 when he hosted NPR’s “All Things Considered,” with Connie Chung, the first Asian American to anchor the evening news program of a major network. Photo taken at the 2010 convention, Hollywood,CA

I wasn’t stopped nor frisked in NYC. Nor did I see Connie. I did see a lot of young Asian American journalists, which is good, but it seemed much of the meeting was driven by new media, tech, and gadgetry. Journalism? Well, there was some discussion of that, but for the most part it was secondary, because journalism is being transformed by the digital world. The conference almost presumes the 5w’s part. The digital stuff was much bigger at this conference than I ever expected.  Which is great, because most of the attendees weren’t around when newsrooms used typewriters.

One other thing. Much has been made about the media criticism discussion at the conference. I skipped it because as much as AAJA wants to be a media watchdog, at best the group is ineffective because there are limits to what journalism associations can do. It can advocate diversity in hiring and coverage. And that’s it. It can criticize, but it doesn’t want to be seen as an advocate nor as a hard “civil rights” organization.  That makes AAJA more of a  “soft” civil rights org because it does preach diversity. But it truly leaves its fangs at the door. How can you be tough on big corporate news organizations when you depend on those same news organization for support? The convention was in New York, and it just seemed to lack the kind of spark you’d expect from a convention in the media capital. Media companies were pretty minimal in their involvement. Sign of the times, I’m afraid.

So roll it all up, and you have a nice careerist organization that H.R. departments love because it helps show media organizations are interested in the public good. But when the industry is shrinking and careers are curtailed or shorten, a careerist organization isn’t left with much to crow about these days. And when it crows about racist coverage, what’s it’s solution? It’s not a union. It’s a journalism organization. Aside checking for grammar and proper use of AP style, what’s left? Advocating for minority jobs? What jobs?

In the end, it was a nice gathering for some of us who still believe there’s a reason for AAJA.

Would have been nice to see one plenary session where everyone  could come together  and discuss the broad themes that should be concerning minority journalists and communities they cover. That would have been a place to discuss and reinforce the values of the organization.

Right now, the organization seems like it’s just trying to survive. Just like many newsrooms in the country.

After Libya, Detroit? Grace Lee Boggs’ humanistic revolution

I visited Detroit recently when I attended the Asian American Journalists Association Convention.

But the highlight of the trip was meeting Hall of Fame activist Grace Lee Boggs.

If you are an unabashed capitalist, maybe even a free-market Tea Party-type, you might not give Boggs the benefit of an open mind. 

She’s a radical, maybe the most radical Asian American I know.

And we all know what happens when “socialism” enters into any discussion in America. Witness the debate over universal health care.  In the U.S., there is a low tolerance for Marx, unless you’re talking Groucho.

But Grace Lee Boggs is different. When capitalism fails us (as it is currently),  Boggs has answers.

Read my profile of her: