Whereas mainstream print media is struggling to stay afloat, ethnic media has shown itself to be more resilient amid the current economic recession. In the Bay Area alone, the Hearst Corporation has threatened to sell the San Francisco Chronicle after the loss of US$50 million last year, and theSan Jose Mercury News has curtailed delivery outside the South Bay to reduce costs. Meanwhile, the World Journal, the Bay Area’s largest Chinese-language newspaper, remains robust.
Ethnic media fares better in tough economic times
Although this is not to say that all ethnic media has done well in this economic downturn, most have fared better based on a recent study by New America Media (NAM), the country’s first and largest national collaboration of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In a recent report, The State of Ethnic Media, one of the reasons given to explain why the ethnic media sector has not been as heavily impacted by the downturn as its mainstream counterpart is that it does not rely on big corporate advertisers, but rather on a wide range of small business advertisers. Therefore, the financial impact is diluted due to the absence of “big holes in ad revenue” when big corporations tighten their belts, according to Juana Ponce de Leon, the editor of Voices to be Heard and director of the New York Community Media Alliance.
Furthermore, whereas the rise of web-based news has adversely impacted mainstream media, it has not taken as heavy a toll on ethnic media. According to Hsia Shiun-yi, the president of of the World Journal in San Francisco, the paper’s readership has remained steady. Also, readers of ethnic news are less likely to be Internet savvy.
Vivian Po, a reporter and Chinese-language media monitor for NAM, explains, “Chinese papers serve the Chinese community and more of the Chinese-speaking/non-English speaking community, who are usually new immigrants, the elderly, and low-income families.” Po said this population has limited understanding of the American system so the paper plays the role of translator. It conveys important news and topics of interest to the Chinese community. For instance, “the Chinese papers reported widely on the changes of questions in the immigration and naturalization tests, the Economic Stimulus Package in the 2008 tax season, changes in SSI (supplemental security income), the bilingual/language immersion program, all issues that are less reported by the mainstream papers.”
The World Journal enjoys popularity and sentimental attachement
On June 23rd, Taiwan Insights spoke to senior World Journal managers to get a better sense of the paper’s place in the community. Present at the meeting was Hsia, along with the paper’s editor-in-chief Yu-ru Chen, and former vice president Arthur Ku They agreed that the World Journal serves to supplement a reader’s connection to their homeland, providing a bridge and a voice in their local community.
Since the paper is not a standard local paper, detailed reports on all local news stories and events are not a focus, rather the paper aims to combine news reports relevant to the United States, Taiwan and China. According to Chen, the paper’s intention is to give readers a sense of home. Many readers begin their day by reading the paper and they have a permanent connection to it. For example, on the 30th anniversary of the paper’s publication a few years back, some readers brought out the very first print edition in 1976 to show off, and many told stories of how they learned Chinese by reading the paper or how it was used for completing a school assignment. Indeed, there appears to be a great deal of genuine sentimentality attached to the paper.
Connecting immigrants to their homeland and new community
The paper not only serves to connect people to their homeland, but also allows them to be more invested in the issues concerning the United States, such as relations with Taiwan. According to Po, “Chinese papers serve as a voice for the Chinese community and a channel for government or public officials to reach out to the Chinese community. “If you remember the Chinatown City College protest and the CNN protest last year, almost nothing was seen in the mainstream news, and I do believe the Chinese papers played a very important part in mobilizing the community to get out and speak out.” Moreover, with direct partnerships with news outlets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other locations, Chinese papers were the first to report the Sichuan earthquake, as well as important business-related news of interest to Chinese/Taiwanese-Americans.
The World Journal is a paper with worldwide coverage. Besides having the option to use news wire articles, the paper also has offices and reporters in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Vancouver (British Columbia), as well as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As a sister paper of the United Daily News, one of the largest newspapers in Taiwan, it has a wider selection of articles to choose from with so many locations reporting on the news.
Keeping it non-partisan in cultivating audience
Despite its wide circulation, the World Journal is cautious not to be too political when reporting issues concerning the Bay Area Chinese/Taiwanese communities. Editor-in-chief Chen believes the paper has a responsibility to encourage local Asians to participate in government by introducing elected officials. However, Hsia made it clear that the World Journal is careful not to take political sides. Although individuals have personal preferences, they try to remain non-partisan when reporting the news. A newsman’s job is to bring out the truth in an even-handed manner, stressed Chen.
With a thriving Aisan population in the Bay Area, the World Journal has dominated over the other Chinese newspapers. Whereas its readers are composed of immigrants from Taiwan and China, its main local competitor, the Sing Tao Daily, serves a Cantonese readership from Hong Kong and Quangdong Province, China, according to Ku. Also, much of its coverage is devoted to soft news with more space dedicated to entertainment news.
Sales of The World Journal are evenly divided between newsstands and subscriptions. Ku believes that the Internet will eventually become dominant, but feels that it is possible to cultivate this segment of new readers too. The paper currently has a children’s edition and also cooperates with UC Berkeley Chinese Classes. In addition, the paper has a bi-lingual Chinese-English section that can help readers improve their English as well.
Providing a “voice” remains a priority
Maybe one true advantage for the ethnic media goes back to its differing focus. Many mainstream newspapers are a part of big chains which have undertaken cost cutting measures. In just 2008 alone, 5,900 mainstream newsroom jobs were lost. Ethnic news outlets have always operated closer to the edge, with lower salaries and different priorities. The NAM State of Ethnic Media report quoted a recent poll conducted by the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism on what ethnic media journalists considered to be the most important aspect of their work. Over 68 percent stated that “providing a voice to their community” was their priority, while success as a business ranked third.
From time to time, a new Chinese-language paper might enter the market, but many do not survive. Even with so many Chinese papers, Ku treats none of these papers as direct competition, but rather sees competition coming from the paper’s own exacting standards. “Our competitors are ourselves,” he said. Chen echoed this sentiment, saying that the paper’s aim is to provide the best service to readers and that this is the ultimate challenge. Both feel that the newspaper business in the United States is far less cutthroat than in Taiwan, where competition remains fierce and warlike. In the Bay Area the Chinese papers serve as a bridge for expatriates, where the atmosphere is polite and friendly and where their hard work is truly appreciated.