“Save the Rafu” Town Hall Forum Update

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By IKU KIRIYAMA

At the end of the rainy day on January 17, I promised the nearly 100 supporters of the Rafu who had gathered at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute that there would be a follow-up to that meeting—that it would not die as a one-shot meeting where things were suggested and dropped or ignored.
From my initial idea to have a community gathering to talk about how we, as supporters of a community newspaper, could help the Rafu avoid the closures hitting almost all the print media in our community, it has evolved into something I had not envisioned at all for that meeting.
Within a few hours of sending out maybe a hundred emails three weeks prior to people with a variety of backgrounds, Alan Nishio responded with an offer to help if I needed any. I accepted with relief because, by that point, what started as an impetuous move was making me nervous, even though I had been doing numerous forums in the last four years, this one was looking different—beyond my comfort zone. Alan gave the forum structure and organized the small group discussion groups. On that day, it really was “flying by the seat of our pants” as we anticipated as few as 20, tops 50, to attend.  The crowd was quite diverse, from young to old, as well as a dozen or so Japanese speaking (bilingual) persons who showed.  Fortunately, Nao Gunji, on the Rafu staff at the time but since departed to another job, is bilingual and she led that discussion group. Other than the sports group that Jordan Ikeda led, the other groups pretty much formed where people were seated.
Alan enlisted discussion leaders on the spot: (in addition to Nao and Jordan) Bryan Takeda, Steve and Patty Nagano, Bill Watanabe, June Hibino.  The groups were asked to share ideas in two areas: how to give support and how to improve the Rafu. Later, as I compiled the report-out charts and the individual post-it notes, it was clear that all the groups were, for the most part, “on the same page,” and the leaders and their groups had done a great job in bringing the many suggestions down to the top three per group.
The groups showed consensus as to what they thought the Rafu management needs to address: 1) ads and subscriptions: cost, strategies; 2) recognize importance of the Internet; 3) improve content to attract readers; 4) supporters need to know more about the financial issues; 5) bring Japanese and English sections together: staff, translate articles for both. The Japanese section members appeared the most business oriented as their comments reflected: 1) What are the business plans? 2) How does Rafu want to grow? 3) Make numbers available, costs and revenue. 4) “We don’t know anything!” (about the issues to make suggestions)
Following our committee meeting of Alan, Gwen (Muranaka) and I, we met with Mickey Komai and staff from the business section a few weeks later to offer four suggestions based on the forum input: 1) convene a business/community advisory group, 2) convene a meeting of former Rafu staffers and other journalists to discuss content and distribution, 3) initiate a process for Japanese language staff to have a parallel discussion with their Japanese language readers, and 4) an editorial column to outline concerns and steps to address the issues.
Three of the four suggestions are in progress. Mickey got busy setting up an advisory committee, which had its first meeting on March 16.  Gwen has been in conversation with the journalists and former editors to pin down a date for their meeting. And the editorial column is in progress. Details of these and any other management and staff steps will be forthcoming from them.
My thanks and appreciation to those who attended the forum and to those who were unable to attend but expressed their support through emails and phone calls.

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