Introducing the 2015-2016 Board Members!

Here are 2015-2016 board members of Asian American Journalist Association at Columbia Journalism School:

President: Debbie Wong
Vice President: Suzie Xie
Secretary: Aria Hangyu Chen
Treasurer: Sirui Shao
Event Coordinators: Jamie Martines and Vicky Ge Huang
Webmasters: Joy Jeong and Samantha McDonald

Click on the picture to get to know our members and connect with us on social media!

We are excited to be on this year’s board and work with AAJA members and other student groups to bring networking and learning opportunities to Columbia Journalism School. Our general meetings will be held on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. once a month, along with regular social events and informal gatherings.

Please join our Facebook group and mailing list to stay tuned to our events:

If you have any questions or concerns, please email us at

We look forward to a fantastic year!


A Conversation with former Managing Editor of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome Project, Mandy Jenkins

Tomorrow, Mandy Jenkins, former managing editor of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome Project, will come to talk to us about what the future looks like for digital-first news. The Thunderdome Project recently made headlines after DFM announced that they would be shutting down the New York-based newsroom. Thunderdome used to provide digital news content for local newspapers like the Denver Post and the New Haven RegisterPolitico reported that Thunderdome’s shutdown was “another example of the incredibly difficult landscape of local news.” Jenkins will discuss the lessons she learned about maintaining a digital news company in the ever-changing world of journalism, and where the future lies for digital news companies.

Time: 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Location: Stabile Student Center

Sponsored by: The Asian American Journalists Association

Refreshments will be served (provided from the Sevellon Brown Fund).


Mandy Jenkins is on the Board of Directors for the Online News Association and co-teaches a course on social media for journalists at Georgetown University. Before that, Jenkins ran the Huffington Post’s Politics’ branded social accounts and helped bring digital content to the Cincinnati Inquirer.

‘Deep South’ Film Screening and Q&A with Professor Duy Linh Tu

Join us on Monday, February 10 at 6 P.M. at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Lecture Hall for a screening of Deep South, an award-winning documentary about the rural American South and the people who inhabit its most quiet corners. Beneath layers of history, povertyand now soaring HIV infectionsfour Americans redefine traditional Southern values to create their own solutions to survive. The screening will be followed by a Q+A with Professor Duy Linh Tu, the Director of Photography of the film. Food will be served.



This event is sponsored by the Sevellon Brown Fund, and is hosted by Columbia University’s AAJA chapter, CULGJA, SPJ, Columbia Women in Media, SAJA, and CUNAHJ.

Questions? Contact CUAAJA’s Rosa Kim at rdk2125 (at) or Yumi Araki at ya2305 (at) We look forward to seeing you at the screening!

Join AAJA-Columbia for Dim Sum Nov. 10

Charming Sunset Park is the site of Brooklyn Chinatown. Enjoy the sights, sounds, and curious aromas of a veritable mini-Hong Kong in the heart of New York City. Also, eat the dim sum. It’s the city’s best. East Harbor Seafood Palace is the favorite dim sum joint of those in the know. So come one, come all to East Harbor on Nov. 10 at noon for Sunday brunch Canton style.

Columbia AAJA and the Weatherhead East Asian Institute present: Former CNN Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy’s documentary on the history of American correspondents in China


Please join us on Monday, October 21 for a screening of former Senior CNN Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy’s documentary, Assignment: China.

LOCATION: Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs | Hamilton Hall, Room 703

TIME: 6 – 8 p.m.


opening-up-medwebOpening Up is one episode of Assignment China, a multi-part documentary film series on the history of American correspondents in China being produced by the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. Opening Up is based on extensive interviews with virtually all the reporters who opened the first U.S. news bureaus in the Peoples Republic, including Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, Richard Bernstein of Time Magazine, Fox Butterfield of the New York Times, Frank Ching of the Wall St. Journal,  Melinda Liu of Newsweek, John Roderick of the Associated Press, Jim Laurie of ABC, Bruce Dunning of CBS, Sandy Gilmour of NBC, and many others. MLin80swithChineseman

This documentary also contains interviews with Chinese officials who sought to manage the western media, with some of the people the reporters covered, as well rare archival footage, still photos, and previously unseen home videos. As the first resident US correspondents in Beijing in 30 years, the small American press corps struggled to break through the barriers of politics, language, and culture, while confronting the technological challenges of operating in a developing country long cut off from the West, seeking to convey to American audiences a sense of China at a moment of dramatic change.

