2014 Dinah Eng Leadership Fellows Reflect on ELP

The Dinah Eng Leadership Fellowship advances opportunities for mid-career AAJA members pursuing the strategies and skills needed to enter news management and advance within its ranks. Since the fellowship’s inaugural year in 2012, 14 AAJA members have received the fellowship in recognition of their accomplishments and promise for future growth as managers and leaders in the news industry.

Read what the 2014 Dinah Eng Leadership Fellowship recipients had to say about their ELP experiences:


Marilyn Ajavananda

Marilyn Ajavananda, AAJA New York, Copy Editor at Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Flattered. I was sincerely flattered to be chosen for a Dinah Eng Fellowship to attend the AAJA Executive Leadership program, and I’m grateful.

The timing was perfect. I was feeling as though my body of work spanning more than twenty years, both in the newsroom and as a community volunteer, needed to find a clearer voice in a rapidly changing newsroom and community. Opportunities at work were opening up, some of which I was asked to be a part, and some very involved projects with a non-profit I have been involved with for the last 10 years, the Asian Pacific Islander American Association of Rochester, New York, took place earlier in the year and I wanted to keep the momentum going.

I was searching for a better sense of what I needed to develop personally and professionally. The Executive Leadership Program delivered exactly what I hoped for in four days. It was guided by a group of talented trainers who not only shared their own relatable stories from their accomplished career paths, but pulled us in to openly share and work through challenges we were facing or would be facing as we pursued our own career choices. The opportunity to meet and ask questions from visiting executive editors and television producers from publications and shows I watch or read every day was a rare opportunity.

And, certainly, meeting outstanding ELP colleagues working in a wide variety of journalism industries in different phases of their careers created an incredible, collaborative hub each and every day. To be honest, I didn’t expect the communication to seem so effortless and supportive immediately, but it was.

On a more personal note, the seminar was hosted at Gannett/USA Today headquarters in McLean, Virginia. As a longtime Gannett employee, it was a real pleasure to see the headquarters up close and meet the President and Chief Executive Officer, Gracia C. Martore, in person and speak to other top executives and employees.


Hannah Bae, AAJA New York, Social Media Coordinator at Newsday

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

By now, that Sheryl Sandberg quote has become a mantra for too many professionals to count, men and women alike. But as well known as this quote is, too few people actually have the luxury of putting it into practice.

ELP, though, gave me a full three and a half days to really pick apart the answers to this question. With the help of our inspiring coaches and peers, we dug deep to get to the root of our goals and the obstacles that we perceive in getting there. For me, I went in with an open mind, not really sure of what to expect. I figured I’d get the most out of ELP by putting the most into it. That meant leaving any and all judgements at the door, speaking up in our sessions, and not being afraid of sharing the insecurities that plague my mind.

I can honestly say I walked out of that room on the last day of ELP feeling changed. I’d observed my peers make major breakthroughs, learned critical aspects of my leadership style and came away with a clear idea of my next steps. More than anything, I felt like I had the courage to finally address some of my professional concerns, sparking conversations that put me more at ease at work.

And then there were the people: I now have more than a dozen new advocates in my life, people who will cheer me on, hear me out as I make decisions and push me to turn all this talk into action. ELP is an investment, both for the participants and for AAJA as an organization. No buts about it, it is expensive. It is time-consuming. But it is also open to anyone who is ready and willing to take a hard look at themselves, their careers and where they want to go.
It truly is worth it.


Sachi FujimoriSachi Fujimori, AAJA New York, Health and Science Writer at Skin Cancer Foundation

Be authentic. Listen to your inner voice. Let your unique personality shine through.

These may sound like touchy-feely self-help phrases, but in the context of the 2014 AAJA Executive Leadership Program, they became my most important takeaways. During the program we engaged with various speakers who had risen to the top of the media industry—a bureau chief, executive producer, publisher and executive editor—and these leaders, beyond their exceptional ambition and intelligence, possessed one common trait: authenticity; they knew themselves intimately and used this strong sense of self to find success.

Participating in ELP was like going on a deep scuba dive. For three and a half days, I dove deep, shutting out distractions from the daily grind and the outside world. In this safe space, I was able to examine my attitudes towards my workplace, my career goals and my relationships. I learned about communication styles. Fellow ELP participants taught me a great deal through their personal stories and role-playing. And by opening up and sharing, I learned more about myself, too.

