By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
In a year of recession gloom, business closures, and newspapers dying in droves — why are we, a small paper, still here? Why didn’t we fear that Northwest Asian Weekly would be next? Why didn’t we blame the competition that caused us so much grief, such as Craigslist and other Internet advertising? Why do we feel lucky, energized, and strengthened by the economic turmoil?
The only thing I can say to explain our resilient, fiery spirit is that some dragon’s magic has probably guided us. Of the 12 zodiac animals in Chinese culture, the dragon is the luckiest and most energetic. How else could I explain the number of opportunities we were blessed with in 2009? Author Hoan Do inspired me to think about the magical moments I had in 2009.
At first, I dismissed it as a childish exercise. Then, I started counting. And then, I gasped … I couldn’t believe it! I’ve had more than 300 magical moments. In a time of deficits, failures of major industries, and ugly news, the newspaper has had positive, memorable experiences.
On Jan. 20, when we celebrate the 28th anniversary of this paper and its sister paper, the Seattle Chinese Post, I’ll know that some of the magical moments were actually miracles that not only changed our perspective on our fate, but also kept us going.
Our philosophy is to seize everything happening around us and turn it into an opportunity. Take the 2009 election for instance. I thought that nothing would top the 2008 presidential politics. To our surprise, the 2009 city and county election was just as exciting, interesting, and dramatic. We milked every drop of it, not only in our reporting, but also in raising money for others. We organized a debate that enabled us to connect the candidates with the community. Later, we hosted a dinner to honor the newly elected officials.
Some of you said that the election had split the Asian community apart. But I think the division in the election prompted the community to be more engaged and passionate toward its candidates and causes. It will help winners to be more sensitive in embracing diversity in their administrations. Both King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Mike McGinn appointed Asian Americans in their administrations, even before the new year. It was a healthy beginning, and we did not even need to remind them to do so in our editorial.
The best came last
December in 2008 was dull and cold. December in 2009 was unusually amazing. We earned the approval of doubters after a very long, tough trail. From politicians to community leaders, they approached us to take the lead in community projects. One said, “If I don’t come to you, then who else?” Another said, “You are ‘the paper’ I go to with this advertising campaign.”
We received a nice surprise from an organization who had worked with our competitor for more than a decade. “We want you as our partner.” It was never our desire to draw away business from another, but we believe that the market is big enough for everyone to seize opportunities. The proposal was sincere. It convinced us that we would be better off, so we could not say no.
If it seems I’ve insinuated that our newspapers had a smooth ride in 2009, that was not the case. Many avalanches drove us to the edge of the cliff, yet we were quick to change course and defy the odds. Too many of our colleagues, such as the Seattle P-I and Rocky Mountain News, met their demise during this crumbling economy. We are grateful that we still exist, are able to pay our bills, and have had no layoffs.
Overcoming setbacks requires luck
There were publications that successfully boosted their revenue and circulation, such as Fader Media and Canon Communications. Events were what saved them and us. Every activity shows us how to reinvent ourselves. As we improvise, we uncover new venues. Without hierarchies in our company, brilliant ideas come from the staff, proofreaders, receptionists, and freelance writers, all of whom inspire us to do amazing things.
Last year, the Northwest Asian Weekly organized 10 events, three more than the previous year. This number did not include events in which we assisted.
We don’t always make money on our own events because much of the proceeds go to the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation for youth programs and scholarships. Our goal is not about making money. Our goals include bringing the community together, driving business to the restaurants, enhancing our networking and visibility, increasing my staff’s working hours, and learning to perfect the process.
Frankly, it boosts our morale to know that we can make things happen despite all of the conflicts that arise in running events. As President Franklin Roosevelt said, if you are confronted with challenges, “Do something. If it fails, try something else. Above all, never give up.”
What motivates us to do more than operate a newspaper is clear. If we cannot help ourselves financially, we can at least contribute to the community. Our purpose is bigger than running a media company.
We like to empower, inspire, engage, and bring life to the community. Many of these events did produce unforeseen headaches. For instance, the dinner we hosted to honor U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke last June “almost created an international crisis,” said Roger Nyhus, who served as a local liaison for the Department of Commerce.
We invited the consul generals of China, Japan, and South Korea and a representative from Taiwan. Inviting foreign officials to events honoring federal officials has to be cleared with the State Department. Unfortunately, we did not know the protocol. Hence, I had to negotiate with the parties involved to prevent any meltdowns, and most importantly, to satisfy the State Department’s rules. The red tape, e-mails, and phone calls would discourage anyone from coordinating such a stressful project.