Mike Chinoy jpg Jan. 2012 copy

The lead reporter is Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the Institute and former CNN Beijing bureau chief and senior Asia correspondent. Former U.S. ambassador to China Winston Lord described the series as an “essential and invaluable” resource for understanding the role the U.S. media has played in shaping American and international perceptions of the country.

Follow Mike Chinoy on Twitter.


Sustainable Urban Farming Facing Winter

By Xiaoran Liu for Northattan

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church has turned unused land into an urban farm on which church members and volunteers have nurtured carrots, snap peas, beets, arugula, tomatoes and lettuce.

The vegetables, however, aren’t planted in the actual soil, which is polluted. They grow in raised beds of dirt transported from outside Manhattan.

“The lead in the actual soil is dangerous, three times the regular level,” said Billy Adams, the senior gardener of the urban farm. “There was a garden before. People were growing things, but they didn’t know the soil was contaminated.”

Neighbors say a print factory used to be on the site. According to a 2010 soil test, the garden had high levels of arsenic and cadmium, for example.  Chromium and mercury were more than double the recommended maximum level of contamination and lead was more than three times higher, according to the test.   These chemicals in high doses can damage the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys and reproductive and nervous systems, and are particularly toxic for children.

Now, church members and volunteers are “remediating” the soil by using special microbial products that break down the pollutants.

“Two or three or four years? It takes a long time for the soil to be de-toxified,” Adams said.  “We will have another soil test to see the improvement.”

The concern with contamination extends beyond the dirt.  “We have used organic fertilizer, no chemicals,” said Claire West, the coordinator of St. Mary’s garden. “That tends to be things like egg shells and bones, not necessarily plant-like, but from live things.”

But for the urban farm, there is another enemy that does come from nature: squirrels.  Workers at the farm speak of the critters with both love and hate. The squirrels are swift, cute and greedy.

Adams pointed at one trapped inside a wire cage built around the plants on a soil bed and said,  “See it there? They are everywhere.”

All the soil beds had similar one-meter-high cages that were designed to keep the squirrels out.

“Oh my god, they’ve eaten up this tomato,” Adams said, pointing. “I picked up some green ones yesterday and put them in bag to ripen. I forgot this one.”

The vegetables harvested in the urban farm go directly to St. Mary’s food pantry. Janet Dorman is in charge of the food pantry. She said the pantry started 30 years ago and most fresh food is from an upstate farm called Geblocki Farm.

“This year has been wonderful, because the garden has started to produce,” said Dorman. “We don’t get tomatoes from the farm upstate because it’s hard to transport. If they are vey ripe, they just get smashy.  And if they are green, they are just not tasty. So we get them fresh in the garden.”

The urban farm has four senior gardeners, who harvest the vegetables every Monday afternoon and bring them downstairs to the food pantry. Gardener Adams is also a client of the food pantry. “I love the tomatoes here,” he said  “In the supermarket, they are almost 3 dollars a pound.  I get them and there are soft spots and you can’t take them back.”

Dorman said people coming to the food pantry know that some of the food is from the church’s farm and they love the idea as “it gives them a close connection to the food.”

“Grown locally–that’s the trend for food pantries and soup kitchens now,” said Adams.

The urban farm started this past spring. As winter comes, it is facing a new problem.

“The grant we got is a one year grant,” said West. “So we can’t necessarily re-apply. It would be very unusual that they would fund us the second year.”  The funding is from United Way Seed Grant, a program that supports sustainable urban farms.

As winter comes, West plans to use ground cover to keep things growing. “We might have leftover money to purchase these supplies,” West said. “But for funding the neighbors to do that, we don’t have money. The grant is very specific on how much to spend on what things.” Senior gardeners cannot get stipends from the fund anymore.

“For next spring, some people are talking to local banks and businesses about this project,” said West, as the group looks for support. “What about next month? I guess we have to rely on our volunteers.”

Manhattan Valley in Danger of Being Split Into Three

By Tenzin Shakya for Northattan

New proposed lines split Manhattan Valley among three districts – 7, 8 and 9 – and many residents are unhappy, saying it divides their longstanding community and threatens minority representation.

“Our little piece of Manhattan, Manhattan Valley, succeeded in curtailing high-rise development,” Blanca Vasquez, a resident of Manhattan Valley for more than 30 years, said. “And now we get lines that destroy us.”

Despite the grievances, the commission will submit the proposed map to the City Council for final voting.

“There was a challenge trying to keep Manhattan Valley together into one,” said Carl Hum, the executive director of the districting commission, at the last public meeting on Nov. 15. “While we tried to put it into two districts, it really became difficult. Unfortunately, the way that the geography works, and the population concentration, won’t allow us to have Manhattan Valley in a single district.”

