By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
What do you do when grim news constantly haunts you? It’s not about the news we journalists are reporting. It’s about the adversities we face as community media. Realistically, how long can we last?
In 2019, the New York Times reported that more than 1 in 5 newspapers have closed in the past 15 years. More than 1,400 communities in the United States are losing a newspaper. Some papers have eliminated their print edition, keeping only an online presence. Our printers’ business has declined substantially as several publications ceased to exist. Many local community newspapers closed up their office to cut costs, and owners and staff members just work at home. Instead of keeping employees, the papers laid them off, hiring freelance writers and not providing benefits so the business can survive.
Even merchants selling newspapers and magazines are now obsolete. Lee Lauckhart, owner of First & Pike News located at the Pike Place Market, folded on Dec. 31, 2019 after being in business for four decades. (His store carried our Seattle Chinese Post in 1982.)
Lauckhart said, “People walked by and said, ‘Good, you are still here.’ And they just walked away,” meaning they didn’t buy anything from his store. Lauckhart, 78, said he didn’t pay himself a salary for the last 12 years, while his employees got paid. (My husband and I are in the same boat, not getting paid.) Lauckhart lives on his social security check.
Publishing two weeklies, print and online, takes up most of my time. I found it counterproductive to panic or moan and groan, even though the Northwest Asian Weekly faces similar challenges.
Crisis also presents opportunities. I have a lot more clarity on what we should and can do. My “tribe” and I work really hard to cultivate opportunities while we can. That includes chasing stories as well as business. Simultaneously, we seize chances to support individuals and groups to overcome their obstacles as our way of giving back. Anything we can do to support our community that’s within our ability, we will do.
How the Asian Weekly and its sister paper, Seattle Chinese Post, differ from other local papers is how many loyal community backers stand with us through thick and thin. Take Snappy Dragon Restaurant in the north end for instance. Owner Judy Fu advertises in both papers every Lunar New Year although her successful business doesn’t need any promotion, and her customers are mostly non-Asians. Fu walked into our office last year to renew her subscription for 10 years.
“Are you sure?” I asked her twice. What I meant was, “Are you sure we’ll be here that long?” Her gesture moved me to tears, and I will work as long as I can to show my gratitude.
Despite our plight, we have a lot to celebrate: our journey of sweat, blood, and tears, and our milestones. The Northwest Asian Weekly will be celebrating its 38th anniversary on Jan. 20.
Now and then
When the Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post first started, there was deep skepticism and resistance. A few community members even said right to my face, “I will give you six months.”
Another said among themselves, “Give her a year, she will fold.” Okay, we are still here after 38 years. Their predictions became my inspiration. I never confronted the detractors. Nor do I take rejection seriously. What’s important was that, they were all my allies later.
The humble beginnings of the Asian Weekly were merely a couple of articles written in English buried inside the Seattle Chinese Post, printed in Chinese for immigrants who like to read mainstream news and events in their own native language. One of our best decisions was to separate the Seattle Chinese Post, in English and Chinese editions, and later gave the English version a new identity and name, called the Northwest Asian Weekly. The Chinese Post founding editor, Hung Szeto, pushed both papers to be weeklies—with different content.
“No one will remember when to pick up the paper if it’s biweekly or monthly,” he argued. At the time, it was like a living hell to produce two weeklies with our inexperience, limited manpower, and resources. Today, we have a different set of challenges— daunting, unsolvable, and irreversible. The only reason we go on is because of our commitment to the community.
Compared to how and where we began, in the basement of Bush Hotel in our early years to the present day, still in business and giving back to the community in numerous ways, we have served multiple generations, including the American-born Asians and mainstream and Chinese immigrants.
Would you call us a success just because we are not dead? Every week, we struggle, we adapt, we fight, we collaborate to bring you the best product, and we toil until we are satisfied with every revision, including headlines, stories, photos, and all the layout before we send the copy to our printer. That process is what I consider a success—the joy of our work.
The 16-page Asian Weekly and 28-page Chinese Post have been publishing a different yet independent editorial stand each week, since the 1990s. Between two weeklies, we have published more news and stories than any other local Asian media in Washington state over the decades.
Imagine if we stack up all our back issues, we could build a skyscraper taller than all the other Asian community newspapers. I wouldn’t consider that an accomplishment, though.
What makes us proud is our resilience and relentless spirit in spite of our adversities to fight for the scoop—pursuing hard news—crafting the most difficult storytelling—reporting unpopular and controversial truths—stories that other ethnic media avoid.
Our timely coverage on crime, economics, business, politics, education, and health shows how these events impact our community. Those topics reflect the pulse, complex challenges, and real issues the community faces. When we cover what’s going on in the community, we are documenting our community’s history chapter by chapter.
The easy way for most media is to do features and commentaries, and go light on hard news. Hard news is time-consuming and requires teamwork and digging. When our stories present the truth, we can step on someone’s toes. Naysayers would discredit us with President Trump’s favorite words, “That’s fake news.” Whatever critics say about us, we never take it personally. We have learned to “let it go” after years of practice.
Years ago, attorney Charles Herrmann said, “If you are pleasing everybody, you are not a newspaper, you are a public relations newsletter.” Herrmann is our long-time advertiser, and he doesn’t want the Asian Weekly to pat everyone’s back. My parents objected to me starting a newspaper initially because publishing a newspaper is a thankless task. I didn’t believe it, I was naive. But their biggest objection was, “You can’t make money running a newspaper.”
A blessing and a curse
I would be lying if I told you that I enjoyed my work in the past. Like President Kennedy said, I did it over the years, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. So hard that I cried a lot during the first decade. I was also miserable often with physical illness and stress due to overwork, exhaustion, and the demands of raising a family.
Ironically, our workload eased up when internet flowed into our lives. The multi-functional computer was all we needed for publishing. Gone was our clumsy dark room with film processing, screening all photos half-tone with a bulky copying camera, sending out our layout with a taxi to the printer, doing color separation on paper layer by layer, using tapes, scissors, and paper for layout, and manually typing our English and Chinese text and hating any mistakes we made with white-out to cover them. It was a strenuous process just to layout one page. (And we had to pay someone to get rid of our copying camera when it became extinct.) We witnessed our transformation from black and white to color, and paper to digital, cutting down labor and production cost. And we often break stories as fast as the mainstream press by putting the story online within hours.
Digital media is both a blessing and a curse. But I never want to turn back the clock even though it will eventually kill all of us.
Last year, we expected it to be a year of disaster like 2017 and 2018. Yet “miracles” emerged in our most desperate hours and days. Then I remember what Albert Einstein said.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
I will share with you those miracles in our next issue. The question is: Can we capture those miracles and duplicate them in 2020?
Part II: Our miracles in 2019 and my failure.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.