Where newspapers thrive: Orange County's Little Saigon
The enclave is home to five papers catering to Vietnamese Americans' interests - and one of them just started up this summer. Despite the economy, all are doing well.
Xuan Nguyen starts his day with a Vietnamese-language paper and iced coffee outside the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster. Little Saigon got its newest daily in July, the fifth to serve Orange County's 150,000 Vietnamese Americans. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / September 4, 2009)
This was the temporary home of Viet Herald Daily News, the newest paper to hit the stands in this ethnic enclave. At a time when most U.S. newspapers are struggling to survive, Vietnamese-language news media here are flourishing.
There are four other dailies and numerous weeklies and magazines to serve the county's roughly 150,000 Vietnamese Americans. There are also several Vietnamese television broadcasting substations, as well as Little Saigon Radio (KVNR-AM 1480) and Radio Bolsa and VNCR, which share time on KALI-FM (106.3).
"Of course, there is still room in the Vietnamese community for another newspaper!" said Dzung Do, managing editor and co-founder of Viet Herald. "People want more."
Last week, Viet Herald's 15 staffers moved to a permanent office on Moran Street, a Westminster cul-de-sac where three other dailies in Little Saigon are lined up. Their new offices are squeezed between Viet Bao Daily News and Vien Dong Daily News. It's a sort of Vietnamese version of Fleet Street.
All five Vietnamese-language papers are small -- the largest, Nguoi Viet Daily News, has a circulation of 18,000 and a staff of 50. But the reach of Little Saigon's press can be seen every morning in the local coffee shops and markets that line the streets of Westminster and Garden Grove.
On a recent morning, Jimmy Thanh Kim Vu sipped Vietnamese iced coffee at a banh mi sandwich shop in Garden Grove as he flipped through the pages of Nguoi Viet and chatted with several friends. The group traded copies of all five Vietnamese dailies. (The fifth paper is Saigon Nho.)
"I have to read Vietnamese papers to know what is going on in Vietnam," said Vu, 71.
A day earlier, Vu said, he read a front-page exclusive in Nguoi Viet about the fight to reclaim from the government the Tam Toa Catholic Church in central Vietnam. The paper's reporters interviewed a priest in Vietnam for the story, giving local readers a closer look at what was happening overseas.
"I think of us as a connector," said Anh Do, vice president of Nguoi Viet. "The coverage is very intimate."
It is precisely this kind of news coverage that is responsible for the success of Vietnamese-language papers and other media targeted at certain immigrant groups, said Jeffrey Brody, a journalism professor at Cal State Fullerton.
"Basically, the ethnic press is a niche press," Brody said. "It gives the community exactly what it needs, in terms of news of its homeland and news of the community itself. You can't get that from TV or magazines from the mainstream press."
But even more than a common language and stories about the homeland, the Vietnamese American press is popular because of the unique experience of refugees who fled their country after it fell under communist rule in 1975.
"They came from a country without freedom of the press," Brody said, "and now they are seizing the opportunity."
After the fall of Saigon, thousands of refugees settled in Westminster, where they found cheap rent, plentiful jobs, good weather and a growing enclave of Vietnamese refugees not far from the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, where many were resettled. One was Yen Ngoc Do, a former Vietnamese journalist.
News from their homeland was scant. So in 1978, Do took $4,000 of his savings to start Nguoi Viet, which means "Vietnamese people." It began as a four-page weekly published out of his Garden Grove garage with the help of his wife and young children, including Anh Do.
In addition to news from Vietnam, the paper featured stories about life in the United States, how to get a driver's license and apply for home loans, and what to expect when attending a PTA meeting.
Nguoi Viet eventually grew to become the largest Vietnamese-language newspaper in the country. Its website also attracts readers in Vietnamese communities around the world, including Australia, France and Vietnam itself. A few years ago, the paper launched a weekly English section aimed at young readers.
But Vietnamese newspapers are not immune from the weak economy. Advertising revenue at Nguoi Viet and other publications is down. Still, they continue to turn a profit because of their loyal readership and shoestring budgets.