Rafu Shimpo Senior Editor Gwen Muranaka (center) is presented with the Distinguished Journalist Award during an Oct. 25 banquet hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists Greater Los Angeles Chapter. From left are chapter president Alexi Chidbachian, past president Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, Muranaka, Chris Komai, and event emcee Frank Mottek.


“All I’ve ever wanted to do is to be a reporter.”

Gwen Muranaka, The Rafu Shimpo’s senior editor, made her motivation clear during the Society of Professional Journalists L.A. Chapter’s annual awards banquet on Oct. 25.

Gwen Muranaka, who has been with The Rafu since 2000, spoke about the important role journalism has played in keeping the Japanese American community informed and connected.

Muranaka was one of six veterans of Southern California news and two upcoming students to receive SPJ’s Distinguished Journalist Award during the ceremony at the Omni Hotel in Downtown L.A.

She was introduced by Chris Komai, former Rafu Shimpo English editor and grandson of pre-war publisher Toyosaku Komai. He noted that Muranaka had clearly demonstrated her journalistic abilities over the years and could have worked in the mainstream media, but she chose to serve the Japanese American community.

Komai quoted her as saying, “I believe with all my heart that independent journalism connects and ties a community together and makes it stronger.”

Chris Komai, former Rafu Shimpo English editor, introduced Muranaka.

“At The Rafu, we’re a small community newspaper, so we don’t get recognized very often, so for me to be able to accept this on behalf of the work we do really means a lot,” she told the more than 170 in attendance.

Muranaka added that through the pandemic and the anti-Asian sentiment that emerged as an outgrowth of that calamity, The Rafu Shimpo worked to provide a perspective of Asian Americans, one not always reflected in mainstream media. Such has been the mission of the paper for more than 120 years.

“That’s why having this recognition is so important to us,” she explained. “So much work, in different languages, but somehow, we get it done.”

The event was moderated by veteran business reporter Frank Mottek, host of “Mottek On Money” on KABC Radio.

Five tables of Muranaka’s friends and colleagues came to show their support.

The other honorees for 2023:

Michaela Pereira, well known to L.A. television viewers as host of morning news programs on Fox11 and KTLA5;

Paul Glickman, longtime news director at KPCC/LAist Radio;

Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times writer and columnist Pat Morrison;

Veteran photographer and photo editor Dean Musgrove;

Freelance digital investigative journalist Ben Camacho.

Alexandra Najera, a student at Cal State Northridge, and recent Santa Monica College graduate Jackson Tammariello were the student honorees.

Gwen Muranaka and Mikey Hirano Culross of The Rafu with Paula Poundstone of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”

The awards dinner was the first hosted in-person by SPJ since 2019, as the pandemic pre-empted the ceremony for the last three years.

Guests for the evening included comedian and National Public Radio personality Paula Poundstone, who joked about traveling all the way from Santa Monica for the event.

“I braved the 10 during rush hour to get here,” she quipped.

Keynote speaker Ken White, a Los Angeles attorney who has dedicated his career to defending the First Amendment when it comes to journalists, praised the work of the honorees and their organizations.

“You are the artists connecting complicated stories to individuals,”  he said.

Rafu representatives, from left: (seated) Yumi Ouchi, Gail Matsui, Mickey Komai, Tomoko Nagai, Jun Nagata; (standing) Ellen Endo, Mikey Hirano Culross, Gwen Muranaka, Mario Reyes, Gail Miyasaki, Chris Komai, Jun Nagata.

Photos by JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo

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