Representatives of other affected communities argued that the process of redistricting is actually fracturing communities and causing vote dilution, the division of racial or ethnic minorities, which reduces their chances of influencing legislation at large.

“Redistricting, and the district lines that come out of redistricting is what sets a stage for our local democracy,” James Hong, from the Asian American Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, said. “Whether democracy works for communities that are local, especially ethnic communities, and whether the democratic system works for them and can represent them, is determined by district lines.”

At a public hearing last month, some community representatives raised concerns over Manhattan Valley’s being split up into three districts. Locals reminded officials of the past challenges they’ve faced in an attempt to keep the community together.

“Manhattan Valley has struggled for many years as a primarily minority immigrant neighborhood from the time that my grandmother came in 1911 from Ireland,” Gloria Kerstein, president of the Duke Ellington Boulevard Neighborhood Association in Manhattan Valley, said. “To break the spine of Manhattan Valley does not address the struggle that we had to bring our neighborhood out of crack, make it a safe and good neighborhood.”

Some critics proposed an alternative map, the Unity Map, which they said, “reflects New York City’s changing demographics and protects the voting rights of Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans.”

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, representing District 8, advocated for the Unity Map. She said, “I urge the Commission to use the Unity Map as a basis for reconfiguring Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, as a way of preserving communities of interest, and minimizing the splitting up of our city’s neighborhoods.”

East Harlem resident Elsie Encarnacion said, “Looking at the map I see broken-up community after broken-up community with High Bridge being cut into three council districts, East Harlem divided by two, Manhattan Valley split into three and no one kept whole.” She said, “As commission members, you all have a responsibility to provide voters with fair and effective representation.”

The commission did adopt some of the proposed district lines from the Unity Map in what they said was an attempt to keep communities together. Inwood, for example, is now in a single district.

Dickens Plan Is a Partial Success for District 9

By Xiaoran Liu and Stuart Sia for Northattan

District 9 could be in for a drastic change. New proposed maps result in the district’s losing Morningside Heights and gaining parts of Manhattan Valley and Manhattanville. For Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who currently represents District 9 and who proposed the Upper Manhattan Empowerment District Plan (the UMED Plan), this is a half-success.

“We know that districting will affect the future of our communities for the next decade,” Dickens said at the second public hearing on Oct. 4. She called the UMED plan “simple, balanced and fair,” because it excluded Morningside Heights from District 9 and included parts of Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights, in contrast to the preliminary map.

“I agree Amsterdam Avenue above 125th Street to be the important boundary between District 7 and 9, as it sort of separates neighborhoods,” Mary Goldstein, who has lived between Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue for about 30 years, said. “I preferred to be with the district of Central Harlem, rather than the west side of Amsterdam, as I feel close.”The revised plan adopted part of the UMED plan. One example is Amsterdam Avenue between 130th and 141th streets, which would become the boundary of District 7 and 9.

Both the revised plan and the UMED plan include the area where Goldstein lives in District 9 with Central Harlem, which is a change from the current district map.

“The UMED plan is to preserve the historical Central Harlem, the traditional district of African-Americans,” said Lermond Mayes, the chief staff of District 9 legislative office, who worked with Dickens on the UMED plan. “Our goal is to keep those lines as they were.”

Carl Hum, executive director of the commission, said at the second round of public hearings that the UMED plan “would, essentially, extend the western boundaries of District 9 to Amsterdam Avenue. Of course, this creates a larger district with regard to District 9, but all in the name of trying to create a coalition district of multiple ethnic groups within District 7.”

With demographics of the city ever evolving, the redrawing of lines to reflect population changes can intentionally or unintentionally bring up the uncomfortable discussion of racial and ethnic demarcation.

“It’s about ethnic groups, about the representations,” Mayes said. “Under UMED plan, District 7 accommodates Dominican voters; District 8 accommodates Puerto Rican voters and we accommodate African Americans.”

Now, under the revised plan, black voters will have the ability to elect candidates of their choice in District 9, according to a press release by the New York City Districting Commission.

The chairman of the districting commission, Benito Romano, said they heard residents’ concerns and believed the revised plan reflected much of what was shared with the commission.

For the UMED plan, another big success is that the ceding of Morningside Heights to District 7. Mayes said he has heard from residents by phone and email that “they want to be in District 7. It’s all about who represents them.”

Some residents in Morningside Heights said they want a united area. Kevin Abrams, who lives near Columbia University, said: “We are now split into three districts – 7, 8 and 9. By the preliminary draft map, we are still split in two districts.” He said he has been watching the redistricting process since August. “We want to have one representative for this area after all these years’ separation.”