In the end, we graduated, and ascended back to the surface, back to the busyness of our lives. But I felt like something changed. Like a reset button has been pressed. I see myself differently in the world now, with a more positive and proactive attitude. I look forward to moving ahead in my career and bringing my authentic self to the table. After all, this is the most important asset I have to offer.


Yuriko Nagano

Yuriko Nagano, AAJA Asia, Freelance Business Reporter

Traveling the farthest of the group from Tokyo, AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program in DC has been energizing. Through talks by experts and industry veterans, passed on to myself and 12 others were numerous leadership tips. I am still trying to absorb and process all that was relayed to me.

Some advice will be very useful in my role as special correspondent to Bloomberg BNA and contributing reporter to the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press. One topic covered was how to network better. As a reporter, I am always building my pool of contacts and I try my best to follow up with every new person I meet. Constructive input on why and how follow ups can be done were helpful. Tailored Thank You notes can be time consuming but I now understand better why it can be, oh so vital.

Knowledge shared by other ELP classmates, holding varied roles in their own organizations, turned out to be as insightful as the speakers. I learned about new social media tools that can be useful to us journalists. I look forward to further cultivating my relationship with fellow ELPers – as we call ourselves – and can’t wait to check in with them in a few weeks to follow up on the challenges we are working on.

As Asia chapter board member, I dedicate a good amount of time and effort to support our numerous AAJA events and programs. I have given, yet I have gained so much in return. I didn’t think AAJA could possibly give me more than it has already. The ELP experience proved me wrong.
I feel inspired.


archith_seshadriArchith Seshadri, AAJA Atlanta, Digital Journalist/Reporter at Fox TV

As a career switcher, I started in business consulting and transitioned into journalism. I had always heard about AAJA’s ELP program and as the only engineer in my leadership class, I took away some valuable lessons. I am very data driven and goal oriented. I like to take charge and lead discussions. I walked away with so many useful leadership tools that I can use in my classroom.

Just because you are quiet,  it doesn’t make you a bad leader. As a leader, you have to know how to lead different people and different personalities. You have to have certain qualities like empathy, vision and communication to guide people. The interactive and hands-on discussions at ELP really helped me understand how others perceive me.

I also learned about goal setting and negotiations – something I had always worried about. Our class was small and just in the last month, I’ve followed up with some of the people in my class. We talked about goals to improve, what we need to focus on, how to have difficult conversations, how to accomplish things in our workplace and how to get our voices heard.

I am really grateful for my ELP experience and I hope it will allow me to grow and become a more effective leader!



Dinah Eng, a contributing writer for Fortune Magazine, is the founding director of AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program. She headed the establishment of ELP in 1995 when she was AAJA president. In her 15 years as the director, more than 400 AAJA members graduated from the program with surveys showing that 55 percent of graduates received at least one promotion at their company or at a new company after completing ELP.


About ELP

The Executive Leadership Program (ELP) Introductory Session is for any AAJA member who is interested in moving ahead in the workplace and developing the necessary skills to achieve goals small and large. ELP has designed a program that is challenging, practical and life changing, and is recommended for anyone with four or more years of experience in a media organization. The program explores the responsibilities and challenges of the media workplace and examines how cultural values come into play in newsroom dynamics. Led by professional career coaches and executives, participants will explore a variety of topics in a small, nurturing environment, including  setting goals, defining success, negotiating promotion and raises, dealing with pressure and politics and conquering excuses.

The ELP Intro Session Class of 2014 at Gannett (from left to right: Roxana Saberi, Faith Robinson, Marilyn Ajavananda, Lister Lim, Hannah Bae, Rajath Vikram, Shawn Chitnis, Archith Seshadri, Kathy Lu, Sachi Fujimori, Yuriko Nagano, Levanya Ramanathan, and Carolyn Sun)

The ELP Intro Session Class of 2014 at Gannett (from left to right: Roxana Saberi, Faith Robinson, Marilyn Ajavananda, Lister Lim, Hannah Bae, Rajath Vikram, Shawn Chitnis, Archith Seshadri, Kathy Lu, Sachi Fujimori, Yuriko Nagano, Levanya Ramanathan, and Carolyn Sun)

Questions? Contact Justin Seiter at justin@aaja.org.