CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Rafu Shimpo: Please Resuscitate

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By W.T. Wimpy Hiroto

(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on March 10, 2010. An Ochazuke column by Jordan Ikeda on March 20, 2010 references this entry.)

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Next week will mark one year since Crossroads to Somewhere (CR2S) was invited to contribute on a once-a-week basis every Wednesday: Commentary, diatribe, observation, opinion, free verse, Bee Ess. Frequency was as great a challenge as content. Think in terms of a Blue Book exam. Every week. Sometimes chomping at the bit, most of the time a blank screen staring back in abject challenge, asking “Well?”

“You have free rein,” was the clincher. A lifeline to a drowning columnist; adrenaline to offset ennui; a lifetime pass to get out of jail free.

Only problem is there will be no cake or candle to commemorate this milestone. That’s because the tone and frequency of recent incoming e-mail regarding the future of The Rafu Shimpo has grown mightily; ranging from snide remarks about last month’s South Bay gathering of hand wringers and bleeding hearts, climaxed by last week’s probing Los Angeles Times’ feature story by reporter Teresa Watanabe. No matter where you stand on the subject, everyone has an opinion.

Not unsurprisingly, CR2S included.

While pharmaceuticals search for cancer and Alzheimer’s cures, the hot local topic is the future of this almost century-old vernacular. With circulation figures hemorrhaging (11,000, down from a high of 22,000), the Rafu finds itself in the same (sinking) company as all national print media. According to Watanabe, it’s publishing woes mirror the industry’s decline in readership and advertising revenue. And the future holds little hope. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly promising: It’s a Bullet Train – hurtling the wrong way.

Am not usually a Pollyanna candidate or hale fellow well meant. Nor an aging journalist with a death wish. But, what the hey, living on the edge has some appeal, don’t cha know. If CR2S can somehow miraculously contribute to the resuscitation of the Rafu, forget the parade and bronze statue. But fair warning:

Solutions can cause hurt egos and injured pride. (An awfully small price.)

A subscription drive would be a logical cosmetic start. If for no other reason than to put on a determined face; a positive sign of concern and hope.

Contact southern California churches, organizations, clubs, sports leagues, everyone who finds a periodic need for publicity. Offer % donations to their coffers for each new subscription, say 33 percent, nearly $50 per, nothing to scoff at. In exchange for publicity, box scores and feature stories, these same entities can be enticed to advertise carnivals, special events and programs.

Let’s forget, for the moment, $500,000 in debt repayment and focus on the approximate $7,000 monthly red ink. Not exactly overwhelming, if you ask me.

Think in terms of one new subscriber per day: $140 x 30 = $4,200. Three new $50 display ads per day: $150 x 20 = $3,000.  Voila! There goes your monthly deficit.

Seriously.

Now, let’s get to the truth of the matter. The Rafu has never been a real newspaper. It has never been a community leader. It has, sadly, never been the face of Li’l Tokyo when it has had every opportunity to be over its existence.

Arrogance, and making money, it has never had a problem with. Maybe it’s too late to redo its journalistic mission.

From the post-war recovery period to the threat of abolishment at the hands of redevelopment advocates in the 70s, Li’l Tokyo not only survived, but thrived; thanks to the acumen and cooperation of important individuals, politicians, bureaucrats and selfless civic groups. The Rafu absorbed it all like a sponge but never was involved or contributed leadership.

Nothing can compare to the heyday of the ill-fated Japanese Real Estate Bubble economy. Brokers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, insurancemen and accountants added zeros to their bottom line as the Nippon Dream washed over everyone. It even allowed daily vernaculars Shin Nichibei and Kashu Mainichi temporary success. But nothing like The Rafu Shimpo Japanese section juggernaugnt. The English section, sadly, remained an orphan. A poor and neglected bulletin board.

And then it all started to go kerplunk.

I am unable to neatly tie a bow around this dilemma in 800 precise words. Maybe a continuation is in order. A little more detail might be in order.

I’m doing my share to keep things afloat without complaint. And such a simple first step:

CFO. COO. CEO. Whatever. Whomever. Hire somebody! If those titles are too expensive, employ a sales manager. Preferably a young, gung ho live wire.

Give that someone a year to turn things around, no strings attached. That would also mean someone with the skill and authority to meld the Japanese and English sections into a unified, cooperative operation. If there are objections, challenge them to come up with a working relationship or else.

There you go, Boss. Hire a magician, give him a rabbit and free rein/reign. What do you have to lose? Compared to the adulation and appreciation of thousands waiting in the wings, what’s a lousy half a mil?
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W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached by e-mail. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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