By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
RAFU STAFF INTERN
The Nichi Bei Times, a Japanese American weekly newspaper based in San Francisco, announced Wednesday that it will cease publication next month after printing its final edition on Sept. 10.
In a letter to readers, the Board of Directors of the Nichi Bei Times attributed declining circulation and advertising revenue for the past 19 years as reasons for the newspaper’s closure.
The Nichi Bei Times is Northern California’s oldest JA newspaper, founded in 1946 after World War II. The newspaper began as a reincarnation of the Nichi Bei Shimbun, which was founded in 1899 and shut down in 1942, after the Shimbun staff was sent to relocation camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This move came in spite of attempts to regain circulation, such as changing the bilingual daily format in 2006 to a weekly English edition and a thrice-weekly Japanese/bilingual edition, according to the letter.
“It will definitely be a big loss to the community,” said Justine Drennan, a reporter from New America Media who wrote an article about the closing of the Nichi Bei Times. “It made me realize how much of a role ethnic media has on community issues.”
She added that the newspaper was a central part of the Northern California JA community and that it played a role in bringing the community together after World War II.
However, the newspaper may not be dead yet.
A group of community members and Nichi Bei Times staff, including English edition editor and Nichi Bei Times vice president Kenji G. Taguma, has discussed plans to create the Nichi Bei Foundation, a non-profit version of the newspaper.
“As far as I know, we’re launching the first non-profit newspaper of its kind,” Taguma said. “It’s really pioneering and we’re grasping the pioneering Issei mentality, starting with nothing, with no money, but a lot of hopes and dreams and vision.”
Based on the regulations for 501(c)3 non-profits, a for-profit company like the Nichi Bei Times would have to make major changes in its governance and operations in order to be considered a non-profit, according to New America Media.
However, the Foundation has not yet received the 501(3) status yet and fiscal sponsorship of the group has not yet been determined.
“It’s going to be all about funding. That’s the big question mark now,” Taguma said. “We’re starting to get random people to see how they could help, (like) community college board members, but realistically, we need a lot of bridge money.”
He added that after Sept. 10, interested donors will be able to contribute through community initiatives, if that is approved.
Taguma also said that the company had been considering the idea of becoming a non-profit corporation for some time, saying that it provides an opportunity to sponsor golf tournaments, scholarships, and fellowships.
However, some have questioned the plausibility of this plan.
‘It’s great if the non-profit model works, but you must make lots of significant changes,” Drennan said. “Very few (ethnic media) adopt this model, but it would be really great if this were to succeed because it would encourage others.”
She added that the Nichi Bei Times’ recent announcement highlights the plight of many ethnic media to survive, citing the recession and the widespread use of the Internet as major factors.
Nevertheless, Taguma expressed a serious commitment to the revitalization of the newspaper, working long hours each day and taking on numerous roles to ensure success.
“The success or failure is going to be a model for other ethnic papers,” he said. “Ethnic papers do have a charitable, educational mandate which fits in a non-profit corporation. It’s just that no one has been doing it.”
For more information or to contribute, visit www.nichibeifoundation.org.