After a quarter of a century of successful work in both television and print journalism, Ellen Endo has become the new executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). Replacing Rene Astudillo, who had held the position since 1999, Endo recently spoke to AAJA-LA about her qualifications for the position, the challenges that AAJA faces, and how she hopes to help AAJA overcome them.
AAJA-LA 2008 Peter Imamura Scholarship recipient Elaine Teng interviewed Endo for AAJA-LA’s website.
What are some of your duties as AAJA director?
It’s pretty clear-cut. It’s to oversee the national staff, guide operations, work with the programs and the financial people and report to the national president and the national board on a regular basis.
What is your previous experience with AAJA?
I was a member for a short time in 2001 and I was active for a little bit with the LA chapter [but] I actually got involved with other organizations not related to journalism and couldn’t spend the time that I wanted. But at the time, I was working for the newspaper, The Rafu Shimpo, the Japanese Daily News, so I was actually trying to get everyone on the paper to join.
I know that with the Internet and especially with the financial crisis, a lot of newspapers are under threat. How do you hope to help AAJA deal with this?
First, to provide the tools, including consulting with experts on re-applying skills, making sure that we are able to provide information on job openings that our members might be interested in but also to gauge the industry itself on a regular basis. It’s something that constantly is in a state of flux so I think that we want to be diligent about watching the changes and assessing the changes so that there’s not an overreaction by the people who are in the industry because it is going through a state of flux, which doesn’t mean it’s over, and also to, for those who are directly affected, to make sure they are supported in whatever way that we can determine.
What are some of the other challenges you think AAJA will face?
Fundraising. Just like every other non-profit organization in America, we rely on contributions from private and corporate sources and we want to make sure that our mission really aligns with people who are in a position to donate to us and we want to be thought of as an organization that actually fulfills its promises and is really cognizant of the mission in a practical as well as a philosophical way.
On the press release, the AAJA National President talks about your “fundraising expertise.” Could you tell us about some of your previous experiences?
I actually worked with several organizations including the Go For Broke National Education Center. I worked with them in raising funds. I’ve also received training from Indiana University School of Fundraising and I worked with the USC Asian-American Alumni Association and their fundraising efforts and I guess a number of organizations as a consultant, including the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation. Heart Mountain was the site of one of the Japanese internment sites. I’m working as an advisor to their fundraising effort. A lot of that is volunteer, but I’ve also been a consultant specifically to raise money. [I] identify funding sources and create the materials.
I know AAJA recently issued a statement on the importance of diversity in the newsroom. How does AAJA hope to maintain and even further the progress made in recent years?
I think, number one, we have to be constantly vigilant. We want to make sure that we speak for those, not just for those who are affected, but for those who might be affected. I think one way is to make certain that the decision makers are aware that AAJA exists, that it is going to be very assertive in its efforts to maintain diversity in the newsroom and in the diversity of news coverage. I think, two, we want quality not just quantity. We want people in writing in the ranks, we want diversity in the decision-making levels as well.
What are some of your other goals for AAJA?
One, I want to build the endowment and also expand the membership to include those who have just entered the journalism and communications field. We also want to include the ethnic newspapers and the broadcasts and the radio journalists that we’ve not really been able to attract in large numbers up to now. Certainly, the desire is there but I think we’re going to have a more concerted effort to appeal to the Asian Americans in those media.
I think that one of my goals is to revisit the mission. It’s sort of an ongoing process so I hesitate to be specific, but I think every organization has to revisit its mission every three to four years, so I think it’s time for AAJA to look at its mission and make sure that it’s a mission that encompasses the positive achievements we’re aiming for. For instance, if we’re training young people through J Camp, does this J Camp have to change, because we don’t want to train people for jobs that aren’t there. Let’s look at what we’re actually teaching and how we can expand our reach, but also stay true to what AAJA, on a realistic level, can contribute to our profession and our society.
Elaine Teng is a student at Amherst College.