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Ming Pao Daily: Newcomer Ignites Chinese Newspaper War in San Francisco

NCM Profile

NCM, Pueng Vongs Posted: Jun 29, 2004

On newsstands in San Francisco's old and new Chinatowns, the battle is heating up for the city's coveted Chinese-language readership.

Newcomer Ming Pao Daily News, widely known as Hong Kong's New York Times, threw down the gauntlet with its 25-cent selling price -- half that of its main competitors. Ming Pao's entry will surely fire up a previously complacent market and boost coverage for a community that is lately wielding more political power. But it is still too early to tell if the paper's stellar reputation will be enough to shake the established reading habits of the country's most historic Chinese community, a population that makes up nearly one quarter of the city.

Ming Pao has rolled out a modest print run of 20,000 in San Francisco.

More than four decades old, the Ming Pao was created by kung fu author Louis Cha, whose epics are well known in the Chinese world. His editorials critical of Beijing garnered a wide following. But in 1995, the paper was sold to Malaysian billionaire Tiong Kiew Chiong who's on this year's Forbes list of the world's richest people. Tiong toned down the paper's harsh stance toward China, and today the Ming Pao is Hong Kong's third top-selling daily among more than a dozen. Its circulation is approximately 100,000.

The newspaper's staunch commitment to journalistic standards sets it apart from Hong Kong's gossip-rich and politically biased periodicals, making the Ming Pao a favorite among the region's intellectuals.

"It does not carry the political or ideological baggage of some of the other Chinese papers," says L. Ling-chi Wang, a professor with the ethnic studies department at the University of California at Berkeley.

For example, in the explosive Taiwan-China reunification debate, he says, "Ming Pao offers more judicious and credible coverage of both Mainland and Taiwan news, and best of all, it is not afraid to go after the wrongs of both sides."

The World Journal, Sing Tao Daily and the newcomer Ming Pao are all competing for the mother lode of new readership consisting of immigrants from Mainland China. Ming Pao hopes to lure this group with daily half-page sections dedicated to each of the major Chinese provinces -- Beijing, Shanghai, Fujian and Guangdong.

Paul Tsang, Ming Pao's San Francisco editor, admits his reporters have their work cut out for them. "It's a tough market to get into. Sing Tao and World Journal are well established. But we have confidence," he says.

Tsang concedes Ming Pao has had greater success in the burgeoning Chinese immigrant populations in Vancouver and Toronto, whose reading habits are still in flux. He says Ming Pao is the top Chinese-language daily in Toronto. But after seven years in New York, where the older population has developed its reading choices, Ming Pao puts its circulation at approximately 33,000, only about half that of the Sing Tao and World Journal.

To win over new readers in San Francisco, Ming Pao is bucking ethnic media industry trends by prominently positioning on the front page stories written daily by its local reporting staff, alongside international and domestic news from its national and home offices.

Stories about the city's new Chinese American female police chief run alongside reports on the 9/11 commission and Taiwan's presidential inauguration. Ming Pao also publishes a glossy weekly magazine with such features as the Bay Area's homegrown Miss Hong Kong and a Chinese immigrant who owns some 20 McDonald's franchises.

So far the winner of the competition is the community, says David Lee, of the Chinese American Voter Education Committee. "It brings another set of eyes and analysis to civic affairs," he says.

The timing is also good. These days the community is buzzing with a new sense of political empowerment, credited as the swing vote in Mayor Gavin Newsom's victory last winter.

At the Ng Hing Kee bookstore and newsstand in Chinatown, an elderly gentleman from Mainland China -- a San Francisco resident for the past five years -- walked past the Ming Pao rack and grabbed a Sing Tao as a reflex. He said he had never heard of Ming Pao and had no interest in it.

Vince Chung, 34, originally from Hong Kong but a local resident for 17 years, picked up a copy each of Sing Tao and Ming Pao. He said he likes to read both because each paper has different points of view. "Ming Pao is more liberal. It is more lenient toward the democracy movement in Hong Kong." He says while he's loyal to Sing Tao, "it's good to see what the other side thinks."

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