In Depth

AAJA Awards Honor Commitment

Pran, Li, Maynard Show Courage, Principle

The Asian American Journalists Association will host its annual awards banquet Friday at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency as part of Unity ’08. Keynote speaker for the gala event will be Martin Bashir, co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” and correspondent for “20/20.”

“The [Unity Conference] is a very important gathering for journalists,” Mr. Bashir said, noting that what affects one affects all. “As journalists, we often regard ourselves as outsiders, and then over the period of our careers we become insiders.

“What’s critical is that neither one of those descriptions is accurate,” he said. “We are who we are, and being a journalist is just part of that.”

In addition to announcing its annual scholarship and journalism award winners, the AAJA will present its Lifetime Achievement and Special Recognition awards at the event. The Lifetime Achievement Award “recognizes an individual who has demonstrated courage and commitment to the principles of journalism over the course of a life’s work, as well as dedication to issues important to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community,” according to the AAJA Web site. This year’s award will be presented posthumously to photojournalist Dith Pran.

Mr. Pran’s work in Cambodia as an interpreter for foreign journalists and a translator for the U.S. military, his four-year exile to forced labor camps where he endured brutality and near-starvation, and his subsequent escape from the Khmer Rouge were documented in the film “The Killing Fields,” based on a New York Times magazine cover story by his longtime friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sydney H. Schanberg.

After his escape, Mr. Pran moved to New York City and worked as a staff photographer for the New York Times until his death earlier this year.

Mr. Bashir, who knew Mr. Pran only by reputation, paid tribute to the late photojournalist, noting that attention to a sort of moral compass seems to have guided Mr. Pran’s actions throughout his career. “One of the most remarkable things about Dith Pran is that he had an excessive public-service commitment,” Mr. Bashir said. “For him to live in such danger even when he was [working as an interpreter] speaks of his magnificent character.”

AAJA’s Special Recognition Award will be presented to former Los Angeles Times Assistant Managing Editor Simon Li. Mr. Li, who was born in London and began his career as a reporter at the Hong Kong Standard, also was foreign editor at the paper from 1995-2002 and, according to his AAJA bio, “was known in the Times newsroom for his championship of international coverage and was notorious for his blunt public questioning of top management.”

Dori Maynard, president and CEO of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, will receive the 2008 Leadership in Diversity Award. Ms. Maynard continues the work started by her father, Robert Maynard, including teaching journalists to recognize what Mr. Maynard dubbed the “fault lines” that divide human beings: race, class, gender, generation and geography. The Robert C. Maynard Institute also sponsors management programs to help create diversity in the ranks of managers and executives.

Four-time Emmy Award winner Ti-Hua Chang, who recently joined MyNetworkTV affiliate WWOR-TV, which serves the New York metropolitan area, will emcee the event along with JuJu Chang, Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ABC’s “20/20,” “Good Morning America” and “Nightline.”