CQS 25th Anniversary Tribute: Diane S.W. Lee

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Diane S.W. Lee (Spring 2010) )
Digital Media Manager
Honolulu Magazine

Six years ago, I almost gave up on journalism.

I graduated from college during the height of the recession. I know, bad timing. I got rejected after interviewing for a handful of reporting jobs. The answer was always the same: “We hired someone else with more experience.” Despite my internship experiences in radio and newspaper media outlets, a recruiter told me I needed video experience to be considered for a full-time multimedia position.

I started to doubt myself. It didn’t help after discovering the news that one of my journalism mentors took a buyout. The Honolulu Advertiser, where I had my first newspaper internship, folded.

Was this a sign for me to get out? Friends and family tried to convince me to pursue other fields. I clung to my dream. I wanted to continue telling stories, to give a voice to the voiceless and inform the public.

A friend recommended I apply to the Chips Quinn Scholars program. They took a chance on me. Program Director Karen Catone reassured me, saying, “We’ll find a place for you, Diane.” And she did.

I packed my bags for multimedia training at the Freedom Forum in Nashville, Tenn. It seemed daunting to learn how to shoot and edit video in less than a week, but mentors Anne Bailey and Val Hoeppner made the lessons fun and easy. I teamed up with other Scholars to produce three video stories. After the boot camp, I felt like a pro in shooting and editing video.

I moved to Bend, Ore., to intern at The Bulletin’s city desk, where I wrote daily news stories. Val’s advice stuck in my head most of the time: “If you don’t use it (video skills), you’ll lose it.” I found a Canon XL2 camera that had been collecting dust in the office for more than a year. I proposed producing a video about an eagle-watching event on a Saturday to complement a print story. I got the OK and continued to volunteer on the weekends to produce videos to accompany news stories. I impressed Digital Editor Jan Even so much she extended my internship for three months to produce video packages for the website.

Since then, I’ve obtained a master’s degree in public affairs reporting, and I landed a full-time digital media position. Here’s a list of my proudest professional accomplishments to date:

• I got promoted from Web producer to digital media manager at Honolulu Magazine in 2015.

• I won first-place state journalism awards for my work in online news reporting, video and multimedia production.

• Two years in a row, I joined the White House press pool to photograph President Barack Obama’s arrival on Air Force One for his annual Hawaiian holiday vacation.

• “Hawaii Five-0” actor Daniel Dae Kim made one of my photos his Facebook cover (and it was still up as of this writing).

• My persistence landed me an exclusive interview with a gay state lawmaker who voted against legislation to legalize gay marriage in Hawaii. During the special legislative session on gay marriage in 2013, I told her side of the story through a Q&A feature that garnered more than 300 comments online, a record for the magazine.

• My multimedia news coverage during the gay marriage special session inspired me to work on an independent documentary project on Hawaii’s story. I am in post-production phase and plan to share my finished documentary at film festivals across the world.

Good thing I didn’t give up on journalism.

I will mark my three-year work anniversary in February 2016. I go to work every day with a big smile on my face. I am happy to work for people who appreciate my contributions and give me room to experiment with different forms of storytelling.

I am grateful the Chips Quinn Scholars program gave me the opportunity to learn from the pros at the start of my journalism career. Karen used to tell me, “Relax and trust that everything will work out just as it is supposed to.” And it has.

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