Asian American journalists spearhead workshop

Student sit, listening intently as they take notes to record the panelists advice. The panel “Tales from the Field”, was one of several designed educate young journalists on practical skills of the trade. // Photo by Jessamyn M. Lockett Student Publications

On Feb. 4, 2023, the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) hosted their 2023 student and early career journalism workshop in collaboration with the Technique on campus. The day was full of panels featuring prominent on and off-air journalists sharing stories ranging from reporting in the field to networking.

One student journalist, Kim Ford, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in communications with a concentration in digital media strategies at Georgia State University, said that she found out about the event through her membership in the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). 

“We recently had our meeting and someone mentioned that there was a great journalism conference going on at Georgia Tech, held by the Asian American [Journalists] Association, and said we should go and I said ‘absolutely,’” Ford said.

Auzzy Byrdsell, a third-year journalism and kinesiology major at Morehouse College, said he was drawn to the event because he wanted to “network with… other collegiate journalists my age so I can see what they’re working on, what their publications look like, but also to get advice, get input, get insight and to get some experience from professional journalists that are really out there in the field.” 

The day started with a keynote speech from Victor Blackwell, a CNN anchor and correspondent. The speech was titled “Key to Being a Successful Journalist: Show up As You Are.” He spoke about the experience of being the only Black person not just in the room, but in the entire building at his first job in journalism, and how this experience taught him the importance of showing up as himself so that everyone reading or watching his work would actually have someone to relate to. 

Blackwell encouraged the young journalists attending the event to place an emphasis on always showing up as who they are to every single room they enter, not only for themselves, but for the betterment of journalism as a whole. For Ford, Blackwell’s keynote speech resonated. 

“I really loved hearing his story… the story of how he won his Emmys, his story about how fear held him back, the importance of being authentically who you are, because that is what is going to translate to your viewers and to your readers really struck home for me,” Ford said. 

Toni Odejimi, a second-year journalism major and political science minor at Georgia State University, noted that Blackwell’s message meant a lot to her because she often feels that to be successful in the industry, she needs to pretend to be someone she is not. 

She said that she resonated with the importance of “showing up as your authentic self, because that is something that I struggle with a lot.” 

The first panel of the day was about “How to Craft the Perfect Article,” featuring CNN Newsgathering Senior Director of Coverage, Vivian Kuo; CNN International Senior Copy Editor, Anthony Giordano; CNN Director and Executive Editor Ram Ramgopal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Education’s Education Editor Eric Stirgus. The panelists emphasized the importance of connecting with the audience as a journalist and their advice about how to do that effectively. 

In particular, they discussed the importance of “making the important interesting and making the interesting important.” 

The panelists also spoke about the importance of ethical journalism, and its implications on how to interview ethically and weigh the decisions of displaying graphic media alongside a story. 

The biggest takeaway from this was the idea that an ethical journalist is a human first.

Odejimi said that the panel discussion “changed my perspectives on how to view reporting [and] on how to view the decisions that people make within this field on ‘Should I show this video or not’ [and] ‘Is it ok to get the gory details or should we save it for another day?’” Byrdsell , a third year Kinesiology and Journalism major at Morehouse College, noted that the discussion of how to interview ethically resonated with him.

“When you’re interviewing someone on a sensitive topic, be inviting, and make sure that person is comfortable first and foremost. We also talked a lot about being human first, and that really sat well with me,” Byrdsell. 

The second panel discussion focused on anchoring and reporting high-stake, high-profile stories. This discussion featured experienced reporters, such as CNN anchor and correspondent Amara Walker, CNN international anchor and correspondent John Vause, CNN correspondent Nick Valencia, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative reporter Willoughby Mariano. 

Following the rise in Asian hate that has occurred since the beginning of the pandemic, Walker has covered the stories of Asian Americans who have been targeted.

As an Asian American woman herself, she emphasized that covering this situation was something that she felt was her responsibility to bring to light. 

She discussed that stories like this one emphasized to her how important it is to lean into your identity and lead with authenticity to get the most powerful and important stories. 

Walker’s story stuck out to attendee Shirley Nguyen, first-year LMC at Tech, who said that her interest in Asian American Pacific Islander advocacy is what brought her to the event. 

Nguyen said that Walker’s explanation of feeling “the need to cover stories relating to the Asian American community. More specifically, Asian American women during the rise of Asian hate during the pandemic” especially resonated with her.

Panelist Vause discussed his past in reporting from active war zones and all that his experiences have taught him. He discussed that his method for keeping his composure under such high-stakes situations is to lean into his background research of the situation at hand to guide his investigation and reporting. 

Valencia, Vause’s fellow panelist, discussed his experiences interviewing very high-profile players in high-stakes stories, such as Rudy Giuliani. 

His advice mirrored Vause’s, highlighting the importance of having an in-depth understanding of your story to be able to lean on when improvisation is required on the job. 

Mariano, panelist from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, discussed her most recent project building the story of over 250 Atlanta and metro-Atlanta apartment complexes with extraordinarily high crime rates.

She discussed her information gathering methods for stories like this, ranging from open record requests to door-to-door canvassing in the impacted areas. 

This highlighted to panel attendees the importance of unwavering persistence when uncovering important stories.

The third panel was about “Technology in Journalism,” specifically computational journalism. The panel featured Distinguished Professor and Senior Associate Dean  Irfan Essa from the College of Computing at Tech. Essa discussed his work in the realm of artificial intelligence and the ways in which he sees this impacting journalism in the future along with his predictions.

He discussed his prediction that journalists will increasingly need to build their partnerships with programmers to take advantage of new technologies that are developing which will improve the lives of journalists.

The final panel of the day discussed “How to Land Your Next Journalism Job,” featuring CNN International Desk Senior Newsdesk Editor Jennifer Hauser, 11Alive anchor and reporter Faith Jessie, 11Alive investigative reporter Kristin Crowley, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution senior editor for recruitment Todd Duncan. The discussion centered on the importance of professional relationships for a successful career in journalism. 

Panelists discussed their personal mentor-mentee relationships that they maintain that have helped them get jobs, or that have allowed them to help emerging journalists get their foot into the door. 

Student attendees of the event felt that the panel discussions were both interesting and insightful into the world of journalism. 

When asked if she would attend another event like this one, Kaitlyn Crosby, Global Media and Cultures graduate student at Tech, said she “was hesitant at first because I haven’t gone to many events like this at Tech… [but] I’m really glad that I came today!” 

Ford noted that the discussions of the day really helped her with a documentary she is currently producing called “Faith, Race, and Politics.” 

She noted that her motivation behind producing the documentary was “to show how we can all come together, no matter what you look like or who you are, and I want it to be very balanced.” A large focus of Ford’s documentary includes interviews with a wide range of people, so the panel discussion about ethical interviewing and how to successfully get public figures to respond to interview requests was important to Ford.

“The input from the CNN editors was great [and] to hear them tell me to make sure it’s generationally diverse, make sure I capture different elements and that it’s well balanced,” Ford said. Though Tech is a STEM centered school, events like the workshop continue to help journalists find their place at the Institute and beyond.

Especially as the gap between STEM and liberal arts continues to grow narrower, there will be soon be an increased need for journalists to connect the dots in more ways than one.

Journalism will continue to put reporters in uncomfortable positions, but through conferences like this, students aspiring to enter the field will be better equipped.