By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Recently, a young Asian woman surprised me with her wish at a community gathering.
“I want your job,” she said.
While I was flattered, her words baffled me. She said she read Northwest Asian Weekly online, fascinated by all the things we did… Yet, she has no clue about the “dirty” work I have to do behind the scenes to get the job done.
Literally — dirty and disgusting!
Perhaps, she likes the stories we do and how they impact the community, that’s significant. If she envies the dinners we hosted for mayors and elected officials, I agree it is fun, prestigious, and exciting. If she admires the awards and recognition (close to 100) we received for journalism, arts, and community services, that’s pretty impressive for a small media company. If she’s enamored by the who’s who visiting our office, including ice skating world champion Michelle Kwan, Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno, former governors Christine Gregoire, Jay Inslee, and Gary Locke and many more, that’s glamorous for many people!
The number of women of color and community leaders we honored over the past decades is significant. The hundreds of youth leaders we trained every summer for more than two decades is incredible. Jeff Lew, one of our summer leadership program graduates, was invited by pop singer John Legend to attend his concert. Legend donated $5,000 to Lew’s fundraising efforts for school lunches. And oh, the powerful editorials we’ve published condemning the bad and ugly, and pointing out the good, illustrating our boldness, while some ethnic media would shy away from controversy.
Raising two University of Washington scholarship endowments in celebration of our 35th anniversary, is our latest achievement.
But is she aware that I’ve received a death threat? Is she aware that I have been practically a volunteer for the Asian Weekly for the past few years, and when money was tight? So is my husband, who took himself out of the payroll since 2016. Yet, he is the computer engineer, accountant, and office maintenance manager of the whole company.
Small vs. big publishers
Big publishers including The Seattle Times, Everett Herald, and Tacoma Tribune just thumb at someone, and the job gets done. For me, a little publisher of two ethnic community publications, who can I delegate the work to? Let me see, I don’t have many choices. Mostly ME!
Big publishers don’t have to distribute papers if their delivery people call in sick — they have backups. My son, my husband, and I became the instant substitutes last week, to help deliver papers to businesses in the Chinatown-International District. Some people were shocked, seeing me running around distributing. Actually, I don’t mind. Whatever it takes to bring the papers to our readers.
Big publishers don’t need to clean up filthy newspaper boxes. Sometimes, I bring along wipes to clean the repelling mess. A few years ago, I was really concerned — one Seattle City councilmember wanted to get rid of all the news boxes in the city. Good thing he didn’t succeed.
Each day, I roam in the International District (ID), refilling six to seven newsstand boxes. Uwajimaya cashiers know I carry papers in my bag to refill the newspaper shelves, and use the bag for groceries afterwards.
Once, I wore a pedometer, tracking the number of steps I walked daily. Not anymore. The exercises from checking the news boxes is sufficient to strengthen me physically each day.
The challenge of small businesses
If everyone pays their bills on time, we would be 10 times better off financially. But no, many drag on without paying, for months and years.
When you call them, you get the usual excuses like, “I thought it’s been paid.”
“You made a mistake.” “The check was sent yesterday.” One client cheated by showing us a copy of the check he sent. The truth is, he never sent the check as verified by the bank. Those tasks not only consume us, it can be upsetting when people are dishonest.
Big publishers would add interest to unpaid bills. For us little guys, we can’t. People curse and even yell if we add penalties. Why not give the job to a collection agency? Asian businesses take it personally, they would never forgive us if we did that. So we have to endure the work ourselves.
If you told me I was going to be a debt collecter when I was a child, I would probably have reacted by saying, “Holy smokes, that’s the worst job in the world! Do I have to?”
Often, I am grateful when ID clients call us to pick up the checks. Once, I walked into a restaurant, and the owner handed me a check. “Save a stamp. I figured you will come to eat one of these days.” I wonder how long he kept the check in his drawer.
Big publishers have a big credit department, staffed with tough guys who demand to have payment immediately. For us, it’s almost like polite begging.
We never raise our voices. Do you think the young Asian woman likes to collect money? It’s crucial for survival.
Hustling for business
The struggle for us is to create opportunities for ourselves and businesses to advertise against the tirade of digital media. However, when advertisers say yes, that’s only half the battle.
Many small businesses simply have no concept of what ad content they should have.
“You come up with something,” they say. It’s not that simple for us if these businesses don’t know how to articulate the purpose or mission of their company of service. I am not griping, simply stating the facts.
Big publishers don’t have to write ad copy or hustle for business. Sure, they have an advertising and sales team. In my role, I have become my clients’ advertising and business consultant, and we charge only for the ad space.
The reward is, our relationship is much stronger with our community. We treasure our community’s trust in us.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to write the ad copy in English or Chinese, rather than not having enough advertisements in the papers.
Advertisements make the publications more interesting and visually appealing. It’s my duty to bring in revenue to pay my staff on time. They deserve it.
What motivates our writers to produce good stories? Without our writers, there wouldn’t be an Asian Weekly.
Money is not the reason our freelance writers write for us. It’s the satisfaction they get after being published — when they see their piece being transformed into a great product with a dramatic layout, effective headlines, and high-standard editing. Readers’ feedback means a lot to our writers. So do send in your input on whether you like the article or not. Still, there are other incentives to write for Asian Weekly.
One freelance writer wants to take only assignments worthy of winning journalism awards. Her zeal for winning drives her to perfect her writing — not our low pay with no benefits. The challenge is that, how do you inspire people to willingly take on stories they would normally reject?
As each writer’s needs and strengths are different, how do we balance that with our goals in presenting a quality issue every week?
Big publishers don’t have to take crap like, “You made a mistake in my ad copy. You have to write a story on my business to make it up.” “You ran the wrong ad, you have to give me a free run and an additional free ad (called make-good ad).” “If you don’t run a story on us, we won’t give you an ad.”
Many businesses favor only positive stories. When we are reporting the truth (sometimes not in their favor), they instantly stop their advertisements.
Their grudges could last a decade or longer.
Print media is dying
That’s a sad fact. Young people get their news from Facebook. Some young people don’t care much about current affairs. I can’t change their values. As of today, I still have been unable to come up with long-term solutions to reinvent ourselves. Things we have been doing, are not innovative at all. Lots of media outlets rely on grants, which restrict them to doing certain types of stories. Consequently, those outlets are not doing stories relevant to the community.
By now, the young lady has a glimpse of the unglamorous portions of being the publisher of the Asian Weekly and Chinese Post.
Yes, I’ve had my share of nightmares over the years. My mind turns those nightmares into adventures. Does the young lady still think my job is cool?
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.