Does Ferguson Story Resonate Among Asian-American Journalists?

It appeared to be “business as usual” at the Asian American Journalists convention in Washington, D.C., as the nation followed the aftermath of the police shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Brian Nguyen of AAJA Voices, convention publication of the Asian American Journalists Association, took this photograph of Washington, D.C., diners observing a march down U Street Thursday after the National Moment of Silence for Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager slain by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Marchers had their hands up in the "hands up, don't shoot" pose adopted nationally.
Brian Nguyen of AAJA Voices, convention publication of the Asian American Journalists Association, took this photograph of Washington, D.C., diners observing a march down U Street Thursday after the National Moment of Silence for Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager slain by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Marchers had their hands up in the "hands up, don't shoot" pose adopted nationally.

Police Slaying, Aftermath Are Topic A — Outside Convention

As the nation followed the aftermath of the police shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in suburban Ferguson, Mo. — including the detention of two journalists and the tear-gassing of at least one camera crew, many journalism organizations rushed to condemn what they considered the unfair treatment of one of their own.

Others broadened their outrage to include the shooting death, the militarization of the local police force, the looting and the treatment of citizens.

But at the Washington convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, where Executive Director Kathy Chow said Thursday that 770 people had assembled, including "close to 600" registrants, it seemed to be business as usual.

"Different members are talking about it," AAJA President Paul Cheung told Journal-isms, speaking of Ferguson. "People here are focusing on jobs and career, and you tend to be in a bubble" at conventions.

The National Association of Black Journalists issued a statement Wednesday after Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, a former NABJ board member, and Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly were detained that day in Ferguson.

NABJ President Bob Butler then wrote his own piece for, updated Friday under the headline "Press freedom in Ferguson: Is this 1964 or 2014?" He compared events in Missouri with the battlegrounds of the civil rights movement. Errin Whack, NABJ’s vice president for print, wrote from the scene on Thursday under the Slate headline, "This is America in 2014? What I witnessed last night in Ferguson was appalling."

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists followed NABJ on Thursday with a statement of support for the NABJ position.

Then came the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors, the Radio Television Digital News Association and a coalition of 48 national media organizations led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"I look at it as a freedom of the press issue," Cheung said. "Any journalist should be outraged."

Some saw more. Jeff Yang, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, called the relative silence at AAJA "shocking."

A recurring theme for Asian Americans, Yang said, was "Do we belong here? This whole notion of belonging and who are our identities as Americans." African Americans and Asian Americans would both bring that perspective to any conversation about Ferguson, he said. With each group, others are continually "questioning our right to be here."

Emil Guillermo, a longtime journalist who blogs for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said, "You can fault AAJA for not talking about Jim Risen," the New York Times reporter whom the Obama administration is trying to compel to reveal a source. "You can fault AAJA for not really pressing about the diversity numbers." But on the Ferguson issue, "We kind of vacated our role."

It’s not that the story hasn’t captivated individual members. Mi-Ai Parrish, president and publisher of the Kansas City Star, said "everybody’s asking me about it" once they discover that she is from Missouri. But at the convention, "you’re kind of in a bubble," she agreed. "It’s a little bit isolated."

Gil Asakawa, another AAJA veteran and manager of student media at the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said, "I’ve been glued to the television all week and this story is amazing. I’ve been trying to extrapolate and relate [this] to the Asian American experience." He said he immediately thought of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements of the 1960s.

"It always fascinated me that Asian Americans haven’t been a part of that protest movement," Asakawa continued, with the exceptions of the slaying of Detroit autoworker Vincent Chin in 1982 and protests by Korean Americans over racial tensions in the 1992 Los Angeles riots. "It gives me pause," he said of the relative lack of public discussion at AAJA.

Phil Yu, who writes the popular Angry Asian Man blog and moderated a panel on "Why and how should we cover the Asian American community?" (video) said afterward, "You don’t have to be black to understand suffering."

Yu said that the mainstream media was not doing a good job of covering the Ferguson situation and that "I get most of my information on Twitter." Mainstream media was "late to the game. When I was reading my Twitter feed, I went to the networks." CNN, for example was airing a piece on Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea.

