“Leaders try to save Japanese American newspaper” in the San Francisco Chronicle


Link to original article on www.sfgate.com

By Benny Evangelista, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Nichi Bei Times, Northern California’s oldest Japanese American community newspaper, said Thursday that it is shutting down, but a group of community leaders hopes to keep the presses rolling by forming a nonprofit organization.

The board of directors said in a letter printed in the 63-year-old publication’s latest edition that they decided “with great sadness” to close on Sept. 10.

The paper, which has about 8,000 subscribers, changed in 2006 from a daily bilingual format to publishing three times per week, with one English-language edition inserted in one of the three Japanese-language editions. Board Chairman Ken Abiko said the board planned to give the new format three years to reverse a long, steady decline in circulation and advertising revenue.

But these same problems – exacerbated by the movement of readers to online sources of news – have beset the entire newspaper industry, causing numerous mainstream papers across the country to cut back or close this year.

“The losses were deepening and there was no sense in continuing,” said Abiko. “It was either now or soon.”

Akibo’s grandfather founded the paper’s predecessor, the Nichi Bei Shimbun, in 1899, but it closed when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II. The Nichi Bei Times began publishing after the war in 1946.

The closure of the paper would leave the market open for the rival Hokubei Mainichi newspaper. However, a group of journalists and community leaders is forming the Nichi Bei Foundation, which would try a novel approach to saving a for-profit newspaper by turning it into a nonprofit operation supported by donations, fundraisers and grants.

Nichi Bei Editor Kenji Taguma; Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California; Keith Kamisugi, communications director of the Equal Justice Society; and Kerwin Berk, a former sports desk editor for The Chronicle, are spearheading that effort.

Getting away from the continuing search for profit could be a way for media outlets to stop “looking at the bottom line and squeezing every dime at the expense of quality news,” Kamisugi said.

Newspaper industry analyst Ken Doctor of Outsell Inc. said the idea of a nonprofit foundation saving a newspaper has been discussed by the industry, but not yet attempted. Even The Christian Science Monitor, founded and supported by the Church of Christ, is struggling, he said.

Still, nonprofit groups usually provide seed or stop-gap funding, and Doctor said he questions whether the Nichi Bei Foundation could generate the ongoing subsidies that a newspaper requires.

Osaki said the community would lose an important voice if the paper folds.

“If it weren’t for Japanese American newspapers, the community would not have rallied nor understood the meaning of the redress movement back in the ’70s and ’80s,” Osaki said of the push to compensate Japanese Americans for losses they sustained when they were interned during World War II.

E-mail Benny Evangelista at: bevangelista@sfchronicle.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *