San Francisco’s Hokubei Mainichi the latest Japanese community newspaper to shut down

The home page for the Hokubei Mainichi, the bilingual newspaper for the Japanese community, which announced it

Denver’s Japanese community knew it was coming: Even before the current angst and pain that newspapers in general are feeling thanks to declining circulation and dire economic times, the city’s Japanese newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Jiho, shut down. Its owners, Eiichi and Yoriko Imada, had been subsidizing the weekly newspaper, which had one or two pages of news and features in English followed by a handful of pages of local and international news in Japanese, out of their own pockets for years. The advertising wasn’t paying for the publication. But the paper had been part of the community for decades (they bought it from its previous owner in the 1980s), so they couldn’t afford to keep it running anymore.

It was the Imadas who got me to write a weekly column about life from a Japanese American perspective on a volunteer basis, and suggested the name “Nikkei View.” I started posting the columns online and I’ve never stopped, eventually turning the column into a Web site that covered not just JA, but also Asian American Pacific Islander issues.

Meanwhile, the Jiho ran out of money, time and energy. That was several years ago.

Now, even older, more established community newspapers — which are among the “vernacular press,” or foreign language media that serve immigrant communities throughout the U.S. — in areas with Japanese populations are starting to shut down. The San Francisco area has shockingly lost both its Japanese papers in recent months.

The Nichi Bei Times was closed two months ago, and the Hokubei Mainichi just announced its imminent closure in October, but finally ceased publication and cleaned out its offices this week.

The only outlet on the West Coast left for news in Japanese (and also English) is the Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles.

For AAPI news, there’s still the JACL’s excellent bi-monthly newspaper, the Pacific Citizen (full disclosure: I was JACL’s Editorial Board Chair for the Pacific Citizen for seven years). The PC is funded in large part by its non-profit parent organization. But even serving more than one ethnic group can be a hazardous ventire fopr a for-profit business.

Earlier this year, the venerable Engliah-language pan-Asian newspaper which described itself as “The voice of Asian America,” AsianWeek, stopped printing its dead-tree editions, and began only posting news stories on its website.

All of which means that these are tough times for newspapers serving niche communities, just like regular newspapers everywhere.

Things aren’t all gloomy. There are probably thousands of vernacular — foreign-language — press across the United States, and gobs of them cover Asian communities.

Just in Denver, I can count four Chinese newspapers, at least two Vietnamese, three Korean, one Tibetan, one (or two?) Indian, and who knows how many other Asian community papers. No one’s getting rich publishing these newspapers. And though they have a more stable readership (sort of a captive audience), as long as the older, immigrant, generation is still around to read news in their birth language, they’re eventually going to find their audience shrinking.

Unlike the news media in general, ethnic media can’t just concentrate on online content and upgrade their websites. Many people in immigrant populations that are served by the vernacular press may not speak English, and may not be Internet savvy.

There’s no easy answer, I’m afraid. Those of us who write blogs can try to keep up with the flow of news, and many of us who have ties to other countries can link to news from those countries — if only, in my case, I could read Japanese, that is.

So I’ll ponder the passing of the Hokubei, and the Nichi Bei before that, and hope that the Japanese folks that those papers served find their news and information others ways, whether by word-of-mouth or online or on Japanese language TV programming.

It’s kind of ironic, and pretty sad, that as the world shrinks and the Earth becomes one connected network, ethnic community news organizations are finding themselves disconnected from that network, and out of the loop altogether.

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