Chinese American Hero: Sam Chu Lin

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In Week 15 of our tribute to Chinese American Heroes we’re going to be looking at our news reporters. Our modern pioneer was Sam Chu Lin, who led the way for many Chinese Americans and Asian Americans to follow. Beginning with his own radio show in racially segregated Mississippi in 1956 he transitioned to national TV news by the 1960s on CBS News. For nearly forty years he worked in radio, TV, and in print journalism fighting to highlight Asian Americans by making them a part of the national news. He confronted issues such as racism directly by creating programs such as ABC’s 1999 Nightline episode, “Asian American-When Your Neighbor Looks Like the Enemy.”

Connie Chung led the way for many Asian American women with her pioneering work in broadcast news starting in the 1970s. Her work covering national political conventions and putting together investigative stories showed that Asian American women were fully capable of covering serious news stories. By the 1980s, many news programs across the country were being co-anchored by Asian American women. This was ascribed to the “Connie Chung effect.” She became the first Asian American woman and only the second woman after Barbara Walters to become the nightly news anchor of a national TV network in 1993.

Emerald Yeh has been a strong advocate for the San Francisco Bay Area community since the 1980s. After working as a TV news anchor in Hawaii, and then with CNN in Atlanta, she became a TV news reporter and then TV news anchor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her major strengths have been in investigative journalism, producing hard hitting documentary pieces highlighting social problems such as alcoholism and the children in families affected by it. She has also worked and contributed to many local charity organizations.

Going back in history we have Edith Maude Eaton, a pioneering woman journalist and writer of the 19th Century who was proud to admit to her half-Chinese heritage at a time when Chinese were the open targets of lynching and legalized discrimination. She made her own living and was independent, something that was rare for women in the 19th Century, let alone Chinese American women. She was the first writer of Asian descent published in English in America.

Special mention goes to Laura Ling, the younger sister of one of our previously featured heroes, Lisa Ling. Laura Ling is an investigative journalist who has worked with “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “National Geographic Explorer,” and CNN. In March 2009, she and Korean American TV editor, Euna Lee, were detained by North Korean authorities while visiting the border between North Korea and China. While it is still unclear what exactly happened they were convicted by a North Korean court of illegally entering North Korea and sentenced to 12 years hard labor in June. Efforts to release them have been complicated by the hostile standoff with the international community over North Korean nuclear weapons. Our best wishes and hopes for their release soon and a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

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sam-chu-linName in English: Sam Chu Lin
Name in Chinese:
Name in Pinyin: Zhao Di-en
Birth Year: 1939-2006
Birth Place: Greenville, Mississippi

Profession(s): Television and Radio Reporter, Journalist

Education: B.A., Journalism, Communications, Michigan State University

Award(s): National Headliner Award for the television documentary “Chu Lin in an Old American Name”; the Golden Mike Award; Community Achievement Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans; Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian American Journalists Association; 2005, Spirit of America Award, Chinese American Citizens Alliance. He also won numerous awards from the Associated Press, United Press International, the Los Angeles Press Club, and the Radio and Television News Association

Contribution(s): Sam Chu Lin led the way for Chinese Americans in broadcast journalism, being one of only three Asian Americans. More importantly he was one of the first journalists who forced his way into the consciousness of many Americans as a highly visible Chinese American appearing on both the national and international news. He first hosted a radio show in 1956 in his Mississippi hometown after convincing sponsors to support him. In the 1960s, he first reached a national audience working for CBS News in New York and began to appear on national radio and television broadcasts. Over his forty year career, he worked for all four major broadcast networks and was a frequent contributor to numerous Asian American magazines, as well as mainstream newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times.
Sam Chu Lin was the first CBS reporter to broadcast nationally the news about the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Lin also fought to produce documentaries about Asian Americans including a program on ABC titled “Asian American-When Your Neighbor Looks Like the Enemy.”
Sam Chu Lin believed that journalism should be educational, and that “informing and helping others is what makes journalism exciting.” He felt that journalism was a “chance to use your roots for a positive purpose.” US Secretary of Transportation and former Congressman Norman Mineta said, “Throughout his career, Sam stood strong against discrimination and helped break down negative stereotypes, all the while conducting himself with a great amount of integrity, credibility, and enthusiasm. Sam was proud of his Chinese American heritage. He wasn’t shy about using his roots to make the entire Asian American community, and indeed the world, a better place, and today thanks in part to Sam, doors and minds that were once shut to Asian Americans are now open and accepting.”

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