By Gil Asakawa
Reporting the news is an expensive proposition. It takes staff — reporters, editors, designers — as well as printing and distribution costs to put out a newspaper and even run a website. Yet, the Pacific Citizen has been reporting the news that affects JACL members since the JACL was born, through finances both flush and flat. It’s part of the organization’s DNA.
In its original incarnation, as the Nikkei Shimin, the newspaper’s main front-page article on Oct. 10, 1929, was about the formation of “the New American Citizens’ League.”
As the P.C.’s Editorial Board Chair, I was proud to hold up examples of that issue and other significant front pages from over the decades during the recent JACL National Convention in Philadelphia. The Pacific Citizen covered the incarceration during World War II from JACL’s relocated offices in Salt Lake City and proudly displayed the “First Photo of Japanese American Doughboys in France” in the fall of 1944, running a famous Associated Press photograph of soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team slogging their way along a muddy road. And, I held up the Aug. 19-26, 1988, issue splashed with a photo of a smiling President Ronald Reagan with the banner headline, “Reagan Signs Redress Bill.”
We commemorate the 30th anniversary on Aug. 10 of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which took a long 20-year slog by community leaders and organizations, including JACL, to get passed.
The Pacific Citizen was there to report on all of these milestones, good and bad, and remains to this day the voice of JACL and the primary connection for many members to this important organization, which fights for our civil liberties and social justice. In fact, it can be argued that reporting on JACL is as important today as ever, given the current climate of political leadership and racial fear and ignorance. It feels a lot — too much in fact — like the social climate of the 1930s and ’40s all over again.
The P.C. is inexorably intertwined with the past, present and future of JACL.
That’s why, during the convention’s financial budget deliberations for the next two years, the P.C. had no other choice but to use its reserve funds — an action that’s akin to National JACL dipping into its Legacy Fund — to help balance the national budget.
JACL is strapped financially — there’s no getting around it. Most critically, the organization is running on a minimal staff, and Executive Director David Inoue has not been able to fill two very important positions, the Midwest and Pacific Southwest Districts’ regional directors.
As I said two years ago during a panel discussion about killing the print edition of the P.C., a newspaper can’t be run by one person who sends out a newsletter by email. Journalism is a bigger job than a collection of blurbs. That’s not to slight anyone who puts together newsletters (like chapters and the wonderful D.C. Digest). Newsletters are important — I’ve written and managed e-newsletters for plenty of nonprofit organizations. But newsletters don’t dig and investigate and hold people accountable. Newspapers do that job, along with reporting on the good news and goings-on that matter to its readers.
I fought to protect the P.C. from efforts to turn it into just a newsletter during the 2000s. The previous P.C. staff began the annual “Spring Campaign” to raise money earmarked for the newspaper’s operations, which helped because National JACL couldn’t afford to pass along the P.C.’s share of membership dues by the end of each year.
A budget crisis still faces the organization, and the P.C. has for years now been given what was agreed by the national staff to be an “unrealistic” (or “overly optimistic”) revenue target that it needed to bring in to help balance the national budget.
We can’t continue to have the P.C. miss its budget target, realistic or not. The shortfall has historically amounted to upward of $120,000 annually, which means that the P.C. is tasked now more than ever before with increasing its revenues — including advertising, donations and sponsorships — in order to hit its budget.
So, what does this all mean? It means the P.C. continues to need your support because the future of JACL is part of the future of the P.C.