OCHAZUKE: On to the Counterpoint

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(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on March 20, 2010. This column references an earlier entry written by Mr. Hiroto on March 10, 2010. )

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By JORDAN IKEDA

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I’m not sure if I should thank Rafu columnist Wimpy Hiroto for stirring up some much needed fire within many of our readership, or if I should chastise him for taking a cheap shot at the Rafu staff.
In last week’s “Crossroads to Somewhere” Mr. Hiroto expressed his displeasure with the newspaper, one he claims “has never been a real newspaper…the English section…a poor and neglected bulletin board.”

From the get go, I want to make it clear—like Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”—crystal clear, that the Rafu staff welcomes with open arms any criticism that is intelligent, thought-out and/or constructive, no matter how harsh.

So, no, this piece is not about massaging what Mr. Hiroto writes could be “hurt egos and injured pride.”

Instead, this piece is meant to do two things. Defend the Rafu’s 107-year-old history as well as respond to the sudden eruption of reader-reaction that has occurred over the past week.

I’ll begin with the latter. Since Mr. Hiroto’s column came out, the letters and emails we have received range from thoughtful criticism, to loud statements of the obvious, to bigoted garbage that has no place in any newsprint, even bulletin boards.

Not that we here at the paper don’t deserve our share of blame and criticism for the state in which the Rafu now finds itself. I, for one, know that while I’m working hard, I certainly can be doing more and need to be doing more.

So, in that regard, I welcome the criticism from columnists and especially readers.

What we as a staff take issue with is the manner in which that criticism is relayed. All we ask is that you keep the comments clean and thoughtful—which, I must note, does not eliminate expressing disapproval or handing out intelligent disparagement. Even curse words and racist labels can be effective in the proper context, but tossing them in to express one’s emotions is the epitome of lowbrow.

As for the case of Mr. Hiroto, we simply wish he would have approached us with his concerns before airing it out for all of you to read and process. Because his voice is one that is well respected and carries a great deal of weight from many of you, it is important he remains open to communicating with those of us on staff.

I liken it to pro sports, where the media coverage has become a 24/7 nightmare for teams. Where the slightest scowl or hint of sarcasm or the mere suggestive nature of a quote is reread, reinterpreted and regurgitated throughout the newspapers, magazines, radio, blogosphere and sports T.V. shows all of which results in Pau wanting touches transforming into Kobe vs. Shaq Pt. Deux.

Because of this, the unstated rule is that you keep in-house issues, in-house. At least at first.

And it’s not like opportunities are few and far between. We are here at the office five days a week. Our phone numbers and emails are readily available. We have a website, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook account. Two months ago, we had a Rafu forum. All were invited to come and express their opinions. My editor, Gwen Muranaka, has reached out on numerous occasions to all of our senior (as in rank) columnists.

With the positive vibe the Rafu has amassed from the forum, where over a hundred community members came out to share their ideas, express their concerns, and offer their support as well as the swell of interest Teresa Watanabe’s Los Angeles Times article has brought to Rafu’s doorstep, the timing of Mr. Hiroto’s piece is certainly curious at best, counterproductive at worst.

We’ve since spoken to Mr. Hiroto who told us that his words were not intended to necessarily bash the Rafu staff. Unfortunately, if the letters, emails and phone calls we’ve received in the wake of last Wednesday’s CR2S are any indication, that is not how many of you interpreted his words.

Which, again, is fine. We probably need and deserve a certain level of bashing.

But this brings me to my second point. The more relevant and more troubling. When one uses the word “never,” as in “never been a real newspaper,” it encompasses the idea of certainty within the context of all time.

It’s one thing to malign those presently employed. But it is quite another thing to sweep under the rug the hundreds of writers, reporters, editors, print press workers, designers and all of the work they have collectively produced—a 107-year-old legacy that has withstood wars and internment, riots and earthquakes and evolved from lead type and delivery boys to computers and email.

Name another newspaper that has endured like the Rafu Shimpo. Not the Daily News, certainly not the OC Register or the Breeze or Pacific Citizen. The Times, the biggest paper in Los Angeles, was founded only two decades earlier. Two.

The Rafu Shimpo has survived Little Tokyo’s forced abandonment, detailed its boom years, endured through its revival. It has documented America’s concentration camps and the Nisei and Sansei veterans from every possible angle. Recorded the journey from EO 9066 to the Civil Liberties Act. Captured photos of all 68 Nisei Week queens. Been there to report on the now hundreds of thousands of kids and adults who have passed through the various Nikkei baseball and basketball leagues. Highlighted the community’s standouts, from politicians to Olympians, as well as the not so average joes. Detailed the struggles and triumphs of the Issei, the Nisei, the Sansei and is currently diving headfirst into the digital age to connect with the Yonsei and Gosei.

And you mean to tell me that that isn’t what a newspaper is all about?

Perhaps over the past century of our publication, we haven’t been a “community leader” as Mr. Hiroto has written. Perhaps we have at times functioned like a bulletin board, after all, we started as one.

But no one should ever say that we haven’t been a megaphone for the Japanese American community to voice itself.

Today, that megaphone is in need of new batteries, but without a doubt, it still amplifies the voices of the community.

To that end, please, if you have ideas that you think would help both the business end and editorial aspects of the paper, a story critique or proposal, a complaint or a concern, or if you simply want to shoot the breeze, by all means, send us mail, email, faxes, and letters. Post on our Facebook page. Tweet us. We most certainly can be reached.

Of course, also be aware that our staff is swamped with work, so if at first you don’t succeed, we strongly urge you to try, try again.

After all, that’s what we’ve been striving to do for 107 years…

And counting.

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Jordan Ikeda is the Rafu sports editor. The opinions expressed are those of the Rafu Shimpo English editorial. We can be reached at (213) 629-2231. E-mail The Rafu, Gwen Muranaka, Jordan Ikeda, Mikey Hirano Culross, Cari Yasuno, Mario G. Reyes, Ayame Kousaka, Randy Masada. Mail to: 138 Onizuka St. Los Angeles, CA 90012. Leave a message on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

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