Six people founded AAJA, spending long hours on the job and away from the office traveling all over the country and uniting ideas and volunteers to help grow the organization into what it is today. Bill Sing, a 23-year veteran at the Los Angeles Times, was their leader. A Seattle native, he worked tirelessly to set up chapters across the nation, search creatively for ways to fund the group and for fellow journalists to shape coverage of Asian Americans that would not only be fair but accurate. He has spent 23 years at the Times, recently as its business editor and now as senior editor in charge of special sections.
In a question and answer session with Kaustuv Basu, Los Angeles member and graduate student of print journalism at the University of Southern California, Sing shares his thoughts about the group which he has nurtured and his hopes for its future.
What needs to be done at the organizational level at AAJA?
A: The original mission needs to be redefined. We have to be more ambitions and aggressive. The Asian American Journalists Association was set up as a vehicle for networking. Also, coverage of Asian Americans in the mainstream media was very stereotypical before. Some of it continues to remain so. We have to be less insular and reach out to a wider cross section of people. AAJA doesn’t solicit people who are not Asian Americans. AAJA’s chapter board has no non-Asians in it. We should embrace subgroups.
Bill Sing challenges fellow journalists to push AAJA’s mission – aggressively – during a convention speech at the group’s 20th anniversary gala in San Francisco.
Q: Do we need an AAJA convention every year?
A: The convention should be more comprehensive a vehicle to serve the goal of the organization. We should be more proactive. It should do more for mid-career journalists. The age for that kind of format has outlived itself. The idea should be to learn more from each other. Giving everyone an opportunity to speak instead of panel discussions.
Q: How can we increase the group?
A: There is a feeling that AAJA only cares about its members. We also need to know more about our members. We should have a good database of Asian American journalists in the country. We need to engage with top-level journalists in the country.
Q: What are the need of the students today vs. two decades ago?
A: There are no lack of role models like before. And J-schools have enough qualified candidates. But they need to have different skills they need to know about technology, the Internet and convergence. We have to get more students interested in the profession. A scholarship does not necessarily get them interested. We could do more like adopting high schools. Scholarship money can be better spent. For instance, we can have programs with high schools and colleges.
We need to increase the opportunities and explain how the media works. Students need to be aware of their role and responsibilities.
Q: What about industry trends of hiring and retaining Asian Americans?
A: The numbers could be improved. The attrition rate is high and there is a glass ceiling, of course.
Q: What are the preconceived notions about Asian Americans that still dominate?
A: If an Asian American goes out and asserts himself in the newsroom, people are surprised. They are not supposed to rock the boat.
Q: How have you grown from leading the organization?
A: AAJA has give me a lot of skills and experiences. The organization has also given me a lot of friends.