Despite past encounters resulting in protests and walkouts between Chinese and Taiwan officials in Seattle, there was no incident at Locke’s dinner. It actually made history in the Seattle Chinese community. The two had the most cordial exchange in a long time. In one evening, I felt like I had scored 10 touchdowns.
Everything just flowed so beautifully. It was quite an invaluable education. Even our most recent event in December almost tore us apart. Mayor Mike McGinn decided at the last minute to show up.
We consider ourselves very lucky that everything worked out, and it was a win-win situation for our community and honorees. What a great day to bring together King County Assessor Lloyd Hara, Dow Constantine, McGinn, Seattle School Board member Betty Patu, Martha Choe, and John Okamoto all under one roof in Chinatown/International District.
Achieving the impossible
The Asian American Pioneer dinner honoring musicians was one of the most audacious events we had ever attempted. The challenges were obvious. How could anyone do a concert in a Chinese restaurant with an inadequate sound system? How could we get individual Asian musicians to collaborate? How could we create live music with a broken piano? How could we stay on time with seven different performances by 17 musicians? How could we have a dinner, concert, and awards show in one night?
Miraculously, the performances moved superbly and ended at 8:40 p.m. (all of our 2009 events were ahead of schedule). Thanks to the organizing committee, which included Yoshi Minegishi, Martha Lee, Mary Ann Goto, Laura Worth, and others. We planned every detail from the setup of the musical instruments to the stage to the seating arrangements. As the chair of Celebrate Asia! of the Seattle Symphony, Yoshi has experience putting together a fabulous concert.
Through Yoshi, we even managed to borrow a first-class piano from Sherman Clay, move it from its store, and lift it into China Harbor Restaurant’s second floor. Not only did we accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish, we inspired Asian musicians to appreciate their colleagues’ talents. It was an eye-opening experience for the audience to recognize how much more the community can offer. It was a slam dunk moment for me.
More serendipitous moments
When the newspaper first began, we had no name, credibility, or foundation. We basically had to beg people to allow us to take their pictures. Now, it’s the opposite. Many want their photos to appear in the Asian Weekly. Some readers keep sending the same picture after our initial rejection.
One reader was so mad because his name or photo was not included among the many VIPs in an event and he felt slighted. It’s gratifying to know that we have become an important source for exposure and pride for the community.
The Northwest Asian Weekly wrote a story on Roger and Bryon Mark opening a tennis court in Mill Creek. After reading the story, a reader attended the grand opening and presented a red envelope wishing them good luck. In Chinese and other Asian cultures, red envelopes filled with money symbolize luck. Although we did not know who the giver was, the story made me dance.
There were just too many serendipitous memories in 2009, and it would be impossible to list them all.
If your work fails, should you work longer? Howard Chung, vice president of John L. Scott Real Estate Co, said, “No.”
There is a difference between what’s urgent and what’s important, he said.
So I took Chung’s advice last year. I hiked often and enjoyed the woods, mountains, and waters. Let nature energize us. My friend said, “I don’t understand why you have so much energy.”
In our business, if you don’t have passion, you cannot nurture energy or creativity. We have all three.
A Decade of Hell?
Time Magazine depicted the last decade as the Decade of Hell for the United States, a decade that included the 9/11 attacks, terrorists’ threats, a diving economy, and the bank and automobile industries’ fallout.
For us, it was a decade of roller-coaster adventures. We redesigned our papers and websites, built a new building, went from one page of color to many pages of color, and made a difference in the lives of many despite the dark future lying before us. The Internet revolution is a blessing and a curse.
Do I want to return to our old days when we had to manually type out the text, process, and screen photos through our old heavy machine? Do I want to carry bulky cameras, and mail and fax everything? No. Do I want to deal with the loss of readers and advertisements escaping to the Internet? No.
To obtain a balance among these forces, we have to reach beyond our imagination to adopt new strategies. Rigidity and complacency have no place in the new decade. Every day is a new discovery. We have to hold on to those magical moments because they made us treasure our blessings and they embody lessons and messages for our future.
Although uncertainties loom over our destiny, I am surprisingly free of anxieties, insecurities, and fear.
You may assume that I’ve become numb after 28 years in the business or that I am too confident over my solutions in dealing with the challenges. Neither is true.
We cannot tell you how long we will be here. As we enter the new decade, there are actually more questions than answers. Hopefully, we can see more roses than thorns.
What we do know is that our commitment toward the well-being of the Asian community and people of color is unwavering. We can only take it one week at a time. See you next week. ♦
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.