Les Suzukamo is an award-winning business reporter covering technology, energy and local media. He was a founding member of AAJA’s Minnesota chapter and was co-chairman of the Twin Cities AAJA National Convention in 1996.
What’s your life motto?
One of my favorite sayings comes from Marie Curie: Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood.
What advice would you give for up-and-coming journalists?
My advice to up-and-coming journalists is simple: There is life and there is journalism. Understand the difference. Honor both.
You were one of the founding members of AAJA-Minnesota. What was it like to establish the chapter?
I was one of the original five founding members. The number sticks in my memory because it was the minimum needed to establish a chapter, and we were so happy we had that many Asians in the Twin Cities journalism community. But we were green, too. We did two things at our first [national] board meeting that still stick in my memory: First, after we were inducted, we all left the meeting; we didn’t realize we were welcome to stay. Second, when the [national] board later was debating where to hold its next convention in a couple years, we volunteered our chapter to do it. With five members. Like I said, we were green.
Why did you decide to become a journalist?
I wanted to be a newspaper reporter early in high school. I learned newspaper style by reading the L.A. Times, I liked to write and it looked like fun as well as important work. Then Watergate erupted. If there was ever a time to be in newspapers, that was it. At least, it mollified my parents, especially my normally apolitical mother, who was glued to the Watergate hearings.
Why is media diversity important to you?
The shrinking newsroom is a serious challenge to diversity, but the explosion of online news outlets offers opportunities that weren’t available decades ago. I think newspapers are paying closer attention to the shifting demographics of their readerships. The message we need to bring to our newsrooms is a simple one: the key to relevancy isn’t to predict the future. The key is to make the future. Because if we don’t make our own futures, someone else will, and there’s no guarantee those someones will include us in that future.
What do you love most about being Asian American?
As an Asian far from the coasts, I have often felt conspicuous here in Minnesota. You can’t hide, but that was a good thing for a shy person like me. It forced me to grow and establish myself and to help define the idea of what is “Asian.” The outsider status that Asians have long held on the mainland actually helped prepare me for journalism, where we journalists are usually outsiders looking in.
Tell us something we may not know about you.
Except for holidays, I’m the primary cook in my household now that we are empty-nesters. The family says I grill a great steak, and lately, I’ve learned to make a mean martini, according to my wife.
Learn more about other AAJA members profiled for AAPI Month.