Japanese American becomes majority owner of LGBTQ newspaper

NEW OWNERSHIP, SAME MANAGEMENT ­— The Bay Area Reporter’s Michael Yamashita (right) with Cynthia Laird. Yamashita, the LGBTQ newspaper’s publisher, purchased a majority stake in the publication, the newspaper announced Dec. 21. courtesy of Bay Area Reporter

Michael Yamashita, 51, publisher of the Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco-based LGBTQ newspaper, became the newspaper’s majority owner, the publication announced Dec. 21, 2017.

According to the B.A.R., Yamashita becomes the nation’s first gay Asian American publisher and owner of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer newspaper.

Yamashita, who previously owned 31 percent of the company, purchased 49 percent of it from fellow owners Todd Vogt and Patrick Brown, the newspaper stated.

Originally from Hawai‘i, Yamashita initially came to California to attend Santa Clara University, where he earned a degree in English literature and art history. He said he intended to go into print media and B.A.R. offered him a job right out of college. He joined the newspaper in 1989, first working as an assistant editor and then as its general manager starting 1995. He became the B.A.R.’s partial owner and publisher in 2013 following the paper’s restructuring.

“I’ve pretty much been working for this paper my whole life,” Yamashita told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Being the only company I’ve ever worked for, getting out of college, it’s beyond just a personal thing: it’s my connection to San Francisco, it’s my connection to the LGBT community.”

Despite the progress within LGBTQ politics this past decade, Yamashita said there is still a need for his paper’s journalism.

“I think it’s become more relevant for us to really do our jobs to protect the rights we’ve achieved,” Yamashita said. “I always say there’s always going to be a place for gay journalism as long as there are people who are out there … trying to outlaw us or kill us.”

He went on to say that progress seems to be harder to come by than before as “the clock was turned back” these last two years through the rising tide of hate prevalent from President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. “I think that’s frightening and I think it gives us more passion and imperative to do our work,” he said.

Outside of his work covering the LGBTQ community, Yamashita attends an ‘ukulele class at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco’s Japantown and is a hula teacher. “I’ve been teaching since 1989. I have my own halau, so we work in conjunction with each other,” he said. “I kinda have to balance all these different aspects of my background: my Hawaiian background, LGBT background, Japanese American background, all mashed up there.”

As for the state of the paper itself, Yamashita said his publication is “holding steady,” noting the paper continues to print 29,000 copies a week, the same number of copies it reported printing each week in 2013.

“Because we serve such a unique, niche audience in San Francisco, and because the particular audience is very coveted by advertisers, I think we’ve been able to weather the storm that a lot of newspapers haven’t,” Scott Wazlowski, the paper’s vice president of advertisement, told the Nichi Bei Weekly.

“It’s kind of strange, we do print a digital edition and we do have our Website, but by and large, when we talk to our readers, they really want to consume us as a print product. … Some people have been reading us since Vol. 1 Issue 1 back in 1971, and those people are creatures of habit. They’re out every Thursday morning picking up their newspaper and it’s tangible. They hang on to it throughout the week,” Wazlowski said.

Founded in 1971 to provide information for San Francisco’s gay and lesbian community, the newspaper was part of Founding Publisher Bob Ross’ estate when he passed away in 2003. The nonprofit Bob Ross Foundation, which was formed to continue Ross’ charitable giving after his death, was required to divest itself of the newspaper down to a 20 percent stake, which it still retains today.

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