Yu pointed to a piece by Arthur Chu in the Daily Beast that expanded on the identity question. It was titled "Men Without a Country: Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, My Father and Me," with the subtitle, "I can pretend to belong here better than Trayvon and Mike Brown were ever given the chance to. But however hard I try, however well they treat me, I know this is not my country."

In one of many follow-ups to the fast-moving story, Reid Wilson wrote Thursday in the Washington Post of the racial disparity in government jobs. 

In the 100 largest metropolitan areas, Wilson wrote, "Mainly, it’s Hispanic and Asian American populations missing out on government jobs. While the proportion of African Americans in high-wage jobs has equalized in recent decades, other non-white populations remain significantly below proportional representation.

"Government positions, which usually come with stability and good benefits, have long been a route to upward social mobility," been a route to upward social mobility," [Census Bureau historian Todd] Gardner wrote [for the Urban Institute.] "Even half a century after the Civil Rights Act, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans remain at a disadvantage in getting those jobs — especially in police departments."

Cheung said Friday that AAJA’s message was being delivered through the Unity: Journalists for Diversity coalition. Issued Friday, a Unity news release focused on the detention of Lowery and Reilly and quoted Unity President David Steinberg. "Officers need to keep the public safe, but they also must respect the First Amendment rights of the journalists covering this story," Steinberg said.

After Delays, Police Name Officer Who Killed Michael Brown

"One day after roiling tensions over the police shooting of a black teenager here began to subside, emotions flared anew on Friday as the police identified the officer involved but also released evidence that the victim was a suspect in a convenience store robbery moments before being shot," Tanzina Vega, Timothy Williams and Erik Eckholm reported Friday for the New York Times.

"The manner in which the police here released the information, which included a 19-page police report on the robbery but no new details about the shooting, led to the spectacle of dueling police news conferences, one led by a white officer who seemed ill at ease and defensive, and the other dominated by a charismatic black officer who expressed solidarity with the crowd even as he pleaded for peace.

"The white officer, Thomas Jackson, the police chief in Ferguson, gave a series of incomplete accounts that sowed confusion about whether the officer who shot the teenager knew he was a suspect in the robbery. The black officer, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, expressed his displeasure with how the information had been released.

" ‘I would have liked to have been consulted,’ he said pointedly about the pairing of the shooter’s identity with the robbery accusation.

"All week, community members had demanded the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown, 18, last Saturday, but when it finally came, it was accompanied by surveillance videotapes that appeared to show Mr. Brown shoving a store clerk aside as he stole a box of cigarillos. . . ."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized Tuesday, "the failure to identify the officer violates every principle of transparency recommended by law enforcement experts. Society grants police officers the right to use deadly force. That right carries special obligations, one of which is strict public accountability. The longer the officer stays anonymous, the more public confidence is undermined. . . ."

AAJA Voices convention coverage

Gilbert Bailon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Efforts by news staff have been as extraordinary as events

Bobby Caina Calvan, Christine Chen, William Douglas, David Nakamura and Michele Salcedo, "Race and the Midterm Elections" panel (video)

Jelani Cobb, the New Yorker: Some Answers, More Questions in Ferguson

Jelani Cobb, the New Yorker: What I Saw in Ferguson

Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: In Ferguson, a new sheriff in town. About time

Alejandro Davila Fragoso, McClatchy Washington Bureau: Press freedom groups file petition to halt legal action against N.Y. Times reporter

Jill Geisler, Poynter Institute: Notes from Ferguson: The city has ‘never seen such glare of the national media’

Emil Guillermo, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: Ferguson, the First Amendment, and the Asian American Journalists Association

Valerie Schremp Hahn, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: ACLU attains agreement for right to record police

A.M. Jamison, Ferguson coverage proves NPR needs (a show like) "Tell Me More"

Randy Kennedy and Jennifer Schuessler: Ferguson Images Evoke Civil Rights Era and Changing Visual Perceptions

Phil Kurz, TVNewsCheck: Ferguson, Mo., Cops Target TV Reporters

Renee Lewis, Al Jazeera America: Ferguson reports raise questions on media criminalization of blacks

Rachel Lippman, St. Louis Public Radio: Fuel In The Ferguson Fire: Racial Makeup Of Police Force Makes A Difference

Eric Liu and Jelani Cobb with Gwen Ifill, "PBS NewsHour": Is Ferguson a bellwether for racial and economic tensions nationwide?

