Introduction to New Years – A Movement to Save the Community Press

When we began our efforts to save a cherished legacy, we had no idea how the community would respond.

But you all did, in a big way.

We’re truly indebted to all who have contributed to our movement to continue the ethnic press in a groundbreaking new format. We are pioneering a path that no other ethnic news publication has taken, changing from a for-profit model to a nonprofit one in these troubled times for the news industry.

We know there are a lot of eyes on us, and we have received a plethora of local, national and international press — including Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, as well as Kyodo News service, the Japanese version of the Associated Press.

This journey wasn’t an easy one, however. In fact, it was probably the most challenging project I’ve ever had to deal with. We have received no financial support from the outgoing Nichi Bei Times board of directors, many of whom were the descendants of the founders of both the Nichi Bei Shimbun and the Nichi Bei Times. No seed money, no subscription transfers. So we had to rebuild from ground zero.

It probably would have been easier to just quit.

However, we thought that in this rough economic climate — where community organizations are struggling to find funding and mainstream newspapers were not covering communities of color to a large degree — that the community needed us now more than ever. How would the community inform people of their events, and their efforts to raise funds?

Fueled by the visionary Nichi Bei legacy, we set out against insurmountable odds to travel some uncharted waters. I liken the process to the Issei spirit, who came across the ocean with nothing but hopes and dreams. Their vision helped to establish our communities. So like the Issei before us, we were set to rebuild, brick by brick.

And out of the ashes of the historic Nichi Bei legacy — which included the Nichi Bei Shimbun established in 1899 and the Nichi Bei Times, which was established to get the community reconnected after their wartime incarceration in 1946 — we began to rise.

The Nichi Bei legacy continues, in this third chapter.

To my amazement, we were able to quickly assemble a dedicated board of directors for the Nichi Bei Foundation — composed of media professionals, educators and community leaders. This is an incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic group, and I’m so proud to be a part of this team.

Through the guidance of our nonprofit specialist attorney Gene Takagi, we gave birth to the Nichi Bei Foundation on July 27, 2009. We were also able to develop an impressive Advisory Council of community leaders across the state, all of whom believe in our mission.

The Nichi Bei Foundation was incorporated as a nonprofit educational and charitable organization to keep the community connected, informed and empowered. The main thrust of the organization now is the Nichi Bei Weekly, and getting the paper back on track to full capacity.

As a nonprofit — operating as a project of our fiscal sponsor, Community Initiatives — we are able to fill the gap created by advertising and subscription shortfalls with donations and grants. Since it will take a while to establish relationships with other grant-giving foundations, individual donations are critical to our success. And now, given the closure of the Hokubei Mainichi a month after the Nichi Bei Times, our success is even more critical for the community.

On Aug. 10, 2009, it was announced to the Nichi Bei Times staff that we were closing. Almost immediately, two of my key editors, Heather Horiuchi and Alec Yoshio MacDonald, came on board to volunteer for the upstart Foundation. Throughout this process, Heather has shown remarkable leadership as our managing editor, essentially managing our volunteer staff and content of the newspaper. She has been the glue that has held this operation together.

August and September were especially busy months, as we were winding down a 63-year-old institution while launching a brand new one, and moving between several offices — ultimately to our current office at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.

It was important to us to not miss a beat, and somehow we were able to publish the first edition of the Nichi Bei Weekly on Sept. 17, 2009 — just one week after the very last edition of the Nichi Bei Times. We could not have accomplished that feat, however, without the remarkable assistance of board members like Kerwin Berk and Tim Yamamura and our small army of volunteers, who assembled the paper in a storage area at the National Japanese American Historical Society — which generously opened their doors for us. We couldn’t have launched without the help of NJAHS, and their enthusiastic staff and volunteers were there to cheer us on.

Over the past several months, we’ve been met with several “random acts of kindness” — from columnists and contributing writers who have donated up to hundreds of dollars, to family of staff who have donated thousands or in-kind support, to the surprising — and very appreciated — donations from subscribers, to the many, many volunteers who have come out of nowhere to provide their support. This experience has been moving beyond words. I wish I could personally thank each and every donor with a visit, but that of course is not physically possible. I can’t tell you enough at how touching it is each and every time someone sends a donation to the movement, or even notes or words of encouragement. It is the ultimate validation of our efforts, of our vision.

Through this process came one of the most pleasant surprises: a renewed sense of volunteerism. There are people like Nathan Segal, who came into our doors at the JCCCNC one day, saying he’d like to help out in whatever way he could. To Amy Hanamoto, a former Nichi Bei Times volunteer who came on over to help rebuild our subscription database, and keeps us organized and smiling. To former Nichi Bei Times staff and interns like Lenna Onishi, Tomo Hirai, Ben Hamamoto, Sarah Yuen, Rie Nakanishi and Kota Morikawa, who have all contributed their talents in various ways. To recent Nichi Bei Times contributing writers such as Shiina Morimoto and Erin Yasuda Soto, who have continued to volunteer their time in-office and as Nichi Bei Weekly contributing writers. We’ve also been blessed by the contributions of journalists like Beth Hillman, Vivien Kim Thorp and Kerwin Berk, who all have experience working in mainstream newspapers.

And also our New Year’s advertising crew of Ed Goto and Rodger Takeuchi, former Nichi Bei Timers who worked hard with determination over the past few months to bring you this first annual Nichi Bei Weekly New Year’s Edition, and Chris Toshiro Jocson, who has added his multiple talents to the mix along with intern Sean Yukimoto.

Besides the newspaper, we hope to establish programs and events that would help to give back to the community. Projects such as scholarships and fellowships that would give journalism students and professionals an opportunity to cover stories of importance and impact in the Asian American community.

We are planning to rebuild our Website soon, which will further help in the community-building process in an innovative new way.

One of the most awesome tasks of a community newspaper is to document a community’s history. If there were no more ethnic community newspapers, who would take on this charge of historical documentation?

Also, the community press has long served an advocacy role. Whether it is raising money and awareness for postwar relief in Japan, or covering community issues such as the struggle for the historic YWCA building, or the fight for redress and reparations — as the Nichi Bei Times has done — I wonder where we would be without the collective force of the Nikkei press.

We have given voice to the once voiceless — from Nisei draft resisters, to Tule Lake renunciants, to Japanese American railroad and mine worker families seeking redress — and we have grown to understand each other and our history better through that process.

Our collective voice may be silenced if we don’t act now. The stakes are too high.

Thus, we will continue to ask for your support, as we continue to rebuild our operations.

Nobody can predict our ultimate success or failure, but for the sake of the Issei pioneers of the past, and for future generations, we cannot sit idly by, watching our community fade away like distant memories. This is our time to confront our challenges with courage and conviction. This is our moment of self-determination.

Together, we can rebuild something more than just a community newspaper — we can make the Nichi Bei Foundation a foundation for many more projects and community-serving resources in the future. Our greatest work lies ahead, and we will continue to evolve with our changing community.

Brick by brick, let’s build a new legacy together.

Kenji G. Taguma is the president of the Nichi Bei Foundation and Editor-in-Chief of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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