Loss of AsianWeek Increases Hole in Asian-American Coverage
New America Media, News Report, Ngoc Nguyen Posted: Jan 05, 2009
Editor’s Note: With San Francisco's AsianWeek newspaper pulling the plug on its print edition, Asian Americans find that in a city that is one-third Asian, there’s less and less coverage of their issues. NAM editor Ngoc Nguyen surveys the shrinking landscape of English-language Asian American media.
SAN FRANCISCO -- AsianWeek published its last weekly issue on Jan. 2, marking the end of nearly three decades as the pan-Asian voice of the Bay Area.
The demise of the newsweekly leaves an even bigger hole in the coverage of Asian Americans in a city where one-third of residents are Asian American. And, even though one-fifth of the Bay Area’s population is of Asian descent, Asian Americans’ voices will be harder to find in local newspapers or on the radio dial, as most mainstream media outlets from San Francisco to Oakland to San Jose have shed their Asian-American affairs reporters and radio programs.
AsianWeek is just the latest in a string of Asian-American media closures, including KQED’s Pacific Time, AZN Television, and the San Jose Mercury News’ Vietnamese-language supplement Viet Mercury.
Janice Lee, deputy executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association, said the reorganization of major news media has resulted in the layoffs and buyouts of thousands of journalists, including Asian Americans. The staff reorganizations have included the loss of Asian-American affairs reporters at the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle, a columnist at the Mercury News, a veteran broadcaster at CBS-affiliate KPIX, and three Asian-American editors at the Chronicle, Lee said.
“We’re seeing a climate of risk in in-depth coverage of Asian Americans,” Lee said. She said all ethnic groups should be concerned about shrinking coverage of their communities.
As newspapers become thinner, readers may not notice how the staff cuts are affecting coverage, but, Lee said, community organizations that monitor Asian-American issues will be the first to feel the impact.
“Ten years ago, I had choices of where I could shop stories with the mainstream newspapers, said Lee, who previously worked in nonprofit communications. “There was Steve Chin at the Hearst-owned Examiner and the Oakland Tribune had Bill Wong -- these were the people Asian-American communities could look to to cover their issues … or bring them to the attention of editors to make sure issues were not ignored.”
Ling-chi Wang, professor emeritus of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said he believes mainstream media coverage of Asian communities has always been “miserable.” “In mainstream media’s and policymakers’ eyes, Asian Americans don’t exist. They are not on their radar…and it’s the same for politics,” Wang said.
The impact of being invisible to the media and policymakers, he said, is that “all your community concerns and issue are really not addressed.” He added, “The Asian voice is not being heard in City Hall or Sacramento.”
Ethnic media help fill the gap in Asian-American coverage, Wang said.
While most cities have trouble supporting one daily newspaper, he said, San Francisco has five Chinese-language dailies, offering not only local and national news, but a dozen pages of international coverage of news from Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.
But just as the mainstream media are being hobbled by declining readership and revenue, hastened by a faltering economy and growth of online media, their ethnic media counterparts are being squeezed too.
“There are fewer major newspapers, fewer newspaper readers and fewer newspaper advertisers than ever before,” wrote AsianWeek President James Fang, and Ted Fang, editor and publisher, in a letter to readers published in the newspaper.
In the last few months, a handful of ethnic publications has gone the way of AsianWeek, scrapping paper editions and going online, reaching out to readers for help or pulling the plug completely.
Ted Fang said AsianWeek would continue publishing online and in special newspaper editions. He said, however, that all staff had been laid off. Fang said AsianWeek plans to do more community work, which Fang counted among the newspaper’s greatest “successes.”
“Media is a part of bringing together APA communities,” he said. “We plan to organize around events… around issues and causes as a way of helping the community.”
The newspaper hosted a health campaign to stem Hepatitis B, a disease that disproportionately affects Asians, and organized one of the largest cultural festivals for Asian Americans. Established in 1979, the publication, which had a circulation of 58,000, produced special editions highlighting Asian-American professionals, published the first 1980 U.S. Census data on Asian and Pacific Islanders, and offered a platform to aspiring Asian-American politicians.
“AsianWeek was a local Bay Area publication. It’s sad not to see it on the street anymore,” said Melissa Hung, founding editor of Hyphen, a national Asian-American magazine. Still, she said, AsianWeek had a limited distribution in San Francisco and was hard to find outside of the city.
Wang said he believes in-language newspapers offer more substantial news coverage than their English-language, pan-Asian counterparts. But, he said, in-language ethnic papers have limitations too.
“The problem with foreign-language media is mainstream media doesn’t read it, has no access to it,” he said. “The disadvantage is those voices do not enter into the mainstream dialogue.” Other drawbacks, he said, are a lack of inter-group communication and a generational gap.
“Asian Americans who only speak English language are shut out by mainstream media and in-language papers,” Wang said.
Hung, of Hyphen, whose audience is young adults 18 to 30 years old, said Asian Week’s shift to an online-only format should attract younger Asians.
“Asian-American folks are extremely wired. Sixty to 70 percent are online. They are doing their reading online and they expect content to be free,” she said. Hung, who also co-edits the magazine’s blog, said readers can still find Asian American-focused publications and Web sites, including Hyphen, Angry Asian Man and Sepia Mutiny.
Emil Guillermo, who wrote a column for AsianWeek for 14 years, said he hopes to continue writing about Asian-American politics, race and ethnicity online.
As a young television reporter in San Francisco, Guillermo said, he remembers the first time he picked up an issue.
“I thought, ‘What is this rag?’ It looked like a high school newspaper. It was about Asian Americans. They had a … Filipino presence and there were all these other Asians. … It wasn’t Chinese or Japanese; it was everyone together. That was interesting to me as a mainstream Asian-American journalist.”
Although some readers have criticized AsianWeek for featuring as much “fluff” as it did journalism, Guillermo said, it was also a place for strong opinions and “intentional, dedicated coverage of a community.” Through its pages, outsiders had a window into Asian-American life, while those within the community had a mirror to reflect their ever-changing values, dreams and cultures.
Ted Fang said he doesn’t see journalism as the only way to promote understanding of Asian Americans. He said he still sees a need for and would like to conduct more insightful research into the Asian-American market.
As more ethnic publications shed print versions for Internet-based ones, Guillermo said the trend could be a “harbinger” for mainstream newspapers, several of which have already embraced online-only formats. For better or for worse, he said, the Internet sends words and ideas out into the ether.
“People need to really understand what has been lost with print version,” he said. “There will no longer be a public record of our community nationwide, physical evidence -- we were here and we tried to do something and we had strong opinions … we were not silent.”
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