Kate O’Brian, Al Jazeera America: Statement from the President

Beth O’Malley, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Coverage from around the country about Michael Brown and Ferguson

Jonathan Peters, Columbia Journalism Review: Can Ferguson police legally withhold the officer’s name?

Jim Romenesko blog: Philadelphia Daily News Changes Its Cover After It’s Criticized on Twitter

St. Louis American staff: Police official confirms outside agitation against Ferguson residents and protesters

Asawin Suebsaeng, Daily Beast: The Ugly Smearing of Michael Brown

Byron Tau, Politico: How the media discovered Ferguson (Aug. 16)

Lindsay Toler, Riverfront Times, St. Louis: Watch Police in Ferguson Arrest, Tear Gas Journalists [VIDEO]

Khadijah Costley White, Role Reboot: Black And Unarmed: Women And Girls Without Weapons Killed By Law Enforcement

Julia Carrie Wong, On Michael Brown, Sketch Factor, and Finding a Safe Way Home

Balta, Ericksen Debate NAHJ Award to Fox News Latino

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ award to Fox News Latino last week prompted a radio faceoff Friday between immediate past president Hugo Balta, who presented the honor, and NAHJ co-founder Charlie Ericksen, who called it "kind of a farce" for the organization to praise Fox News.

Before the faceoff, however, the National Institute for Latino Policy made it known that it sides unambiguously with Ericksen.

The Institute posted a Journal-isms column reporting Ericksen’s remarks in an email and its director, longtime Latino activist Angelo Falcón told Journal-isms by email:

"The National Institute for Latino Policy considers Charlie Ericksen a revered elder of the Latino community and found Hugo Balta’s dismissal of his concerns disrespectful. At the same time, we agree with Mr. Ericksen’s position that for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to honor Fox News in any form was disgraceful given their constant attacks on the Latino community. The existence of Fox News Latino does not negate the damage being done daily to our community by their parent company. As to whether Mr. Balta needs to apologize, we will leave that up to his conscience to grapple with."

Referring to columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr., who wrote a column this week criticizing NAHJ, Falcón said, "well, nobody seems to like the guy but we agree with him in this instance!"

The Latino Rebels website posted audio of Balta’s and Ericksen’s appearance on New York’s WBAI-FM (audio) and summarized the 33-minute segment this way:

"Balta’s position was that NAHJ needed to be more inclusive, especially since outlets like FOX News do employ Latinos and NAHJ members who work for FOX or its affiliates were at the event when Ericksen made his comments. Ericksen brought up the fact that this is all about how to ethically receive money, and how NAHJ’s awards are now honoring news organizations and not individuals who work in those organizations. In addition, Ericksen did say that he does not watch FOX News or read Fox News Latino — a point Balta emphasized in the discussion. Balta said that Fox News Latino has become a successful digital outlet for Latinos, while Ericksen countered that such an award will make FOX News think that it is doing a good job with the Latino community."

AAJA’s Sharon Chan Named to New Position at Seattle Times

Sharon Pian ChanSharon Pian Chan, associate opinions editor/digital for the Seattle Times and national president of the Asian American Journalists Association from 2009 to 2010, has been named director of journalism initiatives for the Times, the newspaper announced on Thursday.

A news release said, " ‘This new role builds on our success at developing new funding sources to expand our storytelling, commentary and community engagement beyond what we could otherwise afford,’ said Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen. ‘As one of the country’s last independent metro dailies, we are fiercely committed to our journalism/public service mission. Anything we can do to grow nontraditional revenue to expand our journalism is of significant benefit to our community.

" ‘As an experienced and highly regarded journalist, Sharon is the ideal fit for this new role. She already has extensive experience in the nonprofit journalism community.’

"Chan will focus on funding journalism by building partnerships between The Seattle Times, nonprofits and philanthropy. This special assignment reports to the publisher. Chan will begin in October. . . ."

Chan was vice president of Unity: Journalists for Diversity from 2011 to 2012.

The Times posted an announcement to fill Chan’s job.

"We are looking for someone with management experience to be a staff catalyst for new approaches for community dialogue. The candidate should have a demonstrated record for using social media in their journalism," it said.

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education ( Reprinted on The Root by permission.