The Sun Will Not Set on Nichi Bei

Nichi Bei Times ceases publication but not without a successor

by sherry gong

Nichi Bei Times, a bilingual English and Japanese newspaper, published its final edition on September 10, 2009. This news may come as no surprise given the recession and general decline of print media. But Nichi Bei Times was a publication created by, read by, and (mostly) funded by the people, unlike larger forms of media.

To bring the Japanese community together after internment, Nichi Bei Times was created on May 18, 1946. It started out as a daily bilingual newspaper but in 2006 it began publishing a Japanese-only newspaper three times a week along with a weekly English newspaper. The transition
occurred because of a continuous decrease in the number of subscribers and advertising revenue, trends that continued until its recent closure.

For all the years Nichi Bei Times was in print, it was instrumental in bringing Japanese Americans together. It provided an avenue for Japanese Americans to voice their issues and opinions when they were marginalized by the dominant voice in the media. Nichi Bei Times is most noted for rallying the Japanese American community to demand redress for internment. It also acquired redress for families of miners and railroad workers who were fired after Pearl Harbor and not accounted for in the government’s 1998 redress act. But Nichi Bei Times did not only report on the Japanese American community. Its staff reported the struggles of American Muslims during post-Sept. 11, alluding to Japanese internment during World War II. They also reported on the issue of same-sex marriage in support of it, with former anti-miscegenation laws in mind.

While this chapter of Nichi Bei is closing, another one is being written. Former Nichi Bei Times English editor Kenji Taguma, along with other community leaders and Nichi Bei Times contributors and staff, have founded the Nichi Bei Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to publishing Nichi Bei
Weekly. Nichi Bei Weekly will be producing an English weekly newspaper, but due to the decrease in Japanese immigration, it is unlikely that there will be a Japanese or bilingual version of the newspaper.

To appeal to young people, Taguma would like to continue the efforts to modernize Nichi Bei Times, which have included extended coverage of video games, anime, manga, food, as well as issues focusing on people of mixedrace ancestry and environmental topics. Does including this type of content make Nichi Bei Weekly less empowering than its predecessor? While some of these topics may be less about social justice, they are about community and provide other avenues for Japanese Americans (and non-Japanese Americans) to relate to each other.

Hopefully, Nichi Bei Weekly will continue the tradition of branching out to other communities and topics, which will further increase the scope of Nichi Bei Weekly and assist in changing people’s misconceptions about ethnic press. It is easy for people to think that ethnic press is targeted towards one group of people, and miss that it is also intended to educate the general public on how that community feels about certain issues.

A publication that more accurately reflects the complexity of issues will allow people to understand different points of view and get a better idea of the bigger picture. Ethnic press is meant to create the understanding that each person has a different history, which affects how he or she views the world as well as how he or she is affected by it. If Taguma pursues the goal of branching out with Nichi Bei Weekly, this effect will become more apparent.

Because of the abrupt closing of Nichi Bei Times, the foundation is currently waiting for 501(c)3 status as a nonprofit and consequently has not been able to apply for grants from large foundations. This means it is currently relying on individual donations, which will be retroactively repaid if the IRS gives the Nichi Bei Foundation the 510(c)3 status. After its status is approved, it will supposedly rely on funding from foundations, community fundraisers, and advertising, which should make it more financially stable than its predecessor.

The switch from for-profit to nonprofit will likely be a beneficial change for the publication. The Nichi Bei Foundation will not have to worry as much about making enough money to stay afloat. Nichi Bei Times was never about making money anyway, and this makes it easier for the staff to focus on what both Nichi Bei publications were and are intended for: creating and preserving a sense of community.

The publication was set to begin printing on September 17, though it is unclear whether it was printed. This is the first time any ethnic press has tried converting to a nonprofit model. If this model succeeds, it will set an example for the ethnic press that serve other communities. If this is something that you would like to support, send in donations to Nichi Bei’s website: nichibeifoundation.org. And if ethnic press is something you are interested in, keep a close watch on the Nichi Bei Foundation as a possibly viable model for the future of ethnic press.

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