Another paper on the brink: Nichi Bei Times walking the plank

The Northern California Japanese American newspaper Nichi Bei Times announced yesterday they were set to fold on September 10, citing decreased circulation and a failed multi-year attempt to attract enough new subscribers.

In an editorial letter, the Nichi Bei Times Company board of directors wrote this:

It is with great sadness that we, the Board of Directors of Nichi Bei Times and its many shareholders, have decided to close the newspaper… Perhaps the times were not on our side with this evolving nature of the community and changes in the commercial marketplace.

But members of the Japanese American community are not succumbing to inevitable demise yet.

In an effort to save the paper, a group of leaders in the journalism community are hoping to start a nonprofit foundation to support the niche publication. Led by editor Kenji Taguma and Kerwin Berk, former sports desk editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nichi Bei Foundation would be an educational, charitable foundation offering scholarships and fellowships to keep a form of the paper afloat.

In an interview with New American Media, Berk said he hoped a new business model would allow the newspaper to remain in print.

“We want to change the business model radically,” he said. “We also want to use the best of the traditional business model of selling ads. So hopefully between these two we can keep a viable sustainable newspaper.”

Taguma said he hoped the push for a paper revival will not only inspire the Japanese American community, but also provide a feasible example for the entire newspaper industry to continue rolling editions from the presses:

I see it as very in tune in the pioneering spirit of Issei pioneers — Japanese immigrants who came here all the years ago. A lot of community institutions are already made. There’s nothing really to be formed. At the worst economic times, we are out here forming something that is very innovative. It’s really a national model for a newspaper to go non-profit.

The community’s efforts to save the paper, which began printing in May 1946 as a way to reconnect Japanese Americans after World War II, is only the latest in a string of attempted newspaper revivals. The Birmingham Eccentric, a community newspaper in the Detroit suburbs, is attempting to save their paper through grassroots efforts and a Web site to increase subscriptions. And Claremont, NH residents and reporters began publishing The Compass when the Eagle-Times announced they were folding last month.

But it remains to be seen whether all these community campaigns to preserve print will keep the presses hot. All this retroactive support from community members seems slippery when it was their declining readership that caused these papers to collapse in the first place.

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