By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Let me begin with a thank-you to our readers, advertisers, my staff, and writers for making 2019 beyond wonders.
One lesson I learned over the years is don’t take anybody or anything for granted. What we normally counted on in the past could vanish overnight. We lost supporters whom we had built relationships for a while, due to retirement, death, or relocation. Maybe, that’s just life. Still, we are grateful for the miracles that keep us going.
What could it possibly be, except God’s act, which gave us the opportunity to break news at the right time and the right place. This is dream of all media, to achieve the best timing—not prematurely—but enough to beat your competitors.
“A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous,” said Albert Einstein. It happened to us quite a few times in 2019.
Take the story of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the building of America’s Transcontinental Railroad last year—-the contribution of nearly 20,000 immigrant workers, and 15,000 were Chinese.
I not only wanted that story, I wanted to be in Utah for the special occasion. But I couldn’t because my eye surgery was scheduled at that time.
As if God knew my wish, days before the celebration, I saw Kevin Lee at an event. He mentioned that he would attend the railway celebration. “Can you write a story for us?” In a heartbeat, he said yes.
Then, Al Young called. He said his ancestor was one of the railroad laborers over a century ago. What!? I couldn’t believe our fortune. And he just returned from Utah. His sister Connie was the keynote speaker, and Tai Tung Restaurant owner Harry Chan went, too. Another stroke of luck: right before we went to press, Jack Peng emailed me Labor Secretary Elaine Chao’s speech at the commemoration. Five individuals who care deeply about their community, contributed an important story to the Asian Weekly with 9 historical photos, including a photo of all the railroad workers’ descendants. I wouldn’t have known where to turn for help had these people not shared their experiences. We beat even some mainstream media. That was one of my favorite issues of the Asian Weekly—remarkable stories with both local and national angles.
Another story that was published with impeccable timing was one of my blogs. Had we published it early, it could have gotten me a lot of flak. When community leader Faye Hong’s name appeared on the ballot, I was tempted to write in the Asian Weekly that he broke his words and retirement to run for the International Special Review District (ISRD) board.
“That’s news,” my enthusiastic self instantly agreed.
“It’s news, but you shouldn’t write about it,” said my reasoning self.
“Why not?” my impulse self said. “It’s my column, I can write anything I want.”
Conscience said, “No, no, no. If you do, you would be accused of influencing the election.”
“Just wait until after the election,” my reasoning self said, casting the final verdict. Thank God, that week, I had another topic to write about. Had I not gotten one, I would have been forced to write about Hong. Sometimes, developing a relevant, timely, and interesting topic for the column is just as challenging as writing the piece.
And Hong won the election without needing my article. My blog was published after the election, not knowing that the election was being contested. The column turned out to be ironic, dramatic, and timely.
Politics beat festivals
You cannot prepare a sumptuous meal without ingredients, spices, and sources. We can’t publish print and online if we don’t have content to work with. From initiatives to the increasing number of Asian Americans running for office and against each other, from north to south of the Greater Seattle area, possibilities descended on us. The Asian candidates’ qualifications are impressive, some are lawyers, doctors, and even have doctoral degrees. We now have a whole new generation of rainmakers.
Knowing how many Asians were running was difficult to estimate at the beginning. Readers kept on emailing us that we were wrong on our number of Asian candidates. We missed them on our list because a few had non-Asian last names. We used to endorse qualified Asian and non-Asian candidates. When there were as many as 40, we decided not to do it as we didn’t have time to talk to them all. Then, some readers called to our attention, “Where’s your endorsement? I can’t find it.”
My editor said, “I don’t believe it.” That call made us realize that we never know who is reading the Asian Weekly.
Never underestimate the impact a community media makes. So, we ended up putting a short endorsement list online at the last minute.
The 2020 presidential election began early with Democratic candidate Andrew Yang visiting Seattle twice in 2019.
Yang graced our front page every week in December and most November issues, and as many as 22 stories in 2019.
No other local Asian candidate or issue has contributed as many articles as Yang in a year. We love to do stories that other media ignores.
Traditionally, festivals drive our business and stories, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day, and Lunar New Year.
Now, politics defeat festivals. Between the primary and general election, it gave us as many as six promising issues, with several advertisements and compelling stories. It’s not easy to keep up with all the political news for a small publication like us. It’s ‘thumbs up’ for us. The more we cover politics, the more we can engage the Asian community, especially immigrants. What a change from when we first started 38 years ago
No slow month
Even December, our slowest month in news and business, turned out magnificent —stories about the contested ISRD board election gave us several hot stories. And the year ended with surprises: AARP bought four full-page advertisements in one issue, and Marilyn Strickland, former Tacoma mayor and Seattle Chamber’s CEO, announced her run for Congress.
