By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
“How did you become successful in the newspaper business?” asked Sarah Lubitz, a Bellevue College student who interviewed me for a class project.
To be honest, I don’t consider my business successful. The more I think about it, the more I feel like I have failed. I flunk the vision test not just a little — but a lot — I have been completely off base.
In my early publishing days, I was not convinced that the internet would one day rule the world.
You could defend me by pointing out that I don’t have a technology background. But the truth is, my drive is stronger than my long-term planning skills. Running a newspaper business is demanding on a daily basis. There is little time for developing strategic plans.
One time, I was on a panel of news executives, discussing about the changing future of print media. An editor from the Oregonian, a pioneer in developing digital media in news, demonstrated how a news page worked and looked on a computer.
“It looks great on the computer screen, but can you take the computer to the toilet?” I recall stupidly saying. At the time, few knew that wireless was the answer.
So why do students believe that the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post are successful papers?
A reader once said, “You can’t say you are successful unless it has been validated [by others].” That implies that you can’t declare yourself a success, only others can — through recognizing that you have climbed impossible mountains where others could not.
Master John Leong of Seattle Kung Fu Club said to me, “You are the only papers [not funded by government] that have their own building.”
Another friend said, “You have no bad debt.”
We own all of our equipments free and clear. A banker taught me that financing your own is an efficient way to save money, rather than paying loan interest. Also, we have never filed chapter 11.
Why have none of these aspects of success made me feel that I have ‘arrived’? Instead, small things have made an impact on my emotions. Recently in the Chinatown/International District library’s small conference room, I saw a man reading the Seattle Chinese Post attentively, behind a closed door. Why didn’t he just sit in the open lobby like the other visitors?
I was tempted to knock his door and ask, “What are you reading that demands your undivided attention?”
At an event last week, Sandy Sun, owner of China Harbor, came to my seat in the restaurant, and said, “Good job on Facing East [restaurant story].”
Yoshi Minegishi, a community leader, recently sent me a note, raving about a Northwest Asian Weekly editorial, underlining parts of it emphatically. I could give you a lot more examples that have brightened my day. Because I savor all these moments of joy, which so many of you have given me.
Just last week, another community leader Joan Yoshitomi emailed me, “I loved the article in the Weekly about Denise Morighcui and Tomoko Moriguchi-Matsuno (‘Top women: Uwajimaya bosses on leadership’).”
When readers say to me, “We trust your stories,” and “You have been fair and are objective,” and “The information really helps us,” these comments are worth more than gold to me.
Why Lubitz picked us to interview is because she perceived us being successfully in more conventional terms. “You have lots of readers and customers,” she said. “Your papers are well known (according to her survey) and profitable.”
I could argue against every point she made. We do have lots of readers, but compared to mainstream media, we are only a drop in the ocean. Many have never heard of us or know that we even exist. I don’t feel terrible when people say, “This is the first time I’ve heard about the Asian Weekly,” despite the fact that we have published for 34 years.
Many have simply said, “I know about the papers, but I don’t read them.” This shows we have done a poor job of reaching out or that we don’t have a sufficient number of relevant stories that inspire certain people to pick up the Asian Weekly.
Two versions of success
Entrepreneurs and professionals should separate their personal successes from their career achievements. You have probably heard that some successful people end up divorced. They could be lousy parents, drunks, or drug addicts — as it’s hard to handle the business stress.
Please allow my self-indulgence for a moment. I consider my personal success to be greater than my company’s success.
Despite my busy career, I have raise two wonderful, normal, and happy sons. It would make my life miserable if my kids suffer from depression, as I have seen what it does to my friends’ families. And yes, they enjoy working with tough women, a rare quality in many men.
I don’t drive a fancy Mercedes or Lexus. I still love my messy, dirty Toyota, which I bought 12 years ago. Dressing in Gucci doesn’t make me feel special. Receiving second-hand clothes from my mother’s closet actually thrills me because no one can tell it’s old clothes. If I don’t take her clothes, she would likely give away her expensive stuff to someone else.
So what are your criteria for personal success? The number one question is, are you happy with your life and what you do?
If your answer is yes, you have achieved much personal success. Other people have added criteria such as, are you in good health? Do you feel you are constantly learning and being challenged in a positive manner? Do you have good friends and loved ones to share in your success and support you?
Beyond those, having the ability to give back is key. After I graduated from the University of Washington (UW), I wanted to support my alma mater any way I could. I was fortunate to give back several times more than the scholarships I received in my junior and senior years at the UW. In addition, I have helped organize three scholarship endowments, two for the University of Washington and one for Seattle Colleges. I am so grateful and fortunate that I am in a position to support education for those in need. It is my business success that propels my personal success.
Keeping the publications going is also my expression of gratitude to the community. Over the years, the community has supported the Asian Weekly through thick and thin.
Not many realize my company’s role in nurturing youth and women of color. But we have over the past decades.
Some of my young staff didn’t know much when they started working for me. Now, not only are they much smarter than me, they have wonderful jobs and careers in many fields. And all the young leaders we have trained through the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation’s 20-year-old Summer Youth Leadership Program are making their marks on the community. Many women of color in leadership have made their voices heard through our tri-annual Women of Color Empowered luncheons. For 20 years, we have opened doors for women of color.
Despite the incredible amount of contributions we have made to the community over the years, we can’t avoid the fact that print media is dying. If I fail to secure a future for the Asian Weekly for the next decade, would anyone still consider me or the Asian Weekly to be successful?
It may sound like I am sad. On the contrary — this is the irony. The more odds I am facing, the more fun I have. The freedom that my company provides, to live the life I want, is a sign of success for me. This freedom has granted me constant inspiration to do amazing things.
In the meantime, I am enjoying the suspense and uncertainty in the process of finding solutions for both publications, just like a surfer waiting for the right wave before she can push herself up. The surfer might fall. That’s the risk she has and is willing to take. But the exhilaration to see that wave rushing in is exactly like the opportunities that my staff seek and fight for each week. It’s rewarding and interesting to watch. No one can accuse me of not trying.
Although each week is getting harder and harder, miraculously, my people have often steered me toward uncovering opportunities and making the paper interesting to read. So we will expect the unexpected in this journey with patience, courage, and a purpose. As Nobel Prize winner Fritjof Nansen said, “The difficult is what takes a little time.
The Impossible is what takes a little longer.” (end)
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.