Lori Matsukawa (‘96) named 2015 UW Comm Distinguished Alum

Lori Matsukawa 2014No fear. It is those two words that alumna Lori Matsukawa (M.A., 1996) has lived by and the bottom-line advice she gives to students determined to find their way.

“Pursue your passion, pursue your dream, develop your talent,” she tells young people, who are growing up in a generation that Matsukawa envies for the everyday nature to be reporters with today’s technology. “The best thing to remember is to not pay attention to the competition – prepare yourself to become the best storyteller you can be. The sky is the limit.”

A Hawaii native, Matsukawa didn’t always know she wanted to be a journalist. Her first love was music and she set her sights on becoming a piano teacher, sort of following the footsteps of her public school-teaching parents. When searching for scholarships, her friend told her about a contest called Miss Teenage America – and better yet, there was no swimsuit competition. Judged on poise, personality, knowledge of current events, and a talent, Matsukawa took home the win at both the local and national pageants.

Lori Matsukawa poses as Miss Teenage America on a visit to Japan in 1974.

Lori Matsukawa poses as Miss Teenage America on a visit to Japan in 1974.

“For my senior year, half the time I was a normal high school student and the other half I was travelling around as Miss Teenage America,” she said. “It was a terrific opportunity to see the country and everywhere I went I was interviewed by journalists – radio, TV, and newspaper.”

Seeing reporters get paid to talk to people began to change her thinking, and when she started her undergraduate studies at Stanford University, she majored in American Studies and Communication to continue practicing the journalism side of her interests.

Matsukawa worked for the Stanford Daily, had her own morning radio show, and in the summer interned at the Honolulu Advertiser as a reporter to collect clips. While her initial thought was to go into print journalism, television reporting caught her eye and she chose a small TV station in Redding, California over a job offer from the Los Angeles Times in its business department after graduation.

“I figured TV was a young person job – I had to be physically strong to carry the video tape recorder, which was separate than the video camera and a heavy battery,” she said. “I thought I would do TV until I was old and wrinkled with no teeth, but I still haven’t switched to print yet because I still have my teeth!”

Matsukawa with Air Force Thunderbird pilots in 1999.

Matsukawa with Air Force Thunderbird pilots in 1999.

This June will mark 32 years that Matsukawa has worked for KING 5 television. Three highlights of her career include traveling to China with then Washington State Governor Gary Locke on his first trip back to his ancestral village, pulling nine Gs in an F-16 Air Force Thunderbird, and documenting the voyage of the Japanese Americans who were interned in incarceration camps and their march toward justice.

“My favorite part is getting out there and talking to people – isn’t it funny that it comes down to that first thought of getting paid to talk to people, and that’s the best part?” Matsukawa said. “Over the years I’ve interviewed politicians, young people, seniors, community leaders, criminals, attorneys – almost every kind of person on earth and it’s just been a wild ride. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

In addition to reporting, Matsukawa served several years as President of the Board of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, and on the Association Board of the YMCA of Greater Seattle. She is the founding member of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) Seattle Chapter and was chosen as an Asian-American Living Pioneer by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation in 1996. These positions are among many others, and have earned her numerous awards, including five ARBY Awards from the Academy of Religious Broadcasting and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the AAJA.

A few of the famous people Matsukawa has met throughout her career: TV host and comedian Jimmy Fallon (upper left, photo by Jerry and Lois Photography), Olympic champion speed skater Apolo Ohno in 2002 (upper right), Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (lower left), and journalist Katie Couric in 2012 (lower right).

A few of the famous people Matsukawa has met throughout her career: TV host and comedian Jimmy Fallon (upper left, photo by Jerry and Lois Photography), Olympic champion speed skater Apolo Ohno in 2002 (upper right), Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (lower left), and journalist Katie Couric in 2012 (lower right).

“These [volunteer positions] are really important because growing up people were so supportive of me and I can’t pay them back personally, so I can only pay it forward,” Matsukawa said. “For everyone who believed in me and supported me as a young student growing up in Hawaii and going to public schools, I want to pay it forward and say to young people that I support your education and to young journalists that I support your career. People in the community who want to tell their story – I want to help tell your story.”

And that is what she hopes to continue to do – preserve the community story for the next generation and involve them in the future of storytelling.

While it was tough to work full-time with a son in preschool and ask for her days off to be on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that she could attend class, Matsukawa made it her goal to earn a Master’s degree from the UW. She was inducted into the UW Department of Communication Alumni Hall of Fame in 2005 and was “blown away” when she got the notice of being named 2015 Distinguished Alumna.

“I looked at the previous alums and I am just honored to be in their company,” she said. “So many of them I know and have worked with, I’m just thrilled to be following in their footsteps.”

Matsukawa will deliver the keynote speech at graduation on June 11, 2015 to students graduating with a degree in Communication. Click here to view a complete list of UW Communication Distinguished Alumni >>