INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Pacific Citizen: In the Cross-Hairs at Its Crossroads

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By GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the JACL’s Pacific Southwest District’s annual awards dinner, thanks to Venice-Culver Chapter’s Amy Watanabe — on her way soon to Washington, D.C. to do her 10-month long Daniel K. Inouye Fellowship — who invited me to sit at her chapter’s table.

I was there for a couple of reasons additional to the invitation. One reason was because I was covering the event for Pacific Citizen, the JACL newspaper where I got my start in print journalism about 25 years ago. The other reason was to be there in support of my former P.C. boss, Harry Honda, who received a “living legend” award. Also among the honored that night but as another living legend was Helen Kawagoe, a longtime JACLer and the beloved city clerk of Carson, Calif.

Honda’s decades-long association with P.C. — to this day he still contributes columns — almost boggles the mind. No insult intended, but he was a senior citizen when I worked there in the late 1980s! And yet here he is, still ambulatory, albeit with the aid of a cane, able to take the stage and accept his accolade, his mind still sharp. Harry is no doubt one of the few — maybe the only — living newspaperman who can claim such a long-time association with a still-extant publication.

The applause Harry Honda received was well-earned. It’s bittersweet, then, that his “home away from home” is at present in dire, dire straits. The dinner would have been a great time to get a status report — but it was a time of celebration, not a prayer vigil.

So, since there are no doubt many Rafu Shimpo readers who are JACL members who may be curious about what has been happening, I’ll use this opportunity to shed some light on the behind the scenes conditions at Pacific Citizen.

In August, I twice wrote in this column about how I was contacted by two members of the Pacific Citizen’s editorial board to help on an interim basis with getting issues out following the June resignation of the paper’s long-time editor, who left for greener pastures.

Her departure came at a time when the assistant editor — whose job was eliminated by JACL, then reinstated — had been out for several months on maternity leave. With that nearly completed and an infant to care for, this assistant editor’s husband was about to be temporarily assigned overseas; so, she also resigned. That was then followed by the departure of the business manager!

During the time of my stewardship (only on weekends), Pacific Citizen was down to a reporter and circulation manager. Soon I too would have to also have to leave this temporary assignment because summer was ending, and my children’s school year and basketball leagues were starting.

Harry Honda was named a Living Legend at the recent JACL Pacific Southwest District awards dinner. (GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON)

While the big problem of keeping this venerable community institution and resource viable in the long term was a part of the equation, on a smaller yet still important scale was the problem of producing a newspaper every two weeks. I simply could no longer help as I had been.

I suggested to the P.C.’s board chair two very capable individuals who could step in and attempt to impose some order on the chaos that engulfed the operation. One, Susan Yokoyama, is a long-time friend and associate with deep connections in L.A.’s Japanese American community. I knew she also had the business sense, management and accounting skills, plus advertising and marketing chops to help right the listing ship that was and is Pacific Citizen.

Yokoyama is now up to her ears dealing with the disarray within the office. (No, that’s not a height joke as Susan’s expense; Dwight Howard would be up to his ears, too.)

As for the current interim editor, she is a former co-worker of mine from my checkered journalism past. Right now, she prefers to remain anonymous, since she is serving on an interim basis. What I can reveal is that she is talented and experienced in journalism and, if provided the necessary resources, can help improve the status quo and lead the P.C. to a new, improved place. (If and when she deems the timing to be right, she will introduce herself on her own terms.)

With the P.C.’s annual holiday issue in the pipeline, she and the rest of the P.C. staff face a daunting task, something difficult to accomplish under the best of circumstances. In addition to that, there are still three regular issues that need to be published in the next few weeks.

Difficult as the task will be, I know that the current team is capable of doing this job. Yes, there might be some changes from what JACLers and P.C. subscribers have been used too — but under the circumstances, I think some latitude and encouragement are what is needed, not carping and negativity.

After that will come the bigger tasks of getting the P.C.’s business affairs in order and charting its direction and future as a publication. Hopefully, the JACL’s elected and staff leadership want the same thing: Keeping Pacific Citizen alive as a valuable resource to maintain community ties at a national level and disseminate news needed by the Japanese American and Asian Pacific American communities.

Yes, the timing of Harry Honda getting recognized for his past work at Pacific Citizen coming at a time when the paper is in the ICU is ironic. I hope Harry gets the chance to see Pacific Citizen become healthier and better than it ever was.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2012 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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