By Peggy Chapman
I first read the Northwest Asian Weekly (NWAW) in the mid-1990’s, as a visitor to Seattle. I was in love with the International District (ID) — the food, the culture, Uwajimaya, and Viet-Wah. Being half Taiwanese and knowing little about my mother and heritage, visiting the ID was both exciting and comforting.
There were a lot of free publications in the 1990s. I was in my mid-20s, working in a world which revolved around print and publishing, so I would pick up and read anything that was printed and free. Among all those papers, I remembered the NWAW and thinking, “What a neat little paper!” It stood out because it published stories about a world I wished to be included in. Every article was Asian-related. It featured snippets and full features, along with blurbs and headshots of faces and an identity I wanted to connect with.
Some 20 years later, after permanently moving and committing to the city, I walked past the NWAW office and was excited to see that the paper was still around. There was also an announcement for a part-time position for editor—it seemed perfect. I sent an impromptu letter and resume, and the publisher, Assunta, responded immediately. We met the next afternoon, and it was a fantastic interview.
Our first deadline wasn’t that fantastic. We all survived it, even if we had to stay up until midnight. The NWAW is a small publication, with an in-house staff consisting of the editor, publisher, and layout editor.
Han, the layout editor, supplied a crash course in the very specific, unique workings of the NWAW newsroom. She also supplied a necessary camaraderie.
We all developed a strong working relationship week after week, despite all the emergencies, frustrations, fights, and triage that come along with the production of the paper. (It also helped to have a sense of humor and one of the best interns ever.) It was clear that covering the community effectively and powerfully was definitely not a part-time job.
Assunta was a huge support and an endless resource for community news, when we were not debating issues of journalism. She would provide names to faces and places I would eventually come to know. She was an encyclopedia of anything related to the ID. We would have conflict about certain stories, but there was always an eventual compromise (perhaps with reluctance on both sides).
What makes a job great is when you consistently have the opportunity to learn, and I was constantly learning about the community. There were so many stories and so much history… Bob Santos, the Panama Hotel, the biographies of the many small business owners, and community figures. There were controversies about new development, tent city, and the ID clean-up. Even the small stories in the Names in the News column (a constant source of frustration on deadline day), and new rules about composting, and the changes in post office hours…these details were important.
It was not about the perfect article, a beautiful layout, strict journalism guidelines, and Pulitzer-prize-winning stories, but making sure to provide what readers in the community needed and wanted to know.
By far, the most pivotal and heart-numbing topic during my period as editor was Donnie Chin’s homicide.
The sudden death of the beloved community fixture, first responder, and local superhero absolutely devastated the community. Chin’s tragic death — murder — had all of us in shock.
We scrapped everything we had planned for the week and scrambled to put together a dedicated Donnie Chin memorial issue. We were fielding calls and getting requests for reprints and questions from out of the state. It truly felt like the ID had suffered a natural disaster, equivalent to a hurricane or earthquake.
His death continued to be a pervasive focus for months later, and his absence still resonates today. It also brought a tide of city-wide issues regarding crime and safety, particularly controversy about hookah lounges, triggered because a hookah lounge was in the vicinity of where Donnie was murdered.
My favorite Assunta anecdote, a necessary and welcomed hilarious moment during this terrible time, was when she mistakenly thought “hookah” was “hooker.” She was rightfully horrified by the idea of all these “hooker bars and hooker lounges.”
Although it was probably one of the most stressful jobs ever, it was also one of the most rewarding. We won a record amount of first-place awards for commentary, art, business, and comprehensive coverage from the Society of Professional Journalists and WNPA. We also won second place for general excellence for weeklies from the Society of Professional Journalists.
But the most rewarding was being allowed to play a role in a community I now truly feel a part of. I think the “part-time job” was a personal gift and education.
Happy 35th anniversary, Northwest Asian Weekly! I hope many get the chance to discover and experience the much-more-than-neat little paper, and find a place in the community among its pages.