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The dean of Asian-American journalists to speak Oct. 23

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
(217) 333-2177; a-lynn@illinois.edu

10/5/2000

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Kyung Won (K.W.) Lee, a columnist for the Korea Times who has been called the dean of Asian-American journalists, will return to his alma mater, the University of Illinois, to talk about his personal odyssey in the United States and in journalism.

Lee's talk, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 2 p.m. Oct. 23 in 223 Gregory Hall, 810 S. Wright St., Urbana. The topic for the talk, part of the College of Communication's "Distinguished Speaker Series," is "An FOB's Pilgrimage: From Jim Crow to the Tower of Babel." (Lee refers to himself as an FOB - someone "fresh off the boat.")

Lee was born in Kaesong, Korea, and came to America in 1950 to study journalism, first at West Virginia University, where he earned a bachelor's degree, then at the UI, where in 1955 he earned a master's degree in journalism.

One of the first Asian immigrants to work for mainstream dailies in the continental United States, Lee said his goal as a journalist is to attain a "worm's-eye view, to explore the unseen, unheard and under-represented in the other seething, subterranean America."

Lee joined the Korea Times in Seoul in 1995, and the same year began serving as a special projects adviser at KCRA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Sacramento, Calif. He also free-lances and lectures on investigative reporting. Before joining the Korea Times, Lee was an investigative reporter for the Sacramento Union from 1970 to 1990. In 1990, at a time of rising African-American and Korean-American tensions in Los Angeles and other cities, Lee launched and edited the Korea Times English Edition based in Los Angeles, along with an internship program for Asian Americans and other minorities.

The founding president of the Korean American Journalists Association, Lee has covered issues such as civil-rights struggles in the American South in the early 1960s and the plight of Appalachian coal miners. He is best known for his 1974 investigative series on a San Francisco Chinatown gangland murder. His reporting for the series resulted in the acquittal and release of Chol Soo Lee, a young Korean-American immigrant sentenced to death for the murder. The film "True Believer" was based on the story.

In 1979, Lee founded the first national English-language Korean American newspaper, Koreatown Weekly, chronicling the early years of the post-World War II Korean immigration. Lee has taught investigative reporting at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at Davis, the Intercultural Institute of California in San Francisco, and California State University at Sacramento.

He has received more than two dozen awards for reporting. In 1997, the Freedom Forum inducted Lee into The Newseum's Journalism History Gallery. He is featured in a book titled "Crusaders, Scoundrels, Journalists: The Newseum's Most Intriguing Newspeople," published earlier this year. Lee also received the first Philip Jaisohn Memorial Journalism Award from the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Center in 1996, and the Lifetime Achievements Award at the first convention of the Asian American Journalists Association in 1987.

Previous speakers in the College of Communication's speaker series include film critic Roger Ebert, former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon and television host Oprah Winfrey.