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Asian American

Ethnic
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism
Asian American

Overview

For Asian American media it was a year of ups and downs.

Several major Asian American newspapers, including a venerable pan-Asian newsweekly and a national Filipino paper, stopped printing in 2009. Others, such as the KoreAm Journal, cut expenses and staff.

And some, such as the Vietnamese paper Nguoi Viet Tay Bac, survived in part by sharing content with former competitors, something one observer of ethnic media says is likely to be more common in the future.

Others invested in a digital future for salvation, but the Web was a challenge as well. One popular site catering to Filipinos cut its staff and moved production overseas.

And one enterprising journalist ignored the trends and went ahead with plans for a new Chinese newspaper in the San Francisco market. Profits remained elusive by the end of the year, but the newspaper switched from a monthly publication to twice a week.

Asian Americans make up only about 4% of the American population, according to 2008 U.S. Census Bureau figures.1 That figure, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, is expected to rise to 9% by 2050.2 Asians have a larger median household income than that of the average American household.  That translates to strong buying power, an attractive characteristic for most businesses, including the media.

Moreover, notes AdweekMedia, the Asian American population is “heavily clustered in just a handful of top states and urban areas,” most notably California.3 This presents an advantage to print and broadcast media seeking to reach Asian Americans.4

Print

Asian American print publications range from locally distributed Asian-language publications in smaller U.S. cities to widely circulating bilingual and English publications whose content is geared toward Asians.

Pan-Asian Media

The only national English-language newsweekly for Asian Americans folded its print publication during the economic downturn.

This was AsianWeek, founded in 1979 as the “only national English-language publication for Asian Pacific Americans,” which stopped publishing its print edition on January 2, 2009, and moved to online only.

As of February 2010, the website offered new content, some aggregated from other sites, though. According to Ngoc Nguyen from the ethnic media association New America Media, it was working with a skeleton crew.5

At the beginning of 2010 there was at least one local pan-Asian print publication: Asian Fortune, an English-language monthly newspaper based in Haymarket, Va., which reported a print circulation of 30,000 in addition to 20,000 monthly unique Web visits.6 Formed in 1993, the newspaper serves Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Pakistani, Cambodian, Thai and Laotian readers.7

Ethnic-Specific Papers

Chinese

Chinese Americans made up the largest ethnic group of Asian Americans with almost three million people or 22.3% of the Asian-American population.8

Despite the poor economic environment, a new Chinese newspaper opened its doors at the end of 2008, joining several other Chinese-language papers already in existence.

The new newspaper, News for Chinese, was founded by a former staff member of another paper, the World Journal. It began as a free Chinese-language monthly distributed to 14 cities in the San Francisco Bay area, with a focus on local Chinese community news. By early 2009 it had expanded from 16 to 20 pages and began publishing twice a week.9

In November 2009, the founder, Brian Ho, announced plans to expand the paper in February 2010 to 14 more cities, including San Jose.10 Ho reported that he did not expect to make a profit for another two years, but that he expected more advertising income after the February expansion.11

Other newspapers:

The World Journal (Daily News): a newspaper published by the United Daily News Group, which also publishes the United Daily News in Taiwan. The World Journal has a strong readership among Chinese Americans with an unaudited daily circulation of 280,000. According to Echo Media, an advertising firm that tracks print media, the newspaper publishes six editions on the East Coast, including the only Chinese daily newspaper in the Southeast U.S.  On the West Coast, the newspaper is known as the Chinese Daily News.12

Sing Tao Daily: an international newspaper headquartered in Hong Kong, with a strong following in California. According to the newspaper’s website, Sing Tao Daily is read by 57% of Bay area residents who read Chinese newspapers.13 Unaudited estimates report Sing Tao Daily’s circulation in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose at 30,000.14 The newspaper also owns a radio station (link to radio section).

Korean

The picture for Korean print publications in 2009 was mixed. Some publications showed slight declines in circulation, while others struggled to stay solvent.

The Korean Journal, a Korean-language monthly magazine headquartered in Houston, had a mostly stable 2009. Its circulation for the six months ending June 2009 was 96,762, down about 3% from 100,166 for the same period in 2008.15 The magazine was launched in October 1996 and focuses on items “relevant to the lives of Korean-speaking Americans.”16

Other publications did not fare as well.

The English-language KoreAm Journal, according to president and co-founder James Ryu, maintained its circulation in 2009, but clearly was not in a strong financial position.17 It laid off staff, cut salaries and reduced the monthly magazine’s editorial page count by 25 to 30%.

