Be Brave, Be Creative an interview with lauren kawana

About Lauren Kawana

A headshot of Lauren Kawana. Source:

Lauren Kawana is a Japanese American freelance journalist originally from Hawaii. She moved to Berkeley, CA to earn her master's degree in journalism with an emphasis in documentary film. Today, she lives in the Berkeley area, where she works on many different video projects. Lauren is well-versed in everything from print to video. I had the chance to interview her about her start, her life as a freelancer, her views on Asian Americans in journalism and her future. Here is her story.

Lauren did her undergraduate studies in Hawaii. There, she had the opportunity to work on Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, a documentary concerning Representative Patsy Mink, the first Asian American congresswoman in US history.

"The story of Patsy Mink was particularly inspiring for me," Lauren said. "It was about a short, Japanese woman from Hawaii, who really changed American history. And I was like, 'Why don't people know about this?'"

While working on Ahead of the Majority, Lauren found her passion in documentary film, while working under producer Kimberlee Bassford. After speaking to Bassford, Lauren eventually decided she wanted to go headlong into documentary filmmaking.

"[Ahead of the Majority] was my first experience in documentary film," Lauren said. "[Producer and filmmaker] Kimberlee [Bassford] was an alum from the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and she told me about the journalism program. She encouraged me to apply, and that's how I ended up in the Bay Area." At Berkeley, Lauren earned her master's degree in journalism with an emphasis in documentary filmmaking.

After graduation, Lauren decided to stay in the Bay Area and try her hand in media. She settled in the the Oakland area, where she still lives today. Lauren wrote and shot video for Oakland North, a publication that covers local issues within the East Bay. At Oakland North, she covered everything from senior citizens to education issues in local Oakland schools. Her articles incorporated many types of media, from print to video.

Her true journalistic passion, however, lies in Asian American issues and women's issues, two causes that lie very near and dear to her heart.

"It's important to talk about culture, identity, how different people shaped the world we live in," she explained. "That's where my passions are when it comes to telling stories."

Lauren has taken that passion to the next level. In late 2015, she became treasurer of the San Francisco chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). The AAJA is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to support current Asian American journalists, provide resources such as scholarships for student Asian American journalists, and "encourage fair, sensitive, and accurate news coverage of Asian American issues." AAJA regularly brings guest speakers and conferences to the Bay Area for established and aspiring journalists.

"I believe in the mission of AAJA to ensure that communities of color and minority communities, particularly Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have a voice in media," she said. "I think that's the only way we're going to advance as a society -- if we increase the understanding across cultures and communities. We all need to encourage each other."

Clockwise from top left: Lauren Kawana editing a story (Source: Flickr/彩图). Lauren Kawana (third from left) poses at a conference in her native Hawaii (Source: Midweek). A shot of high school students Lauren did for a story from Oakland North (Source: Lauren Kawana). A shot of school board members for a story Lauren did at Oakland North (Source: Lauren Kawana). Lauren (fifth from left) poses with her AAJA colleagues (Source: Asian American Journalists Association).

Lauren has strived to take her philosophy of community understanding to her freelance work. She admits leaving the newsroom and working for herself was scary at first.

"It's not a stable thing. It took me a long time to get used to what a freelance schedule can be," she said. "But it's great. It allows me to be a part of multiple projects at once. I just have to be really smart about whether or not I think I can take on an additional project."

Lauren has taken on many projects as a freelance. Her latest project, Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, is a documentary she produced about Chamique Holdsclaw, a WNBA player who suffers from mental health issues. She worked on the project for a year and a half alongside filmmaker Rick Goldsmith, part of her long resume of both short- and long-term freelance gigs.

Part of the freelance journey is having to work on many different projects and constantly looking for work -- everything from part-time to full-time shooting projects. From TBS to independent filmmakers, from web series to feature documentaries, Lauren's schedule is never dull. At the time of our interview, she was working on three separate projects simultaneously. "You never quite know what your next few months are going to look like," Lauren said. "But that's part of the fun. It can be done."

Finally, Lauren opened up about what she's learned in her still young career in journalism.

"In the end, it's probably not the most lucrative career for yourself," she explained. "But I feel like everyone's goal in life should be to follow their passions and what they feel like their skills and talents are best for." Her passion is in telling stories, and she loves how how powerful film can be in portraying stories. "Film leaves a lasting impression," she said. "That's why I enjoy it."

She credits her tenacity in pursuing such a career despite the uncertainty in the field for her success. Lauren believes it takes a lot of determination and belief in oneself to make it in such an unstable and unpredictable job market. She ended our interview with valuable lessons she's learned from her career. "Don't give up on the stories you want to tell," she said. And of course, having a constantly-churning and curious mind is a great asset too.

"Be brave, don't always take no for an answer. And be creative," she said. "You'll find the right way for you."


Photo credits for rolling pages: Title: Lauren Kawana. Page 1: Lauren Kawana. Page 2: UC Berkeley. Page 3: Lauren Kawana. Page 4: Rich Niewiroski, Jr. Page 5: Lauren Kawana. Page 6: Lauren Kawana.

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