By Assunta Ng
People expect the Northwest Asian Weekly, a relatively small paper, to act like a big media company when it comes to election time.
Candidates’ questions cover the myriad, such as:
“Do you do endorsements?”
“Can you do an interview?”
“Why haven’t you contacted me?”
. . . These questions keep popping up and candidates seem to be pounding on our small door.
You would assume those callers are Asian Americans. Actually, a number of them are non-Asians.
Thanks for the attention, but we are actually overwhelmed.
The truth is, many community publications avoid politics. In a 2014 study done by Scott Swafford for Donald Reynolds Journalism Institute, small papers with a circulation under 50,000 generally don’t cover elections.
As an ethnic media outlet, I understand why some ethnic publications shy away from politics. First, most of them have to deal with survival challenges. That means getting advertisement is the focus. Secondly, many of the city, county, state, and federal issues are hard for Asian immigrant journalists to comprehend. Also, don’t forget many came from lands prohibiting free speech. Yes, they don’t trust the government or the elected officials.
I wasn’t born to be a political animal in the beginning. What drove us to consider political coverage was in 1982 when former state representative John Eng retired, and Gary Locke (former governor and ambassador) jumped in the legislator race when I started the Seattle Chinese Post and Northwest Asian Weekly.
While publishers try to influence the papers’ content, editors are usually the ones who mold it. And our editor at the time opposed political stories. “It’s toxic to your papers,” he said. “Immigrant readers just skip those pages (on elections).”
I didn’t like what I heard. Proving him wrong wasn’t my point.
The point is, political participation is vital to the well-being of the Asian community. If you want to get things done, you better have Asian Americans at the table. If you seek equal opportunities, you need non-Asian champions to support you. If you fight injustices, you need tireless fighters like Frank Irigon and Al Sugiyama to be on your fence.
Voting is letting your voice be heard. If you want the community to have a voice, you have to help develop that voice. In the process of organizing, you have empowered your community. It doesn’t matter if your candidate wins or loses, political empowerment is the reward of being involved in politics.
Our interest in reporting politics reflects our goal of empowering the Asian community.
We get our satisfaction when readers use our papers’ endorsements as reference for general elections. (We wish we could do primary election endorsements as well, but couldn’t due to too many candidates and races.)
The consequence of endorsement
A decade ago, I fretted about the Asian community having “double standard.” When The Seattle Times didn’t endorse their favorite candidates, no one in the community made any noise. Yet, they showed their displeasure towards the Asian Weekly when we did so.
Now, I understand why. It is because the community feel a deep sense of connection with the Asian Weekly. Sharing their emotions with us, means the readers are closed to us. I consider their responses as “terms of endearment.” It is comforting to know that the community cares about what we have to say. More important, they feel they are part of the Asian Weekly. Sometimes, it puts us in a difficult position when our community is split between two candidates like the McGinn-Murray mayoral race in 2013, and the Inslee-McKenna gubernatorial race in 2012. The community’s passion towards their preferred candidates touched me. Need we add fire to the divided community? We didn’t want to divide the community, so our decision was not to endorse.
Yes, our doors are open, and we welcome candidates to approach us. However, you must do your homework first. Talk to our community leaders. Get their endorsement.
Show us your list of Asian supporters when we meet. If you don’t know who they are, you have work to do. It’s never too late to cultivate relationships with the Asian and minority community.
We did change our minds after meeting with certain candidates privately in past elections.
Asian American candidates
In the past, few Asian Americans were running for office; we had to cook up our readers’ excitement in elections. Now, not only have the number of Asian Americans candidates increased several times—the race has spread all over the state in four to six cities. We even have Asians running against Asians. Among Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s opponents is Urban League CEO Pam Banks, who is of Asian and African descent. Filipino Leonard Luna is challenging Mayor/State Representative Mia Gregerson of Chinese descent, for Sea-Tac city council position. Is that progress or what?
One Asian American leader said, “The white guys are running against each other for a long time, shouldn’t we Asian Americans do the same?”
Asian Americans are now sophisticated campaigners. When I request interviews, some Asian American candidates would respond, “Schedule with my campaign manager.” It’s not just campaign managers, the candidates have their own communication staff, fund-raising chairs and volunteers committees—all structured and organized. It’s not easy to run for office. We commend those who run.
So to all the API candidates listed on page three, thank you for your guts, conviction and commitment to serve the public. Win or lose, we are still proud of you. The important thing is you try and not give up. (end)