For five decades, San Francisco State University Professor Jon Funabiki has defended journalists and their work. To offer thanks and appreciation, the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will give him its Distinguished Service to Journalism Award.
Funabiki is also a San Francisco State alumnus: He earned his B.A. in Journalism from the University in 1972. He’s being honored for his dedication to collaboration, diversity, inclusion and equity in the media. Other winners of the 35th annual Excellence in Journalism Awards include alumni Ericka Cruz Guevarra (B.A., International Relations, ’17), a producer at KQED, and Pulitzer Prize recipient David DeBolt (B.A., Journalism, ’09), a senior breaking news reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and the East Bay Times.
“I never had Jon as a professor, but we met through the Raul Ramirez Diversity Fund Internship he helped with at SF State,” Guevarra said. “It’s not surprising he had his hands in this project — Jon knew Raul, a journalist himself who cared about diversifying newsrooms — and Jon has spent so much of his career committed to making journalism better and more reflective of our world. His service to the internship fund is one of the ways he’s shown this. That internship fund was the origin of my journalism career, full stop.”
Integration and improvement
Funabiki first joined the Journalism faculty in 1990 and founded the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism. After an 11-year hiatus at the Ford Foundation awarding grants for media diversity projects, Funabiki returned to SF State in 2006. A few years later he founded the Renaissance Journalism and Storytelling Center, a nonprofit that partners with Bay Area media outlets to produce in-depth stories on social justice and equity.
His second SF State tenure also includes stints as director of the Lab for Media and Community and the Dilena Takeyama Center for the Study of Japan and Japanese Culture.
In fall 1971 as editor of SF State’s student newspaper (then named Phoenix), Funabiki supported peers’ coverage of the Vietnam War, race relations and other controversial topics. During 17 years with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Funabiki made a push to cover U.S.-Asia relations. His reporting helped free an investigative journalist who was jailed in South Korea due to libel accusations.
After retiring from SF State and Renaissance Journalism in the fall, Funabiki has enjoyed organizing reunions on Zoom with friends, colleagues and ex-students. His students’ creativity and work ethic have impressed him, and he has learned how they have influenced each other. A recent chat with students he brought to Fukushima, Japan, in 2014 revealed that one of them is pursuing medical school. KQED recently hired another alum to produce Spanish-language programs. They represent a victory in Funabiki’s career-long quest for newsroom diversity.
“They aren’t afraid to use their journalism in different ways,” he said.
Facts are not enough
Funabiki also keeps in touch with reporters. He observes the pressure they face in today’s divisive landscape, noting a growing appreciation for their work while branded as the enemy of the people. He says journalists must do more than use facts to combat disinformation.
“What we’ve seen is that facts don’t matter. People will believe what they want to believe,” Funabiki said. “Journalists must figure out how to understand how the brain works, how people develop their beliefs and how culture affects how they consume their information.”
— Matt Itelson