Prof's perspectives on Asia reach millions


Tom Plate's "Pacific Perspectives" is widely syndicated in the U.S. and in Asia

This story was originally published by UCLA Today on February 7, 2006.

By Anne Burke
UCLA Today staff writer

Tom Plate is two-finger typing in his Hershey Hall office, hurrying to file his syndicated newspaper column, “Pacific Perspectives.” The décor here is contemporary and tasteful: a black-leather couch where Plate meditates before writing, a flat-screen TV, framed art and silk orchids.

“I spend so much time here that I like to make it feel homey,” Plate explained. An adjunct professor of media studies and communications, Plate teaches a full load of classes on top of writing his twice-weekly column.

Just inside the door is what the professor calls his “ego wall.” Hanging chockablock are framed photos of Plate with many of the world leaders he has interviewed during a journalism career that spans three decades. Among his favorites is a black-and-white image taken at 10 Downing Street with British Prime Minister John Major. “A big thrill for me,” recalled Plate.

“I never went for a life of money, and I have the bills to show for it,” he explained. “I went for a life of excitement, access — sort of being a witness to history. If you want to spend all your life making money, that's great, but you probably won't get a wall like that.”

“Pacific Perspectives,” which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, is Plate's take on Asian geopolitics and culture. Now going out to newspapers with a combined circulation of 6 million-plus, the column is doing better than ever. Though largely absent from the major U.S. dailies, “Pacific Perspectives” is read widely in Asia, where it appears in Tokyo's Mainichi Shimbun, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, the Straits Times in Singapore, Taiwan's China Times and the Korea Times in Seoul. “Basically, I'm a nothing in America, but a semi- — repeat, semi- — big shot in Asia,” Plate said.

Writing an Asia-centric column is “fiendishly difficult,” Plate explained, largely because that part of the world is “very complex and not really one place.” To make sense of it all, he devours Asian periodicals, the smaller and more obscure the better. But Plate considers himself a reporter first, and much of the material for “Pacific Perspectives” comes out of interviews he conducts during his travels abroad and at home in Los Angeles.

Critics complain that Plate sometimes lets the powerful off easy. But the writer, who holds a master's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, insisted that readers are better served by explanation than accusation, though he quickly added, “If someone needs to be nailed, I'll nail them.”

“Pacific Perspectives” began at the Los Angeles Times, where Plate was editorial page editor from 1989 to 1995. He started teaching at UCLA pro bono shortly before leaving the Times and joined the full-time faculty in 1997.

“When I talk to my [faculty] colleagues, I always joke — you're the religious realm, I'm the secular. I can't offer the students 30 years of social science research, but I can tell them what it's like to interview the prime minister of Japan, what the media system of China is like. And since I'm not a retired journalist, my stories aren't things that happened 10 years ago. They may be something that happened 10 days ago.”

Plate is married to the former child actor Andrea Darvi, a social worker and writer. The couple has a daughter, Ashley, who is 19.

Tom Plate founded the Asia Pacific Media Network and served as its director until 2003. He has since created the UCLA Media Center. You can reach him at Pacific Perspectives can be read in the newspapers cited above and at AsiaMedia.

Published: Monday, February 13, 2006