Remembering ivoh fellow Alex Tizon, a storyteller for the ages
Tizon (right) on a reporting trip in the Philippines, the country where he was born. Photo courtesy of Tizon.
Tizon, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, was a member of Images & Voices of Hope’s inaugural Restorative Narrative Fellowship. He had been an integral part of the ivoh community ever since, attending ivoh’s summits and learning workshops, and acting as an overall champion for the Restorative Narrative genre.
The story he pursued for the fellowship — which was featured in The Atlantic last year — was the last major piece he had published. It’s a heartbreaking story of loss, but also one of perseverance and what Tizon liked to call “workaday resilience.”
Tizon was a reporter, teacher and lifelong learner. He was a parent and husband, a mentor and friend. His humility, humor and down-to-earth nature made him the kind of guy you wanted to be around. A writer at heart, he had a hunger for uncovering good stories and a gift for telling them.
Tizon’s writing and reporting trips took him around the world. He once told me that he found some of his best stories in unlikely places — “on a floating slab of ice in the Arctic Ocean, a lava field at the foot of Mount Pinatubo, an ancient Buddhist temple on the island of Java.”
Prior to joining the University of Oregon, he was a Seattle bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and a longtime staff writer for the Seattle Times, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. In 2014, Tizon’s first memoir, “Big Little Man: In Search of my Asian Self,” was published. The award-winning book focuses on his experiences as a first-generation immigrant and an Asian male living in the West.
“He was very curious about other people — and learning about other people helped him learn about himself,” his wife, Melissa Tizon, told the Seattle Times. “That’s what journalism did for him. His whole life quest was about trying to understand who he was, as an immigrant growing up in a largely white community. … He had more stories in him, he had another book in him.”
During one of ivoh’s fellowship gatherings, Tizon said he was naturally drawn to darkness as a storyteller, having covered tragedies such as the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina. But he said that over time, he became increasingly interested in illuminating flashes of light in the dark — and in showing that light and dark can coexist.
In a 2015 interview about the fellowship, Tizon told ivoh:
“So many of us who’ve been in journalism a long time recognize the need for different ways of framing news stories, ways that don’t just lead back to intractable conflict, cynicism or despair. Not many journalists intend to be cultivators of hopelessness, but the accumulation of all our stories over time seems to have that effect on many people, entire communities, even on ourselves. Simply asking, ‘Might there be another way to tell the story?’ is a good start.
“It takes gumption to take it a step further and ask, ‘Might there be a way to tell it that contributes meaningfully — and not just in a token way — to hope, healing or reconciliation?’ The questions are worth asking. This thought keeps flitting around in my brain: There’s been so much discussion about journalism needing new business models; what if saving journalism really has more to do with new models of storytelling? Ones that help people get up in the morning and live consciously, rather than make people more afraid or resigned and want to stay asleep?”
Tizon was a lifelong learner who always looked for ways to improve his craft. He was a gift to the media community, a catalyst for creativity and hope. He will be deeply missed, and remembered.
We will honor Tizon during ivoh’s annual media summit in the Catskills — a place where he spent time as a fellow and where we had the privilege of being in his good company.