By Charlie Kadado
2016 UNITY Reporting Fellow

Asian American actor Randall Park knows what it’s like to hear pushback from immigrant parents when they hear about your career choice that’s not medicine or engineering.

(Photo by Charlie Kadado.)

(Photo by Charlie Kadado.)

“I really wanted them to be proud of me, so I held off pursuing acting for a long time,” the “Fresh Off the Boat” star told AAJA members on Aug. 13 during their 2016 awards gala in Las Vegas. “I wanted to do something more honorable.”

It’s a conversation-starter many AAJA members have heard before, or are hearing now. Mom wants you to study hard so she can say, “My son’s a doctor,” and Dad wants you to live comfortably so he can tell family back home, “My son bought a house.”

Well, journalism is the wrong career for that. At least at the beginning.

But despite those challenges, we still somehow endure the guilt trips and moments when we’re ready to quit and enroll into med school. Then we remember the great resources we have at AAJA.

With access to those resources, landing a first job doesn’t seem as daunting. As one recruiter said, it’s probably the most difficult step because it’s your first point of entry to the real world of news – and it’s a small, intimate network. So small, that a one-on-one meeting with a recruiter may be the only thing keeping you from your next job.

“Gathering business cards is only half the formula,” a recruiter told recent graduates after they requested her contact information. “Following-up is the real test.”

Thanks to AAJA, a one-on-one meeting with a recruiter is not only possible, it’s encouraged. It’s not everyday budding journalists can have lunch with the anchor of a top-rated Los Angeles newscast, or a cup of coffee with producers from a major broadcast network. But through AAJA, that’s possible.

Beyond access to this small, intimate network, the AAJA VOICES project grants us access to top journalism students from across the country with similar interests and career goals. VOICES is the multimedia journalism project produced by 16 selected students during convention week.

AAJA VOICES produces a print edition distributed to convention attendees. (Photo by Charlie Kadado.)

AAJA VOICES produces a print edition distributed to convention attendees. (Photo by Charlie Kadado.)

It’s a chance for students to produce content, meet professional mentors and learn skills they may not learn in college. More importantly, it’s a chance to break out of a comfort zone and learn skills college won’t teach.

I learned quickly from my AAJA VOICES mentor, Conner Jay, a senior producer for Al Jazeera Media Network. Conner emphasized the future of digital media, and producing content for news consumers of the future.

So when Jay told me to forget the traditional broadcast formula I learned in school and try something creative and new, it wasn’t easy, but I was willing to learn. In just one day, we produced a short digital product on Fremont Street performers, and their protest of a city ordinance that restricts them to performing inside designated circles.


WATCH: Caged in Circles: Fremont Street Performers Speak Out

This was something I hadn’t tried before. But I learned.

That’s the real value of AAJA and AAJA VOICES – the chance to try something different and prove you can do it. It’s a chance to meet competitive students from across the country and see what they’re doing. It’s a chance to exchange business cards with future employers and potentially find a first job.

After a week at NABJ/NAHJ in Washington D.C., and a week at AAJA in Las Vegas, I have a stack of business cards that rival a Harry Potter book, and I’m still working on following-up with everyone I met.

Gathering those cards was only half the formula. Now I have to finish following-up.

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