From Newsprint to New Media: The Evolving Role of Nikkei Newspapers

I had the pleasure in April of giving a presentation, “From Newsprint to New Media: The Evolving Role of Nikkei Newspaper,” followed by a panel which I moderated, looking at the vibrant history of Japanese community newspapers. The program, which was organized by Discover Nikkei, was held at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Discover Nikkei is a project of JANM, and hosts its own very cool website that showcases the Nikkei experience from people of Japanese descent all over the world.

Like the newspaper industry in general across the U.S., publications that serve Japanese communities — both Japanese-speaking and English-speaking Japanese Americans — have suffered from tough economic times, falling advertising dollars and declining readership. But also like the rest of the industry, Nikkei newspapers are evolving to suit the needs of the future.

That’s the framework I wanted to establish in my presentation, which I’ve embedded above. I followed my talk with brief introductions by four panelists describing their history and various current approaches to Nikkei media, and then a panel discussion about what’s in store for the future. I’ve embedded videos of the entire program below, which was shot, edited and assembled by the Discover Nikkei staff as an album of video clips on this page.

The panelists included Gwen Muranaka, the English language editor of the LA-based Rafu Shimpo, the best-known of the Japanese community newspapers; Kenji Taguma, founder of the Nichi Bei Foundation and editor of the Nichi Bei Weekly in San Francisco; Shigeharu Higashi, who runs the Cultural News website and monthly newspaper covering events in LA; and George Johnston, whose web-only news site Nikkei Nation aggregates news and present original content about Japan and Japanese Americans for a subscription fee.

There are some fascinating stories about the early days of Nikkei newspapers during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and how they evolved from newspaper wars to the dark days of World War II, when all the West Coast Japanese community papers were put on hold or shut down. Like the Japanese American community in general, the phoenix-like rebirth after WWII of papers like the Rafu in Los Angeles, and the new version of the Nichi Bei that rose up in San Francisco are another chapter in the story.

We started off the panel discussion with how each publication has approached the coverage of the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami.

It was an honor to be involved in this program, and I applaud Discover Nikkei for pulling it together and JANM for hosting the event. I had a blast, and I hope the 100 or so people who attended enjoyed it too. Here’s a report on the program by Johnston in his Rafu column, “INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Journalists Ponder Past, Future of Nikkei Newspapers.” (yes, he writes a column in the Rafu and operates his own Nikkei Nation website at the same time).

These videos are a lot to watch, but if you wanted to attend the event but couldn’t, it’s a nice way to see how it went down, and if you’;re just someone who’s interested in the ups and downs of ethnic media, the panelists and discussion make for fascinating raw research fodder.

Here’s my presentation:

Here’s Gwen Muranaka of the Rafu Shimpo:

Kenji Taguma of the Nichi Bei Weekly

Shigeharu Higashi of Cultural News

George Johnston of Nikkei Nation

Panel Discussion, Q&A and Closing Remarks

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