The magazine redesigned its website in an effort to draw more readers and launched a special Web campaign that raised several thousand dollars in contributions.

But the situation was clearly tough. When asked about the KoreAm Journal’s future, Ryu was hopeful but uncertain.  “I don’t know,” said Ryu, “This community is very strong.  It is hard to tell whether many of our readers will continue with our print side or [turn to] the Web.”18

Two other publications serve the Korean market in the United States and both are very large. One is the Korea Times, an English-language daily newspaper based in Korea that circulates in more than 160 countries and publishes editions in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Texas and Hawaii.19

The Korea Daily, headquartered in Los Angeles with editions in that city, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., is also large.  While the Korean-language publication offers no overall numbers, it reported a daily circulation in the D.C. metro region alone of 12,000.20

Vietnamese

Of the two Vietnamese newspapers examined, one stood out for its inventive journalism partnerships.

Nguoi Viet Tay Bac, or Northwest Vietnamese News, a semi-weekly Vietnamese-language newspaper in Seattle, had a stable circulation from 2008 to 2009, according to managing editor, Julie Pham, who declined to provide figures.

Pham attributes some of that to new partnerships the paper launched to produce content that appeals to a broader base while still keeping costs low.21

Pham arranged for students at the University of Washington’s News Lab to write articles for her newspaper that would be shared with two other newspapers: El Mundo, a Hispanic newspaper, and Pinoy Reporter, a Filipino newspaper.22

“It’s great for the students, and it’s great for us, too,” Pham said. “We understand that local news has to be generated locally. It’s the kind of thing that you can’t get on the Internet—especially in a foreign language.”

The newspaper also has a content exchange with Nguoi Viet, which subscribes to AP and Reuters feeds and translates them to Vietnamese.23

To Nguyen, a media analyst for New America Media, these steps toward a more collaborative newspaper are the future of ethnic newspapers. “I think we’re going to see a lot more collaborations,” Nguyen said. “The only way to [fill the news hole] is to build partnerships and collaborations.”24

A larger Vietnamese newspaper, Nguoi Viet Daily, also reported stable circulation.25 Nguoi Viet Daily, a newspaper out of Westminster, Calif., reported an average daily circulation of 17,533 for the six months ending December 2008, the latest figures available, virtually the same as the 17,555 average reported from the same period the year before.26 Founded in 1978, the newspaper is the only Vietnamese-language newspaper with home delivery in the U.S.27

The newspaper publishes a weekly English-language publication, Ngoui Viet 2, targeted toward younger Vietnamese Americans—who are far less likely to speak Vietnamese. In another example of partnership, the weekly shares content with the Orange County Register.28

Filipino

Filipinos make up the second-largest Asian population in the United States, with 3.05 million as of 2007,29 and most speak English, since it is one of three official languages in the Philippines (along with Filipino and Tagalog).30

Eric Olander, the vice president for news and production for Asian television station LA 18/KSCI-TV, in Los Angeles and San Diego, points out that strong English language skills make this population one of the most difficult Asian American group to target because they can easily access English-language media.31

Filipinas Magazine, a monthly news magazine in Daly City, Calif., reported losing 75% of its advertising income for the year through November 2009. To stem its losses, the magazine renegotiated its printing contract, eliminated raises and suspended plans to add an international edition in favor of putting more content online.

“If we were simply businessmen, we probably should have shut down months ago,” its publisher and editor, Greg Macabenta, said in November 2009. But the magazine “is a source of pride,” he said, and at year end the company was in talks with prospective investors.32

The magazine, with a circulation of about 30,000, also set up a partnership with a major Filipino website, Inquirer.net, to provide its content online.

Among other Filipino-American media:

Japanese

For the two major Japanese-American publications, 2009 proved an awful year.

Hokubei Mainichi, a bilingual newspaper that had published out of San Francisco since 1948, ceased print publication in December 2009 and fired its staff. According to the former chief editor, Shintaro Tanaka, the newspaper’s senior editor, J. K. Yamamoto, volunteered to update the website’s news content, but the Internet edition will continue only as long as the Hokubei company continues to pay for the Web site.

