Randy Hagihara, a long-time Los Angeles Times editor known for mentoring young journalists, died on Jan. 7 at his home in Huntington Beach. He was 72.
Hagihara’s death followed a battle with esophageal cancer, The Times reported, quoting Sean Kawata, his stepson. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, then declined further treatment.
A graduate of Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, Hagihara served four years in the Air Force, with postings in Denver and Guam, then attended Los Angeles Trade-Technical College and CSU University Northridge. In 1979, he joined the staff of Koreatown Weekly, the first English-language newspaper for Korean Americans.
Before joining The Times in 1990, Hagihara worked at small newspapers — The Valley Pictorial & News in Hemet, The Delano Record, and The Glendale News-Press — often as both reporter and photographer. He also served as an editor at The Peninsula Times Tribune in Palo Alto, The Oakland Tribune and The San Jose Mercury News.
His tenure at The Times, which lasted more than 21 years, included stints as deputy city editor, city editor and night city editor in the Orange County bureau. He later became senior editor for recruitment and ran Metpro, the newspaper’s minority recruitment program, now known as the Los Angeles Times Fellowship program. He retired in 2011.
“Randy communicated toughness as an editor. And he was, in fact, damn tough,” said Martin Baron, who was editor of the Orange County edition in the 1990s.
Baron added, “He pressed for hard work, aggressive reporting, unequivocal truth-telling, clear writing and the most rigorous standards. He was allergic to nonsense. And yet there was a genuine softness inside. He was abundantly empathetic and generous in spirit, and forever willing to give professional guidance to reporters who were early in their careers.
“All of that came with a sharp sense of humor. In directing news coverage, he possessed the mien and effectiveness of a commandant. He was also responsible for recruiting some of our finest, most diverse talent.”
Friend and fellow Times editor Craig Matsuda recalled, “He really looked at every packet that came into the building. It didn’t matter to him if you’d gone to community college or a technical school — Randy was going to look at your stuff. He was delighted to find people who did not go to Northwestern or Missouri or Columbia.”
Hagihara volunteered for Friends of the Huntington Beach Public Library and edited the group’s newsletter. He also wrote haiku and constructed word-collages that he posted on social media.
In 2021, he lost his wife of more than 40 years, Janet, and a stepson, Ian Kawata. He is survived by a stepson and a granddaughter.
The Los Angeles chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) said in a statement, “We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Randy Hagihara, a longtime member of Asian American Journalists Association who championed its causes, as well as countless young journalists, during a remarkable, decades-long career.
“A tenacious reporter and a no-nonsense editor, Randy worked at Koreatown Weekly before moving on to other newspapers across California and eventually joining The Los Angeles Times. At The Times, he stewarded the organization’s internship and Metpro programs for years, recruiting, hiring, mentoring and guiding hundreds of reporters, many of whom were journalists of color.
“Today, news organizations across the world are filled with talented journalists in whom Randy saw potential and gave their start.
“Randy was a revered member of his newsroom, our AAJA family and the journalism community writ large. He had endless time, wisdom and warmth for all of the people he uplifted. His legacy and spirit live on through them and their work.”
Julie Ha, director/producer of the acclaimed documentary “Free Chol Soo Lee” and an award-winning journalist who has written for The Times, The Rafu Shimpo and The Hartford Courant in Connecticut, posted, “The world lost another great journalist and human: Randy Hagihara … Many know him for the decades he worked for The L.A. Times as an editor and recruiter, but he spent his earlier years practicing what K.W. Lee called ‘I-5 journalism.’ He joined Kyung Won Lee, Steven Chanecka, and Sophia Kim in publishing the Koreatown newspaper, which was born in 1979 and notably inspired by Chol Soo Lee.
“Randy did it all — reported and wrote stories, took photographs (one of them is featured in ‘Free Chol Soo Lee’!), sold ads, and would make the long drive on Interstate 5 between L.A. and Sacramento to get the paper printed every week. Hence, K.W. dubbed this ‘I-5 journalism’ …
“I was lucky to have gotten to know Randy while a reporting trainee for Metpro at The L.A. Times. He helped run the program and served as a generous mentor to many. He knew when to push and when to encourage. He had a gruff exterior, but when I got to know him, I saw a different side.
