Yumi Wilson teaches news writing, opinion and literary journalism at San Francisco State University where she’s an associate professor of journalism. Formerly a reporter for The Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle, Wilson covered hundreds of major stories. They included the 1992 Los Angeles race riots after the acquittal of White police officers in the beating of Black motorist Rodney King and the controversial, voter-approved Proposition 209, which banned California’s public universities and agencies from considering race in admissions, contracting and employment. A Fulbright scholarship enabled Wilson to travel to Japan in 2001 and research military marriages, conduct interviews about interracial identities there and, with the help of translators, ask her relatives about her mother’s early life. Wilson holds an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of San Francisco.
DI: What are your observations about diversity in the news industry today?
YW: I’m really worried. Fewer people of color are choosing journalism careers. Entry-level jobs are scarce. The pay is often so low that it seems only people whose families can afford a financial hit can get into journalism. Internships are excellent to gain experience, but nowadays they seem to last much longer than a summer and, at some point, a paying job really should kick in. I would not have been able to get into journalism if these cutbacks had occurred when I was in college. It’s disappointing that young minorities studying journalism are choosing other careers or going to graduate school without working in the field because even if they work in journalism for only five years, they would still make an impact with their energy and ideas. We’re fast losing an important voice of conscience.
DI: You left the Chronicle for SFSU in 2004 but remain active as a journalism practitioner and often moderate panel discussions about the profession. Do you feel you even left the industry?
YW: I only left my identity as a five-day-a-week newspaper person. Semester after semester, the students insist they gain the most and learn how things really are in the news business if their teacher, meaning me, is still working in the field. I’m now a blogger for the Chronicle and write about people and places that interest me, and I produce shows for a local public radio station. I’m also editor of the San Francisco News Hub website where I post stories by many students, which gives them experience in publishing and gaining reader feedback.
DI: You went to Vietnam for a week last year and did multimedia stories for the Chronicle. Tell us more.
YW: I finally got to be a foreign correspondent. Two students were with me, and our mission was to tell stories of people there trying to overcome disabilities related to Agent Orange. This was for the Vietnam Reporting Project, which was developed in collaboration with Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and funded by the Ford Foundation. The VRP included multiple journalists producing stories and photos for U.S. news outlets.
DI: What do you advise working journalists to do if they’re interested in teaching at a college?
YW: Let faculty know you’re available as a guest speaker for classes so you can see how you like it and whether students respond to you. That’s how I got my start at SFSU. Then I became adjunct faculty. When a full-time position opened up, I applied. Every journalist has a story of value for students. The professional experiences of journalists are incredibly important for students to hear.
DI: As the daughter of a Black U.S. Army soldier and a woman from northern Japan, what have you written connected to your heritage?
YW: I wrote an essay exploring the shifting meaning of multiracial identity, which was published in a Loyola Marymount University literary journal a few years ago. And this year, I presented a paper about Black Amerasians at the Association for Asian American Studies conference. It’s reassuring to know it connects with people helping to spread knowledge.