The last four months of 2019 were astonishing. From ground zero, without any stories for the front page and page 2 on Monday, our engine started moving — things trickled in in the last 30 hours right before we went to press on Wednesday.
Suddenly, the front page came alive, flooded with four or five stories that we even had to take out some stories, and the same number of half and full-page ads arrived unexpectedly to complete the issue. We just couldn’t believe how everything clicked together the last minute like a fairy’s magic wand creating Cinderella’s gown and carriage, except everything would vanish by midnight. But for us, every Asian Weekly issue will be displayed and saved on the internet forever—-the power of the internet.
Musketeers make miracles
The Asian Weekly folks are modern musketeers, not with swords, but with words. We fight for the best content, devote ourselves to the art of storytelling, so that we can satisfy our readers with fresh perspectives. Proud to say, our writers received 11 journalism awards in 2019 from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association. What a privilege to work with our writers who have been creating “miracles” for us week after week for the sake of community journalism—low pay for substantial contribution. Thank you for making a difference in the Asian Weekly and to our community.
And being the publisher, I get the blame, as well as credit. Even with blame and, sometimes, yelling, I consider my work a privilege. Thank you to those who take the time to write for us and read our content.
One new act
With the current economic hardship, it’s challenging for me to volunteer for programs like our free summer youth leadership program, Women of Color Empowered lunch, and Rainbow Bookfest.
I never expected to start anything new in 2019. Inspired by Tien Ha’s question, “How do Asian entrepreneurs deal with failure?” I saw an opportunity. Instead of writing a story, we hosted our first “Entrepreneurs of the Year” lunch and panel to educate the business community. The response was immense. And kudos to our team who organized the whole event so well.
From re-decorating the trophy to designing honorees’ name tags, writing and editing a special issue to printing the program, my awesome team just kept the ball rolling to the finish line. It’s a miracle we could pull it off in three months.
What is my failure? Not any missed issues for the past 38 years, nor failing to pay our employees. Some media cut, reduce staff salaries and even miss paying their people. We have never done that. You might not consider those items as miracles, but they are to small businesses who work hard to fulfill their obligations to employees.
Even in the last two weeks of snow, our issues were published, both in print and online. What appears normal to you, is not normal for us. When most of our people work at home, it becomes a burden to us inside the office due to lack of face-to-face interaction. Things we can achieve in two seconds, takes five minutes and longer. But I am grateful that we have the option to make things work. In the past, my husband and son had to drive our employees to work during snow days. And my family and I had to distribute the papers in the snow ourselves in the International District.
This time, the challenge is, the future. Friends wonder about my succession plan for fear that I might retire. It’s my failure as I have none. But do I need one?
Statistics have shown that print media have no tomorrow. Bill Gates said in 1994 to a national editors’ convention in Seattle that we would be out of business, 12 or 15 years from now. That’s why I said, every week is a miracle.
With the convenience of internet, I can work all over the world. I travel several weeks a year. Bless my staff, they let me do so. As long as I have a flexible schedule, I will continue to serve the community. Many retirees don’t find a purpose after retirement. I am lucky that I know what my passion is. Volunteer for the Asian Weekly.
Experiencing adventures while I work, is all I ask. How can I make use of my connections to experience adventures? Travel is the answer.
In 2019, I traveled to South America for the first time. In addition, my husband and I traveled to Canada including Prince Edward Island, Rhode Island, and Maine. We saw the magnificent Iguazu Falls from both the Argentina and Brazil side.
When I was in New York, former Seattle Times executive Sharon Chan, who now works for the New York Times, invited me to tour the New York Times (NYT) headquarters, and I sat in their staff news meeting. New York Assemblywomen Nuh Line Niou, a former Seattleite, also escorted me around in her district, including the World Trade Center, Chinatown, and Wall Street. Would I get those special treatment if I were just an ordinary person? It’s a miracle I could sit at the NYT meeting, seeing how journalists at that level function. Those are rewards for being a journalist—-going to exciting places and meeting dynamic people.
Travel nourishes me with fresh perspectives and yields rejuvenation. I get excited even packing for each trip. It helps me to grow and for the Asian Weekly to evolve. So I am not even concerned how long we will be here. I won’t want to waste my time tackling questions without answers. Adversity is part of our journey. So I tell myself, “Relax. It doesn’t matter what happens… it’s not going to affect my spirit and happiness.” My newfound freedom inspires me to enjoy even the tough rides. Just know that every issue is a gift. Every week, we aim to deliver our best work.
To all those who are struggling in whatever you do, “Hang in with a smile…” I am.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.