Abrams said he was so happy that the revised plan finally heard residents’ voices and gave them a united Morningside Heights in District 7.

The ceding of Morningside Heights to District 7 simultaneously makes District 9 more black and District 7 more white. According to 2010 Census data, Morningside had  6,200 blacks and 36,000 whites.

Subway Employee is Victim of Armed Robberies Plaguing Brooklyn Businesses

By Reena Diamante for NY City Lens

The Subway restaurant on 216 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is among several businesses a recurring robber has hit. The suspect is wanted in connected with 12 armed robberies, mostly in the northwest Brooklyn area.

Sazzi Islam, 24, is one Subway restaurant employee in Brooklyn who seems to take the wrong shifts at the wrong time. Within the two and a half years he has been working at one outpost in the Cobble Hill neighborhood, he has been the victim of three armed robberies, two of which took place in the same week, just before and after Hurricane Sandy hit New York City.

On the Sunday before the hurricane, Islam said he was standing behind the sandwich counter with a fellow employee, when the suspect walked into the restaurant at about 3 p.m. Islam said he was wearing a black leather jacket and jeans.

“He said, ‘Can you do me a little favor and stand over there?’” Islam said. “He took out the gun and pointed the gun. We let him take all the money.”

On the following Friday at 8 p.m., Islam said the same suspect returned, but this time, wore a New York Yankees fitted cap while he robbed the restaurant. This time, he didn’t have to say anything. On both occasions, there were no customers in the restaurant, he said.

Police said the suspect is a black male, approximately 40 to 50 years old, between 5-feet-10 to 6-feet tall and weighs about 180 pounds with black hair and browns eyes.
Though the New York Police Department reported that one week after Hurricane Sandy overall crime went down 31 percent from the same week the year before, the Subway restaurant on 216 Atlantic Avenue is not the only place the suspect has hit.

The man is wanted in connection with 12 robberies between October 17 and November 5, police said. All but one robbery in the Upper East Side took place at businesses in northwest Brooklyn. There were no reported injuries at all of them, and the suspect has yet to be apprehended.

Among the other places was an ice cream parlor called the Blue Marble Ice Cream Restaurant around the corner from the Subway on Court Street and a frozen yogurt parlor called Tasti-D-Lite Restaurant on 7 Avenue, police said. The suspect also robbed Tasti-D-Lite twice and other sandwich shops in the area, which might have some employees of these businesses feeling worried.

“I don’t feel that comfortable now here,” Islam said.

The Subway restaurant is part of the 84th police precinct, and according to its crime statistics there were 145 robberies in 2011. By November 4, the reported number has already increased to 152. Still, it remains a fraction of total citywide robberies.

The employees at Blue Marble Ice Cream Restaurant declined to comment on its recent incident. Tucked between a sandwich shop and a toy store, the ice cream parlor is among many small and cozy stores in the area. But, Zoey Sachs, the store manager of Cobblestone Foods across the street, said most shops visibly have multiple employees in them. In Cobblestone Foods, Sachs was with other employees who ran the register and cooked food in the kitchen.

“There’s not a lot of stores with one person in it. That might be the only place. He’s young, he’s by himself,” she said, referring to the ice cream parlor employee who was present at the time of the robbery. “It’s a small store.”

Despite the crime numbers, several families and young people walk down Court Street and other streets around the Cobble Hill neighborhood. A string of robberies almost seems surprising.

“I think that’s what makes it a good area to go [rob],” Sach said. “Everyone doesn’t expect it.”

After three robberies at gunpoint by two different men, uncertainty and heightened fear, Islam said he is considering leaving the Subway in Cobble Hill if he finds another job.

“I might quit the job after one month or two months,” he said. “Because, here it always happened, the robberies. It’s dangerous.”

With Everything in Ruins, A Family in Staten Island Clings to Hope

By Reena Diamante for NY City Lens

On Topping Street in the New Dorp neighborhood of Staten Island an uprooted tree crushes a small home, units away from Joseph Ingenito’s house during Hurricane Sandy. (Evan Burgos/NY City Lens)

For most families in New York, the living room is the heart of a home. For the Ingenitos, who have lived in their house on Topping Street, a few hundred feet from New Dorp beach on the east side of Staten Island, it certainly was. But, the Ingenitos’ living room has lost its cozy feeling. The room, along with the rest of the first floor of the house they have lived in for the past 20 years, now feels cold and hallow.

The leather couches and reclining chair that used to be here are gone.  Sand and seawater ruined the once shiny hardwood floors and the 52-inch television set that graced the living room is no longer functional. A stack of old family portraits, some broken, lay piled on a wooden chair, a bundle of soaked clothes sit in the linen closet. Not much is left.