A bilingual daily, Nichi Bei Times, stopped publishing on September 10, 2009, only to re-emerge a week later as the English-language Nichi Bei Weekly. The paper employs much of its former staff but is now classified as a nonprofit, is four pages smaller and is published in English only.36

Kenji G. Taguma, the president of the nonprofit and the editor in chief of the new weekly newspaper, said the paper was benefiting from its nonprofit status. “Wire services are discounted [and] people have donated services because we’re nonprofit,” he said.37

After learning that Hokubei Mainchi had closed, Taguma said that “it’s even more crucial that we succeed in our efforts” because Nichi Bei Weekly became the only Japanese-American newspaper in San Francisco.38

Taguma says the new paper plans to eventually become more pan-Asian in its coverage and wants to redo its website.39

Television

Most of the United States now has access to Asian-language television.  Pan-Asian TV stations are now broadcast from most major Asian markets in the U.S. (Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Honolulu) and are available outside of those markets through satellite and local cable systems.40

And the market for these stations seems strong. While solid audience figures are hard to come by, more than half of Asian Americans (55%) report watching at least some Asian-language television, according to a 2009 New America Media survey.41

The Asian Media Group (KSLS Inc.) is a major player in the Californian Asian television market. KSLS Inc. owns both KSCI-TV, a multilingual television station in Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as KIKU-TV, a multilingual television station in Honolulu.  KSLS also provides digital subchannels in Los Angeles for several other ethnicities and languages, including Japanese, Armenian, Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin, and two Korean stations.42

KSCI reaches 338,000 viewing households and KIKU reaches 73,000 viewing households, according to Alice Lee, the vice president for research and development for LA 18/KSCI-TV. Lee said viewership did not fluctuate much from year to year, but expects that the new digital subchannels will result in higher viewership in 2010.43

Digital subchannels are relatively low cost and have ignited “a fierce competition for viewership and advertising dollars in major Asian markets.” Olander said they have “exploded into the U.S.” and Lee estimated that 2010 would bring both more newcomers as well as some consolidation. 44, 45

There are several other major players in Asian-language television:

One failed effort in 2009 was a cable program geared toward Filipinos. The Filipinas Magazine Show, backed by Filipinas Magazine and airing on another major broadcasting company out of the Philippines, started in April 2009, but shut down after a 13-week season. Greg Macabenta, the magazine’s publisher, said the project “should have been undertaken in better times” and hopes to start it up again.54

Radio

Only 15% of Asian Americans, according to a 2009 New America Media survey, listened mostly to Asian-language radio.55 Nevertheless, there are a handful of Asian-language radio stations throughout the U.S. that tend to be popular with commuters, store owners and older listeners, according to a separate study conducted by LA 18 KSCI-TV.56

Digital

Asians are more likely to have access to the Internet at home than any other demographic group studied, but the U.S-based Asian media have failed to accumulate a solid audience online.63

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 Current Population Survey, 67.8% of Asian households have Internet access at home. The next closest are white non-Hispanics with 66.9% with Internet access at home, followed by 45.3% of black households.64

Yet the numbers have not translated into a major digital presence for Asian media, and part of the issue seems to be that Asian Internet users tend to go to overseas sites when looking for Asian content.65

Among the most successful is the Filipino site, Inquirer.net. It has only a small staff of two or three in the United States, but it has seen robust audience growth.66 In September 2009, it recorded 707,536 unique page views in the United States, up from an average of 555,435 in 2008. It also struck an agreement with to publish content from Filipinas Magazine on Inquirer.net. The U.S. director of sales, Esther Chavez, said she expected the site to grow even more in 2010.67

Others hope that enhancing their websites may begin to build the marketplace. Leslie Yngojo-Bowes, the founder of U.S. Asian Wire, said that many companies in 2009 put a new focus on adding content, improving designs and increasing interactivity, along with adding social networking for outreach, including Twitter and Facebook.  “Once you switch to online,” Yngojo-Bowes said, “you become global automatically.”68

The problem is that younger Asian Americans tend to use Asian portals online to stay in touch with entertainment and news from Asia. China Gateway, Sina and Sohu are three online portals with social networking, news, videos and entertainment. Second-generation Asian Americans often visit these sites to access content they cannot get from television or newspapers.69

Yngojo-Bowes’ U.S. Asian Wire is an American source of Asian news founded in 2006.  The company specializes in “distributing news releases and multimedia content” for an Asian audience. But as a relatively young company, the recession hit it hard. Yngojo-Bowes watched as outreach budgets slimmed and the number of press releases declined.70

U.S. Asian Wire continued its partnership with Jistar and Dynasign to bring digital screens into businesses frequented by Asian Americans.  The digital screens provide news and advertising to consumers while they are waiting in lines and are common in Asian countries.  And in a difficult year, it was one sign of growth.


Footnotes

1. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program.

2. Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, “U.S. Populations Projections: 2005-2050,” Pew Hispanic Center, February 11, 2008.

3. “Marketing to Asian Americans,” AdweekMedia, May 26, 2008.

