Link to original article on www.sfgate.com.
By Benny Evangelista, Chronicle Staff Writer, Sunday, September 20, 2009
“A group of community leaders and journalists did something seemingly unusual last week – they started a newspaper, the Nichi Bei Weekly.
But while its introduction comes as economic pressures are forcing publications to scale down or close, it also comes at a time when the audience for ethnic media is bigger than ever.
According to a study earlier this year by New America Media, a San Francisco group that represents 2,000 ethnic news organizations around the country, readership in this sector increased by 16 percent over the last four years.
Still, it won’t be easy. Despite an increasing readership, the ethnic press hasn’t escaped the same downturn in advertising that has hurt mainstream publications.
The fledgling Weekly, in fact, was born out of the demise of the Nichi Bei Times, Northern California’s oldest Japanese American paper
In the past, ethnic publications were more recession-proof because of the advertising from small community businesses, particularly restaurants, auto dealers, travel agencies and real estate offices, according to Sandy Close, New America Media’s executive director.
Even in down times, those bread-and-butter advertising sources were enough to sustain ethnic media outlets, which were already used to operating on shoestring budgets. But given the current economy, “All of those small businesses are hurting and they can’t afford to advertise,” Close said.
But there are signs of hope.
Recent reports suggest the recession has ended and the rate of decline in advertising spending is stabilizing. The challenge is for these publications to hold on long enough.
“We need to be here for the community,” said former Nichi Bei Times editor Kenji Taguma, who heads the English-language Nichi Bei Weekly. “This effort is true to our mission of keeping the community connected, informed and empowered.”
According to the New America Media poll released in June, the ethnic press is reaching 57 million of an estimated 69.2 million African American, Asian American and Hispanic adults in the United States.
Close said the organization was surprised that the poll showed that much of an increase from the 49 million in 2005.
Newspapers aimed at Chinese Americans and Korean Americans have made progress, now reaching 70 percent and 64 percent of their audience, respectively, the New America study said.
Papers such as Sing Tao, the World Journal, Korea Daily and Korea Times have substantially increased circulation, and a Filipino community biweekly, the FilAm Star, began publishing in the Bay Area, the report said.
Meanwhile, English language publications reached 2.8 million Hispanic and 500,000 Asian adults.
Close also said that ethnic media will probably get a big boost when government ads for the 2010 U.S. Census are directed toward people not reached by mainstream news organizations.
Still, the Nichi Bei Times is hardly alone in its demise. This year, Bay Area community papers AsianWeek, Ming Pao Daily and Pinoy Today all closed.
Ling-chi Wang, professor emeritus of Asian American studies at UC Berkeley, noted that although the recession claimed the 5-year-old Ming Pao Daily, Chinese Americans in the Bay Area are still served by four vibrant papers.
“The ethnic media is suffering, though to a lesser degree than the mainstream press, perhaps because immigrant communities do not have as much access to the Internet, especially the working class,” Wang said.
Also, he said Chinese language readers have a “different relationship” with their papers, which have a higher literary standard than American papers, including “poetry, short stories, essays about simple things, about life.”
Kevin Weston, director of new media for New America Media, said long-standing African American newspapers such as theOakland Post and San Francisco Sun-Reporter have survived numerous “waves of recessions” in part because of the passion of the staff.
“The folks that are in the field see it as a business, but to them this is also community work, this is their life’s work,” Weston said.
Hispanic newspapers have increased in number nationally from 735 in 2005 to 834 in 2008, although the number of daily publications fell from 42 to 29 as the recession hit, according to the Latino Print Network, an advertising group that represents 625 Hispanic newspapers and magazines.
Circulation rose from 17.6 million to 17.8 million during that time. And those papers generated $909 million in ad revenue in 2008, although that was down from $996 million in 2005.
The 8,000-circulation Nichi Bei Times, started in 1946 as a successor to a paper founded in 1899, saw a “modest increase in subscribers” after the paper went from a daily bilingual schedule to publishing three times a week, with one weekly English edition, in 2006.
But the change didn’t increase revenue enough for the paper to survive, prompting its board of directors to close the doors and leave the Northern California market to the rival Hokubei Mainichi, also based in San Francisco.
The Japanese American market is different because it’s not growing substantially through immigration. That also means the demand for a Japanese-language publication has waned as its readers grow older.
So the Nichi Bei Foundation, the group that publishes the new weekly, decided to concentrate on an English edition. The group has applied for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service, a process that could take months.
That delay makes it impossible to get grants from companies and community groups now, said Taguma, who is the foundation’s president as well as the paper’s editor. So the foundation is relying on individuals, who have donated as much as $5,000 each.
The group, which has a Web site at nichibeifoundation.org, has raised about $40,000, enough to cover about three months, and plans to publish a scaled down 12-page edition.