When Lori Matsukawa was offered a retirement buyout from KING 5 in 2016, she knew she couldn’t take it.
“I still have work to finish here,” she recalls saying.
For the next year, she worked on a series about Japanese American internment and redress, “Prisoners in Their Own Land.” It aired in 2017, on the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced internment of around 120,000 people along the West Coast during World War II. The series earned Matsukawa a regional Emmy — her first — the following year.
“That was the exclamation point on my career. I said, ‘This is it. This is everything I could have hoped for,’” Matsukawa recently recalled. “Once that project was done, I felt I did my big opus, and I thought, ‘Now I can retire and be happy.’”
After 36 years at KING 5, Matsukawa will deliver the evening news for the final time Friday.
In her nearly four decades as a broadcast journalist in Seattle, Matsukawa is known not only known for her awards — which include two regional Emmys and a NATAS Northwest Silver Circle Award for lifetime achievement — but for mentoring countless young journalists and fostering deep community connections. She co-founded both the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington and the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).
“She pioneered the idea of a journalist being really involved in the community,” said Ron Chew, another founder of AAJA Seattle. “Lori never had that kind of division in her life. She was always at community events for nonprofits and on community boards, all while maintaining a professional career that had great integrity.”
Start in journalism
Matsukawa didn’t always want to be a journalist. Growing up in Aiea, Hawaii, with her two sisters and parents, both teachers, she thought she would become a piano teacher.
She decided to enter the Miss Teenage America pageant in hopes of winning a scholarship. Being interviewed by reporters after she won in 1974 sparked an interest in journalism.
At Stanford University, Matsukawa wrote for both the student paper and an Asian American student publication. While she wanted to work in print journalism, there were Asian American women on TV at the time — like Connie Chung, Tritia Toyota and Wendy Tokuda — whom she looked up to.
Matsukawa said she applied to about 100 different news organizations in hopes of getting her first job. She got two offers: As a business reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a position at a TV station in Redding, California.
Matsukawa decided to pursue a career in TV. She could return to print journalism when she was older, she thought, when she was “wrinkled and toothless.”
She never left broadcast.
A “first-class” broadcaster
Matsukawa met her husband Larry Blackstock, who is from the Seattle area, at the station in Redding where he was a director and she was an anchor. They went to Portland, then moved to the Seattle area in 1980 and married.
After three years at KOMO, Matsukawa moved to KING. She started as a co-anchor on “Top Story,” a daily in-depth look at a local story. She went on to anchor “Celebrate the Differences,” which focused on communities of color, and then the morning, weekend, and late-night broadcasts. She took over as evening anchor when Jean Enersen moved on to health reporting in 2014.
Her career at KING saw Matsukawa travel the world on assignments. She went to China with then-Gov. Gary Locke in 1997, covered two Olympics and went to Japan to report on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. While Matsukawa said she loved writing the first draft of history, some of her most prominent work examined the past.
With her series “Prisoners in Their Own Land,” Matsukawa sought to report not only on internment, but also life in the Northwest after: The challenges families faced when they returned home, internal conflict within Japanese American communities and the fight for redress.
“She brings humanity to stories,” Matsukawa’s former co-anchor Dennis Bounds said. “There’s a search for information, a search for truth, but also an empathy in how she presents stories. And that makes it important to the public.”
Viewers have also looked to Matsukawa as a trusted figure during breaking news.
Bounds said her poise under pressure makes her a “first-class” broadcaster. Back when Matsukawa worked weekends, he would tune in when news broke.
“I knew I was going to go right to KING 5 for her. I trusted her implicitly to give me the news,” he said.
“I’m showing that if I can do it, they can too”
In 1985, Matsukawa co-founded the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, which was only the third in the nation. She started the Northwest Journalists of Color Scholarship program soon after.
Matsukawa embraced being Asian American, which Chew said was somewhat unusual when she was getting her start in news. Other Asian American journalists didn’t typically bring attention to their identity then, he said.
“I think there were concerns over hiring an Asian American woman; Connie Chung was the only big one at the time,” Matsukawa said in an interview with The Seattle Times in 1999. “It was like, weekends and mornings are fine, but do you want a woman of color as your prime-time standard-bearer for the station?”
She recalled that after she reported on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor for NBC affiliates that year, some viewers called KING, angry that a Japanese American woman was covering it. Her news director took the calls and defended her, she said.
At the time of the interview, Matsukawa had only recently been assigned to anchor the 11 p.m. news.
“I have a hunch now KING is feeling like it’s taking a chance with me,” she said in that interview.
Since then, Matsukawa has become a familiar face on the evening news, and she sees her visibility as a way to advocate for other journalists of color.
“As long as I’m out there showing up, I feel like I’m showing that if I can do it, they can too,” she said.
Annika Prom, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School, is one young journalist whom Matsukawa has mentored. Prom received the Northwest Journalists of Color Scholarship two years in a row.
“I don’t see a lot of Asian Americans in the media,” Prom said. “Every time I saw her, it made me think that there are a lot of similarities between Lori and me, and that one day, that could be me representing my community.”
During Prom’s junior year, Matsukawa agreed to help her prepare for a broadcast contest. Once or twice a week before the competition, Matsukawa would Facetime with Prom between shows to provide tips and practice with her.
Bounds said when he was at KING, it was common to see Matsukawa in the studio with a student shadowing her.
“She’s been a great mentor and role model to a lot of younger Asian American journalists,” Chew said. “There’s a whole generation she’s helped mentor. They look up to her. She’s very visible, but she also takes time to get down on the ground and talk to people.”
For her work in the community and at KING, Matsukawa received an AAJA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. She was also inducted into the UW Communications Department Alumni Hall of Fame in 2012. (She completed her master’s degree there in 1996 while anchoring weekends.)
Celebrating her retirement
KING will mark Matsukawa’s retirement with an hourlong special at 7 p.m. Friday. AAJA Seattle is holding a watch party, open to the public, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Henry’s Tavern in SoDo (1518 First Avenue South).
Matsukawa will deliver her final broadcast at 11 p.m., then leave her position in the hands of Joyce Taylor, who has anchored mornings at KING for nearly two decades.
Matsukawa says she is ready to retire. She and her husband plan to stay in the Seattle area, but look forward to having more time to travel and see their son, who lives in California. But it feels bittersweet to leave the station, she said.
“People grow to feel like they know you. You’re in their living rooms and bedrooms every day. And in a way, I feel like I know them,” Matsukawa said. “It’s kind of sad to leave that relationship I have with viewers. But it’s a good time to retire.”