4. Southern California has the largest Asian concentration in the U.S. according to Nielsen estimates.  Asians in Southern California also tend to be first generation, resulting in many native language publications and programs from that region.  California is the biggest media market for Asians, with 293 media outlets in the state (70% of which are in Southern California), followed by New York/New Jersey with 106 media outlets, according to a report from the television station LA 18 entitled Asian American Media Overview 2009.

5. Ngoc Nguyen, interview with PEJ, November 9, 2009.

6. E-mail from Leah Kosin, office manager, Asian Fortune, November 17, 2009.

7. Asian Fortune Website

8. 2008 American Community Survey, “Asian Alone by Selected Groups,” retrieved February 12, 2010.

9. Vivian Po, “Birth of a Newspaper in an Age of Print Decline,” New America Media, April 19, 2009.

10. Brian Ho, interview with PEJ, November 20, 2009

11. Brian Ho, interview with PEJ, November 20, 2009.

12. The World Journal, Echo Media.

13. Sing Tao Website

14. Sing Tao Daily, Echo Media

15. Audit Bureau of Circulations audit report for the period ending December 31.

16. Korean Journal Magazine Profile

17. James Ryu, interview with PEJ, November 5, 2009.

18. James Ryu, interview with PEJ, November 5, 2009.

19. Korea Times Website

20. Jason Lee, interview with PEJ, October 2009.

21. Ngoc Nguyen, interview with PEJ, November 9, 2009.

22. Ngoc Nguyen, interview with PEJ, November 9, 2009.

23. Julie Pham, interview with PEJ, November 11, 2009

24. Ngoc Nguyen, interview with PEJ, November 9, 2009.

25. Ngoc Nguyen, interview with PEJ, November 9, 2009.

26. Verified Audit Circulation audit report for the period ending June 2008.

27. Nguoi Viet 2008 Media Kit

28. Eric Scigliano, “Phamily Newspaper,” Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, September 2009.

29. “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month: May 2009,” U.S. Census Bureau, March 3, 2009.

30. 2009 State of the News Media.

31. Eric Olander, interview with PEJ, November 17, 2009.

32. E-mail from Greg Macabenta, November 16, 2009.

33. Odette Keeley, interview with PEJ, November 13, 2009.

34. E-mail from Odette Keeley, November 16, 2009.

35. Odette Keeley, interview with PEJ, November 13, 2009.

36. The closed Nichi Bei Times published in Japanese three times a week and had 16 pages. The new paper has 12 pages and is in English only.

37. Kenji G. Taguma, interview with PEJ, December 17, 2009.

38. Kenji G. Taguma, interview with PEJ, December 17, 2009.

39. Kenji G. Taguma, interview with PEJ, December 17, 2009.

40. LA 18 Asian American Media Overview 2009.

41. Ethnic Media Study 2009 Topline, New America Media.

42. Asian Media Group Website

43. Alice Lee, interview with PEJ, November 12, 2009.

44. Eric Olander, interview with PEJ, November 17, 2009.

45. Alice Lee, interview with PEJ, November 12, 2009.

46. TVK24 press release, “Television Korea 24 (TVK24) Announces Launch of TVK2 Throughout the Los Angeles, CA Area on Time Warner Cable Channel 655,” November 13, 2009.

47. The ten languages are: Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog or Taglish, Farsi, Hindu, Greek and English (E-mail from Lisa Yokota)

48. E-mail from Yukai Liu, January 5, 2010.

49. KTSF Website

50. Saigon Broadcasting Television Network Website

51. E-mail from Odette Keeley, November 13, 2009.

52. Eric Olander, interview with PEJ, November 17, 2009.

53. Eric Olander, interview with PEJ, November 17, 2009.

54. E-mail from Greg Macabenta, November 16, 2009.

55. New America Media. Ethnic Media Study 2009 Topline.

56. LA 18 Asian American Media Overview 2009.

57. KBS World Website

58. Little Saigon Radio Website

59. Radio Saigon Website

60. Sing Tao USA Website

61. BIA/Kelsey Group

62. Sing Tao Radio Website

63. LA 18 Asian American Media Overview 2009

64. Reported Internet Usage for Households, by Selected Household Characteristics, Current Population Survey, October 2007.

65. LA 18 Asian American Media Overview 2009

66. Esther Chavez, interview with PEJ. December 21, 2009.

67. Esther Chavez, interview with PEJ, December 21, 2009.

68. Leslie Yngojo-Bowes, interview with PEJ, November 17, 2009.

69. Eric Olander, interview with PEJ, November 17, 2009.

70. Leslie Yngojo-Bowes, interview with PEJ, November 17, 2009