“Everything’s ruined,” said Joseph Ingenito, who lives here with his wife, two sons in their young twenties, and his 16-year old daughter. “The water flooded my house. I had like 12 to 13 feet from the basement to the top floor.”

The Ingenitos’ residence is one of the many flood-ravaged homes in the New Dorp neighborhood of Staten Island. Down the block, a huge, uprooted tree crushed a small home and on the corner, another house looks like it imploded, leaving only shattered remains. Across the street, the smell from the insulation piled on the curb makes it hard to breathe.

All around the neighborhood, debris and damaged belongings fill the streets, which now look like dirt roads. Trucks and bulldozers worked to remove it all on Sunday. And sanitation workers have already taken away most of the ruined items of the Ingenito’s home.

From the outside, the family’s home does not seem nearly as damaged as some of the other homes on the rest of the block. It is tucked behind a tall white fence that remains intact. An American and Italian flag still wave on the post.

The real damage is what cannot be seen from the street. Walking through the first floor, only sports pennants, photographs and concert posters remain in the boys’ bedrooms.

“My sons lost everything,” said Ingenito. “Their beds are gone, all their clothes.” He added that everything they were wearing on Sunday were clothes given to them from others. “Thank God my daughter and my wife’s rooms are on the second floor,” he said. “The upstairs, [it’s] the only thing we got left.”

Although the family was told to evacuate, Ingenito said he and one of his sons stayed. After living near the Staten Island coast for more than two decades, he said his family had experienced storms before, such as Hurricane Irene last August, but the effects of Hurricane Sandy shocked them.

“We didn’t think it was going to be anything like this,” he said. “Last time we got hit, it went up. [But] I only had basement water.”

Ingenito and his son abandoned their home when they quickly realized how fast the water was rising. He held up his hand just under his waist to show how high the water got.

“I walked out here, checked, looked down the block to see if there was water. There was no water,” he said. “Five minutes later I came back out and the water was at my gate coming up the front steps. That’s how quick it hit us.”

Ingenito said he and his son practically swam to escape in their truck, but they still managed to drive inland to stay in his sister’s house.

He pointed to a neighbor’s yellow house across the street. Blended dirt and water revealed a faint line on the perimeter of the home.

“You see the water mark on the house? It was over this fence. That’s six feet, right here,” Ingenito said. “We would have been submerged right now.”

Ingenito’s wife, Debra, wears a mask to cover her mouth and nose, because she has an autoimmune disease. She said she knows really should not be around New Dorp, but she said she grew up just five blocks away on Neptune Street.

“Never did we ever get water down there and they got water,” she said. “I’ve never ever seen anything like this, ever in my life. It’s crazy.”

The Ingenitos consider their neighbors, family. She said people in their community even called her husband, “Papa Joe.”

“Just seeing the devastation when I went in the house, I mean I didn’t even cry.  I was just like dazed,” Debra Ingenito said. “Then, as I went to see my other neighbors’ places, I broke down.”

Her husband said food and clothes donations have helped the family cope with the disaster. Along a nearby Cedar Grove Avenue, members from around the community have volunteered their time providing supplies to their neighbors. The American Red Cross, other volunteer organizations and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were stationed at New Dorp High School, a few blocks away.

“Everybody sticks together. Everybody was helping each other. Still are,” he said. “People from out of town are coming to help. I had people I didn’t’ even know asked me yesterday to help me bring out furniture. It was an Irish gentleman from Queens. It was beautiful they came out of nowhere. They were like sent from God.”

The basement is still flooded and inaccessible, said Ingenito, and the family’s morale is still low. They hope insurance will cover the damage.  But even with the devestation, he insists they will not leave New Dorp.

“We got hit very hard,” he said. “But I’m not moving. I am rebuilding and I’m staying. We’ll buy a rowboat and leave it in the yard. That’s the truth.”

A week after the storm, the Ingenitos feel grateful that they are still alive and safe.

“You know what the main and important thing is that my family is safe and my pets are safe and you know what you see is just material,” Debra Ingenito said. “You could just fix up. Do what you got to do and move on with your life. You can’t get yourself upset over you know material things, because your life is more important.”

But, even Hurricane Sandy could not dampen one family tradition: hanging a special Thanksgiving pennant, a photograph of one of the family’s Boxer dogs, in front of the house. Her husband hung up the flag Sunday morning.

“I still hung up my Thanksgiving flag,” said Ingenito. “No matter what, because we’ve had Thanksgiving every year at my home but this year.”