David Ibata is a member of AAJA’s Atlanta chapter and the co-founder and former President of AAJA-Chicago, which gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award and named a scholarship in his honor. He is currently a Dispatch Editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and formerly worked at the Chicago Tribune, where he was the paper’s first Internet rewrite editor and co-creator of its Continuous News Desk.
Why did you decide to be a journalist?
I was a voracious reader growing up and discovered my talent and enjoyment as a writer when given essay assignments in middle school.
What’s your life motto?
“God is not far from any one of us.” – Acts 17:27. This is a statement of personal faith; it also reminds me of the worth of every human being. We need to be responsible and compassionate in our dealings with other people, particularly as we journalists report on the human condition.
Looking back, what did you wish you knew before becoming a journalist?
I wish I had known newspaper journalism as we know it would blow up in the first decade of the 21st century. Had I known of the turmoil to come, I might have ordered my career a little differently. I may have chosen to continue to hone my craft as a writer rather than move into management in the mid-1990s. Not that I necessarily have regrets about the choices I made, and I am thankful about having been involved early on in Internet journalism, but as the new media saying goes, “Content is king.” The people who are gifted with creating content – stories, visuals and other media – have the brightest career prospects these days because their work is absolutely crucial to the business.
What advice would you give for up-and-coming journalists?
Become well-rounded and multi-talented. Take every opportunity while still in school to explore all facets of media – print, photography, video, social media and so forth. The journalist of the future will not be a single-dimensional craftsman with skills in only one area, like writing. And if you have interests beyond journalism – law, medicine, social services, education, music, what have you – indulge them. Take courses in them. Travel, to further your studies. Double-major, if you have the passion to do so. You never know where or how those additional skills may prove useful in your career.
What has been your involvement and/or contributions to AAJA?
I was co-founder of the Chicago chapter of AAJA; was the first president of the Chicago chapter and served on the national board for a number of years; chaired the scholarship committee one year; and was co-chair of the 1998 National Convention in Chicago. I was honored by the Chicago chapter by having a scholarship named after me.
Why is media diversity important to you?
The news media, like all professions, should reflect the community they serve. The United States is becoming increasingly diverse; by the mid-21st century, no single ethnic or racial group will dominate. We need people of all backgrounds in the newsroom to help each of us overcome our individual biases and prejudices and better report the news fairly and accurately.
What do you love most about being Asian American?
This might not be as true in parts of the country, like the West Coast, that have long had significant populations of Asian Americans, but in the rest of the United States I’ve learned to appreciate our ability to move among people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds and let them communicate honestly with us. Asian Americans can be impartial listeners and bridge-builders in our communities.
Please share any interesting facts/trivia about your past experiences and background?
I am third-generation Japanese American and was born and reared in Chicago. My wife, Patricia, and I have been married nearly 34 years, and we have three adult children. I worked more than 25 years for the Chicago Tribune and launched my career in an entirely new direction when I took a buyout from the Trib in 2007 and accepted an editor’s job at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Quite frankly, moving to the South had not been on my career radar, but I’m now thankful the opportunity came along. I’ve met many fascinating people here and learned things that have undone my preconceived notions and Northern prejudices. For example, I could never have imagined one of the country’s largest and most vibrant concentrations of Asian American people and businesses is right here in the heart of Dixie. Working in the home city of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also has helped me better appreciate the African American community’s struggle for civil rights, a movement that lifted all peoples of color. I also have had an opportunity to pursue a couple of longtime interests: the Civil War and the role of railroads in American history. I am now a volunteer newsletter editor for a regional railroad historical society and am active with the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, which as the name implies addresses two topics of personal interest.
What has been one of your most memorable assignments in your career?
My favorite period as a writer was the early 1990s, when I was reporting on suburban affairs and issues of growth, traffic congestion and the environment for the Chicago Tribune. I was given free rein to wander the metropolitan area exploring issues of deep concern to the community. I received many favorable responses from readers, and that was very gratifying. It also prepared me for my present work in Atlanta, which in many ways resembles Chicago a generation ago. This region faces many of the same challenges: stemming urban blight, handling suburban growth and balancing the economic well-being of the community with our responsibility for the environment.
Learn more about other AAJA members profiled for AAPI Month.