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De Tran: A Pioneer in Vietnamese- Language Media

New America Media, NAM Profile, Julia Harte Posted: Jul 05, 2006

In the marketplace of cultural exchange, De Tran is an unusually innovative broker.

His ambassadorial, creative spirit is manifest in some of the recent articles in VTimes, one of two major Vietnamese-language daily newspapers he has founded.

The June 16 edition of VTimes includes a review of a little-known Vietnamese oil painter in San Jose, an analysis of candidates in the citys mayoral race, and a cooking article that suggests pairing phoa noodle dish and staple of Vietnamese cuisinewith various Western wines.
De Tran
Personally, I always liked to do things that were kind of different, to create something, says Tran, editor of VTimes and its recently discontinued predecessor, Viet Mercury.

Although VTimes is an independent publication and only three weeks old, Viet Mercury faithfully served the Vietnamese population of Santa Clara County for six years before its owner, the San Jose Mercury News, closed it in Nov. 2005. At that point, the paper was losing so much money that maintaining its high-scale staff and production became economically unfeasible.

Without the financial backing of a major news service like the Mercury News, Tran says, the staff at VTimes has to do everything pretty much ourselves. Thats a limitation.

Viet Mercury had a circulation of 35,000; VTimes has already hit 20,000, retaining most of Viet Mercurys readership.

Tran describes the divides that he strives to bridge through journalism: There are about two million Vietnamese living outside of Vietnam, all over the world, scattered in France, in Australia, in Atlanta, Georgia. But we all look at it as one community. Thats how we approach the news.

Within these enclaves, Vietnamese migrants tend to group so closely that they lose touch with their new society.

In Mississippi, for instance, Tran met fishermen originally from Vietnam who had never opened bank accounts in the 30 years they had lived in the United States.

Disconnects with American society have ramifications more serious than living on cash, however.

Tran is concerned that a significant number of Vietnamese migrants are unaware of vital and preventive medical services in their area.

One of Viet Mercurys most renowned article series exposed doctors who were embezzling money from patients newly arrived in the United States, including many Vietnamese. The series prompted the arrests of several doctors involved, Tran recalls with satisfaction.

Barriers between American and Vietnamese culture can even prove deadly; in 2003, San Jose police shot and killed a Vietnamese woman holding an Asian vegetable peeler that they mistook for a butcher knife.

While mainstream media covered the facts of the shooting, Tran remembers, Viet Mercury gauged the Vietnamese communitys reaction to it and helped move the case forward.

The investigative expertise of writers at the San Jose Mercury News assisted Viet Mercury in tracking down stories, but journalists at Viet Mercury could penetrate issues that Vietnamese informants were reticent to discuss with mainstream press.

Were able to get more access into the community than, say, the [San Francisco] Chronicle or the Mercury News. Were able to talk to the family members. We speak the language and we understand the culture, says Tran.

This intimacy with the Vietnamese community was Viet Mercurys greatest asset, and the legacy that VTimes hopes to continue.

Speaking the language of ones readers is paramount in journalism, Tran believes.

Although the Vietnamese homeowners of Santa Clara County are mostly bilingual, 75 percent prefer to read the news in their own language, according to research conducted by the San Jose Mercury News.

Language has a certain emotional power, and when they read it in their mother tongue that effect is increased, Tran opines.

Although Tran says he never imagined that he would become a journalist until in college, his fascination with news started early. He grew up in Vietnam, and at the age of five began to read, fittingly, the local dailies. Its a love, declared Tran, a self-described news junkie.

As for the bridges he builds, the languages he maneuvers, the cultural cognizance he negotiates in order to bring pho with Sauvignon Blanc to the taste buds of Vietnamese migrants?

I think we are providing a truly needed service in the community, Tran professes.

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