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Birth of a Newspaper in an Age of Print Decline

New America Media, News Report, Vivian Po Posted: Apr 19, 2009

The U.S. newspaper industry is in steep decline, and posted its biggest loss in advertising revenue in the last five decades. It seems like a strange time to start a new Chinese newspaper. But Brian Ho did just that.

He printed the first edition of News for Chinese, a free monthly Chinese newspaper, in November 2008, right after the global economic downturn. For me, this is the right time, said Ho.

Ho, who came to the United States as a foreign student from Taiwan, has worked in the Bay Areas Chinese media for more than 20 years as a sales representative and then marketing director for World Journal, one of the largest Chinese newspapers in the country.

News For chinese He published his first Chinese publication, Bay Area Chinese Community Focus, from 1993 to 2000. He also ran a real estate business on the side, and joined the Small Business Development Commission in San Jose about two years ago.

Ho thinks of himself as a cautious individual. He says does a lot of calculations before making a decision. So why would he start a newspaper at a time when the newspaper industry is dying?

An important reason why I decided to start News For Chinese now is because I purchased an office area with great real estate potential in Redwood City, he said. Ho is confident that its real estate value will increase in the future. So, even the paper cannot make a profit, he says, the real estate value will be able to cover the cost.

I said to myself, now I have my own office, I have built my networks, I have experience in marketing and publishing, I have everything to start a newspaper. It is the time! Ho said it with a smile.

Hos wife, Jean, has supported him from the start. She described the newspaper as a playground where he can utilize his talents.

He never follows the mainstream. He always acts on his own decisions and can see visions others cant, Jean said.

As an experienced marketing expert, Ho said he would not compete with his former employer, the World Journal, or the Sing Tao Daily, another major Chinese newspaper in the Bay Area. He decided to mutually exist with the two big newspapers by running a community-based newspaper focusing on the Chinese community in the Peninsula.

The Sing Tao and World Journal have a lot of power in San Francisco, the East Bay and South Bay, while the Peninsula is largely ignored. Thats where business opportunities and readership demand has risen, Ho said confidently.

He might be right.

Lulu Yan, the account manager for News For Chinese, said it hasnt been difficult to get local businesses to advertise in the papar. Though some businesses showed distrust because the newspaper was so new, Yan said, The Peninsula Chinese market is like an untapped area, so when I approached them, most of them were [willing] to try [us] out.

One of Yans clients, Kevin Ma with Mas Auto Body shop, has been increasing his ad size since February. He said, Clients came in saying that they saw our ads on News For Chinese, so we thought, it was showing some effects, and we invested more. Other businesses said they were still in the trial stage but complimented the paper for being everyday-life related.

Starting April 1, the color newspaper expanded from 16 pages to 20 pages. It will also be published twice a week from mid-April onwards.

So, is the newspaper earning money?

No, Ho answered, but I want to keep the momentum going since the responses we received were very positive.

However, Ling-chi Wang, professor emeritus of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is not as optimistic about the future of News For Chinese. The Bay Areas Chinese newspaper market is pretty much saturated, he said. And the fact that it is not adopting any political agenda, makes it impossible for the paper to mobilize people and become a significant element or a voice for the local Chinese community.

Councilwoman Marge Colapietro from the city of Milbrae agrees that News for Chinese may not be a strong political voice for the community, but she believes it can nonetheless build and strengthen community relations. She said, The uniqueness of News For Chinese is that it is completely community-based, with city events listed and information outreach.

Colapietro also sees the paper as a positive force because it has been sponsoring local events. Claude Ezran, the founder of the first World Music Day in Palo Alto, said, News For Chinese is the only Chinese newspaper who will sponsor the event.

Though Hos decision may seem overly optimistic to Chinese media observers, he says his goal is modest. If my newspaper can earn a small profit to support my employees, I will consider that as a success.

News For Chinese is distributed in public libraries, Chinese restaurants and shops in Milbrae, Burlingame, San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont, Hillsborough, Redwood City, Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

The online version of the newspaper can be found at newsforchinese.com

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