Forum Examines Death and Rebirth of JA Press

THE FATE OF THE COMMUNITY PRESS — Former Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper English Section Editor JK Yamamoto (L) and Consul General of Japan Yasumasa Nagamine were among the speakers at a forum on the Japanese American press on Dec. 13 in San Francisco’s Japantown. photos by Heather Horiuchi/Nichi Bei Weekly

A few dozen community members gathered at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) in San Francisco’s Japantown on Dec. 6 to discuss the state of the community’s Japanese American newspapers.

The forum — co-sponsored by the Nichi Bei Foundation, the Japanese American National Library, the National Japanese American Historical Society and the JCCCNC — was conceived following the closure of the Nichi Bei Times, Northern California’s oldest Japanese American newspaper, on Sept. 30.

Participants included veteran reporters, community leaders, a nonprofit attorney and numerous seniors.

The speakers and panelists addressed various questions not only about the Nichi Bei Foundation and its newspaper, the Nichi Bei Weekly, but also the importance of community-based press, and the need for a Japanese-language newspaper.

Paul Osaki, the executive director of the JCCCNC and a NBF board member, called the recent closure of San Francisco’s two Japanese American bilingual newspapers — the Nichi Bei Times and the Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper — a tremendous loss. “This is worth a fight. This is worth a struggle,” Osaki, who moderated the event, said.

“This is how we stay connected as a community, and we’re losing that.”

Committed to continuing Nichi Bei’s storied legacy of community leadership, the nonprofit Nichi Bei Foundation was formed by some former Nichi Bei Times staff, contributors and community members. It has been publishing its weekly newspaper, the Nichi Bei Weekly, since Sept. 17.

The Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper published its last issue Oct. 30.

From the Nichi Bei Times’ inception, it has been deeply rooted in community, and “giving a voice to the voiceless,” said Nichi Bei Foundation President and Nichi Bei Weekly Editor-in-Chief Kenji G. Taguma.

Covering such a diverse community is not without its challenges.

Longtime Nichi Bei Times columnist Fred Oshima emphasized the need for additional coverage of the various Japanese American communities throughout Northern California, whereas other audience members expressed the need for a Japanese-language newspaper.

Gene Takagi, Nichi Bei Foundation’s incorporating attorney, said that the Japanese American community must support the paper.

Takagi also serves as a volunteer board member of Community Initiatives, Nichi Bei Foundation’s fiscal sponsor.

As a newspaper that is published by a nonprofit charitable and educational organization, Nichi Bei Weekly must demonstrate a strong “educational appeal,” Takagi said. It must also refrain from endorsing any political candidates and limit its lobbying, he added.

Taguma has explored the possibility of incorporating Japanese-language news into the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Taguma also gave a presentation on Nichi Bei Times’ roots, which date back to the 1899 founding of the Nichi Bei Shimbun. The Nichi Bei Times was founded in 1946 as a means for the community to reconnect after having been dispersed by their wartime incarceration in American concentration camps.

Today, the Nichi Bei Foundation remains committed to upholding its predecessor’s legacy, as well as to “leaving a legacy for the next generations to follow,” said Taguma.

In addition to continuing to publish the newspaper, the Nichi Bei Foundation intends to implement programs and fellowships to further engage and serve the Nikkei community.

The Nichi Bei Foundation also expects to hold the second Northern California Tofu Festival in 2010. The first festival, held in March of this year by the Nichi Bei Times, benefited Nihonmachi Little Friends.

Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper English Editor J.K. Yamamoto has been updating the English version of the newspaper’s Website on a voluntary basis, out of an “obligation,” to the community, he said.

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