In 1982, Assunta Ng, who had emigrated from Hong Kong 12 years earlier, founded the Seattle Chinese Post with $25,000 of her savings.
The weekly newspaper was directed primarily to the Chinese-speaking residents and merchants in the city’s sprawling International District, an Asian enclave south of downtown.
Today, Ng oversees an 11-person staff and publishes both the Post, with a paid circulation of 5,000 readers, and the Northwest Asian Weekly, a free English-language publication with twice the Post’s circulation.
But Ng also has to compete with at least half a dozen rivals who have sprung up to serve the Asian American community in Seattle.
Her competitors include the 21-year-old International Examiner, a free bimonthly tabloid in English with a circulation of 12,000, to the Sing Tao Daily of San Francisco, a Hong Kong-owned Chinese language newspaper that sells about 3,000 copies at 50 cents each in greater Seattle.
Then there’s the Northwest edition of the Los Angeles-based Korea Times, published six days a week; Asia Today, a 16-page Chinese weekly; the Vietnam Times, circulating 6,000 copies in Seattle and nearby Portland, Ore.; the Hokubei Houshi (North American Post), a Japanese-language paper published three times a week, plus two Philippine monthlies published in English.
A major reason for the proliferation of Asian American publications in Seattle is the increasing inflow of immigrants from Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Asians, together with Pacific Islanders, constitute the largest minority population in Seattle, accounting for 12% of the city’s 525,000 residents. Their numbers are growing in nearby smaller cities and suburbs as well.
Roughly 3 million people live in the greater Puget Sound region anchored by Seattle.
More so than some other ethnic groups, Asian Americans, even those who are second or third generation, tend to maintain closer ties to their own ethnic groups than do many other groups. They also maintain a keen interest in news of their ancestral homelands.
Those who are fluent in English find their central concerns covered only occasionally by the two major metropolitan newspapers, or the five suburban dailies in the region.
Ng said newspapers such as hers exist because the mainstream press doesn’t do a good job covering the Asian community on a regular basis.
She decries their emphasis on negative, sensational reporting.
“If they get the story, they usually get it wrong,” said Jeff Lin, publisher of the International Examiner.
Lin does acknowledge there’s been some improvement in coverage of the Asian community of late.
Besides providing in-depth news of events in the Asian communities, the Asian papers often carry stories on staple subjects such as U.S. immigration policy, regulations affecting resident aliens and incidents of racial discrimination.
The local Asian press also devotes considerable space to foreign developments that have local connections. For instance, a recent issue of Northwest Asian Weekly had a front-page article about pressures on Seattle clothing importers to stop contracting with manufacturers in Burma because of alleged human rights abuse by the military government.
“Our job,” Ng said, “is to empower the Asian community through information and build bridges to non-Asian communities.”
De Le, editor of the Vietnam Times, views his mission somewhat differently. The estimated 75,000 Vietnamese living in the Puget Sound region are avid newspaper readers, he said, and they represent a variety of opinions and backgrounds.
So, he said his paper’s role is not only to disseminate accurate information, but also to serve as a mediator between the diverse factions.
To cultivate their distinctive audiences and advertisers, the Asian papers seize opportunities to promote their products.
For instance, Ng, who earned degrees in business and journalism at the University of Washington, publishes special issues that can exceed 40 pages on notable occasions, such as Lunar New Year. She also sets up booths at community festivals and has established a foundation to benefit Asian youth.
High-profile activities like these have helped the Northwest Asian Weekly and International Examiner attract advertising from Seattle’s two major department store chains, Nordstrom and The Bon Marche, as well as some major banking groups.
Both also attract a significant amount of advertising from local Asian merchants.
Still, most ethnic newspapers, limited as they are in circulation, suffer from a chronic lack of resources, including personnel, equipment and working capital.
Sing Tao Daily, part of a much larger Asian publishing empire, is the exception. It’s been able to improve its reproduction capabilities through color printing, computerization and full-page computer pagination.
The mainstream press could help ethnic papers stretch their scarce resources, said David Zeeck, executive editor of the Morning News Tribune in Tacoma, 30 miles south of Seattle.
Zeeck’s paper has a daily circulation of 130,000, roughly 100,000 less each day than the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the two metropolitan papers.
At a recent workshop held by the Asian American Journalists Assn., Zeeck said individual mainstream newspapers could help the Asian ethnic press by offering to help train its staffs, exchanging stories and offering advertisers a “joint buy” in both newspapers.
He didn’t say when that might happen, though.