“I went through some rough periods while at The Times, and he would sometimes treat me to lunch or talk through a difficult story with me. On the cusp of finishing Metpro and about to move to Connecticut for my next reporting job, he gave me one of those little pocket booklets with nuggets of wisdom. The title was something like ‘Remember to Remember Who You Are.’ I recall being taken aback by such a sentimental gift.
“When I got to my new job and met a young reporter who was similarly struggling, I gave this booklet to her, hoping to pass his generous spirit forward.
“Randy never called me by my name. I was always just ‘homes,’ and I imagine many others were as well. I used to love that. On my bedroom wall hangs my wedding portrait with guests’ scrawled messages. I searched the other day for Randy’s. He wrote, ‘To Homes and Sean.’ Such a classic Randy move …
“He was one of the coolest and greatest … Rest in peace, Randy. I’ll always be your homes.”
Sophia Kim, who interned at The Times, worked at The Bakersfield Californian, newspaper in Kern County, and served as assignment editor/reporter for the English Section of The Korea Times, recalled, “I worked with Randy when I was an aspiring journalist in the early 1980s, two years out of college. It was a bit unusual to see this young Japanese American guy work with a newly founded English-language tabloid for the Korean community called Koreatown Weekly. I soon understood why Randy worked there.
“K.W. Lee was his mentor and they had a special bond based on mutual respect. Randy was a jack-of-all trades at that newspaper. He did everything — from selling advertisements and billing to writing articles and regularly traveling five hours or more to Sacramento practically every week with K.W. to publish that newspaper. Randy was a hard worker.
“Despite his sometimes stoic and tough demeanor, he had a good sense of humor and a lot of integrity. Like K.W., he would also become a mentor to young Asian American journalists. Randy, as an editor at The L.A. Times Orange County, would also become my sister’s boss when she joined The L.A. Times Metpro program.
“Randy will be deeply missed.”
After journalism, Kim earned a teaching credential and worked as an LAUSD elementary school teacher for 20 years.
Doris Truong, director of teaching and diversity strategies, former editor at The Washington Post and former national president of AAJA, posted, “So sad to hear of the passing of dear Randy Hagihara. He was a long-time recruiter for the L.A. Times who — for reasons I can’t quite remember — started referring to us as BFFs starting in 2007.
“I’m so glad I had a chance to visit with him at his home last summer. He was plotting to add back weight lost to his cancer treatments so he could get back to wearing his former wardrobe even though I told him it was totally fine to leave the house in joggers.
“Rest in Power, my BFF.”
Remembrances from other journalists who were mentored by Hagihara:
Mark Medina: “I’m so saddened about this news. I’m forever grateful to you, Randy Hagihara, for granting me an opportunity and fostering my growth at the L.A. Times. Most importantly, I’m grateful for all the great work you did with making the L.A. Times a great newspaper and for improving the newsroom’s representation.”
Baxter Holmes: “Randy got me into the Los Angeles Times out of college and fought for me (and hundreds of other young journalists). He preached fundamentals. He listened. He made you believe you could do this. I can’t say enough about Randy. I don’t know where I’d be without him.”
Rubén Macareno: “Randy was a no-nonsense type of guy. I recall he called my home once to check on me because I didn’t show up to the office (due to miscommunication there was no word from me). As embarrassed as I was due to my misstep, I appreciated that this tough guy checked on me.
“He was straightforward, to the point and caring. Made my job easy with a clear standard to follow. Was a pleasure to work with him in Editorial Hiring & Development and honored to call him friend. RIP Randy.”
Nate Jackson: “This man meant so much to me — to so many. He gave me my first shot at joining L.A. Times over a decade ago and taught me how to persevere even after the door gets slammed in your face. How to walk through a newsroom with purpose and write every story like it’s your last. As a Metpro fellow at LAT I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.
“When I finally grew my wings in this game I was proud to call him a friend. RIP Randy Hagihara. You will be missed.”
Kim Moy: “I’m so sad to hear this news. I remember as a young newspaper reporter feeling both intimidated and encouraged by Randy at AAJA functions. I later heard him tell great stories about working with K.W. Lee at the Koreatown Weekly. Randy impacted so many journalists’ lives. He will be sorely missed.”