We Have Two Years for the Pacific Citizen to Evolve — and We Need Your Help!

October 7, 2016 • Asakawa, Columnists

Gil AsakawaBy Gil Asakawa

I’m baaaack … as the P.C.’s Editorial Board Chair. 
So, what does that mean, both for me and for you, 
the P.C.’s audience?

If you’ve been reading, you already know that the P.C. has been struggling for the past year — against a misguided even if well-intentioned attempt to switch to a digital-only news source. If the National Board and JACL leadership had its way, you would not be holding a newspaper right now.

But the P.C. Editorial Board and you — JACL’s membership — spoke out loud and clear that eliminating the print edition after a several-months warning was unwise. Too many of our members are, to put it bluntly, not digitally-savvy or simply prefer to read a newspaper on paper, not pixels.

So, JACL leadership rolled back on the original plan and its fuzzy plans about allowing chapters to pay for the print copies that some members might want. The chapters, not surprisingly, were not happy that such a cost was being potentially shoved down their budgetary throats. The fate of the print edition of the Pacific Citizen, the newspaper of the JACL since 1929, was left to be decided at the July National Convention.

I was on a plenary panel discussion during the convention with two people who argued that the newspaper industry was changing and that the P.C. should change to an all-digital format. I argued that the P.C. is not a typical newspaper because of JACL’s age-skewed membership, and that converting the P.C. to a simple email newsletter was unrealistic.

Newsletters are not the same thing as a newspaper, with in-depth articles, feature stories and commentary. Yes, I scan the Weekly Digest from National JACL. But the brief write-ups in the newsletter are pass-throughs to other websites that have more details, context for the story or registration forms.

Yes, a short newsletter can be created by one person in several hours a week (as my friend and co-panelist Bill Imada said on that plenary session as a reason why the P.C. should become a newsletter). And you can print out a short newsletter. But what would the briefs in the newsletter link to?

The P.C. staff still needs to be doing its job of journalism — reporting, investigating, covering the community outside of JACL, shooting photos. Newsletters don’t offer context. Newsletters aren’t about journalism. Newsletters merely gather and pass along information.

After much discussion and some passionate statements on both sides of the issue (the anti-print edition side comes down to money), a resolution was passed at the convention that would give the printed P.C. a breather during this 
new biennium.

Phew. Good news!

But now, we have to roll up our sleeves and lay the groundwork for the future of the P.C. If we just keep stumbling along the way we have for years, this argument will repeat itself in two years. The future of news media IS digital. 
As I said during that plenary session, I’ve worked in the 
online side of media companies since 1996, the dawn of the 
consumer Internet Age. My first online job was for AOL, after all.

I’ve watched as newspapers I’ve worked for — the 
Denver Post is a prime example — have suffered and shrunk in the past two decades since the Internet became part of so many of our lives. I watched as the Post’s fine, Pulitzer-
winning editor-in-chief finally resigned this summer 
because he was tired of cutting his staff down to a skeletal newsroom.

The P.C. is also at a skeletal stage. After the convention, the assistant editor resigned (for another job, which she richly deserves). Executive Editor Allison Haramoto is the sole full-time journalist on staff, supported by Business Manager Susan Yokoyama and longtime part-time Circulation Manager Eva Lau-Ting. If you notice more stories by the 
Associated Press and reliance on contributors and columnists, it’s because Allison can’t run the P.C. and produce all the content by herself. The assistant editor also kept the website updated, so that’s on hold for now as well.

Because of the P.C.’s precarious relationship with National JACL and the two-year window that’s open for the P.C. to evolve to its next stage, and because of the P.C.’s current staffing issues, I have accepted new JACL National President Gary Mayeda’s request to return to the role I held in the 2000s, as Editorial Board Chair for the Pacific Citizen.

There’s lots to do: We need to fill the open assistant editor position. I believe we need at least a part-time position to just focus on updating the website and keeping the P.C. active on social media. I believe we need to rebuild the Editorial Board as an activist group that fights for the independence of the P.C. and can’t be treated as a passive approval mechanism for the National Board. And most importantly, I believe we must find a way to make digital a priority and plan now for a future that is much more online than in print. It may take longer than two years. It may, if I can be blunt again, take the death of some older members and the adoption by others of today’s digital reality.

If the Pacific Citizen is as important a part of your JACL membership and your life to you as it is to me, please join me in supporting the P.C.

Gil Asakawa is the Editorial Board Chair of the Pacific Citizen. He blogs at www.nikkeiview.com and is a consultant for AARP’s AAPI marketing team.

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