New York: Plan to Close Chinese-Language Paper Deepens a Shadow Over the Ethnic Press

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jan 23 14:19:18 UTC 2009

January 23, 2009
Plan to Close Chinese-Language Paper Deepens a Shadow Over the Ethnic Press

There is nothing overt at the modest headquarters of The Ming Pao
Daily News to suggest that the 12-year-old newspaper is under siege.
In the paper's small warren of offices in an industrial building in
Long Island City, Queens, the advertising and reporting staffs are
still working the phones and putting out their scrappy broadsheet as
if nothing were amiss. But looming over the entire enterprise is a
plan by the paper's corporate parent, Media Chinese International
Limited, based in Hong Kong, to shut it down. Though the plan has yet
to be formally announced, and several of the paper's employees said
they still remained in the dark about their future, the paper's
general manager confirmed in an interview with The New York Times last
week that the daily would indeed disappear from newsstands, possibly
as soon as the end of the month.

News of Ming Pao's demise has shaken New York's ethnic press industry,
which until recently remained extremely robust but, like many other
industries, has been buffeted by the nation's economic slowdown in the
past few months. In recent weeks, two other prominent ethnic
newspapers have also closed. Hoy New York, a Spanish-language daily
started in 1998, published its last print issue on Dec. 30, though it
retains a presence on the Internet. AsianWeek, a widely respected
English-language Asian-American weekly based in San Francisco,
published its last print issue on Jan. 2, though it, too, remains

Ning Wang, editor in chief of The Sing Tao Daily, one of Ming Pao's
three rival Chinese-language dailies in New York, said Ming Pao's
departure would diminish the city's Chinese-American community, which
as recently as the mid-1980s supported 10 daily newspapers. "For the
community it's a very depressing thing," Mr. Wang said. But in an
interview, Ming Pao's general manager, Thong Lai Teng, said that the
news was not all bad and cast the paper's closing as something of a
new beginning. While the company planned to cease publication of the
daily, which costs 50 cents a copy on the newsstand, it would continue
publishing a free, six-day-a-week newspaper, called MP (NY) Free
Daily, introduced more than a year ago.

The Ming Pao staff has already been supplying most of the free daily's
content, Mr. Teng said. And though there would be some layoffs, he
added, most of the workers would remain, ensuring that The Ming Pao
Daily News would survive in substance and spirit, if not in name. He
said the shift and belt-tightening were necessary for the company to
stay alive. "We are here to stay!" he exclaimed, with a bit more gusto
than the paper's struggles would seem to allow. Circulation of the
free daily has been increasing in proportion to the decrease in the
paid daily's circulation, propelled by an enthusiastic response from
advertisers, Mr. Teng claimed.

Some 35,000 copies of the free daily are distributed daily, he said.
Meanwhile, he added, the circulation of the paid daily has declined
significantly from about 45,000 early last year, though he did not
divulge the current circulation numbers.

News of Ming Pao's plans have filtered out in a curious way. Two rival
newspapers published thinly sourced articles in late December
reporting Ming Pao's closure. Then in an article on Dec. 31, Ming Pao
published a vague article about the change.

But when first approached about the plans last week, the paper's staff
members and managers refused to confirm the closing, deferring instead
to the corporate parent company for comment. When it was pointed out
to Mr. Teng that the corporation's plans had already been reported by
one of his own correspondents, he appeared confused, then insisted
that the article had been printed prematurely. "The editor wasn't in
the office that day," he said.

Analysts of the ethnic news media say that Ming Pao's plans, and the
recent closings of Hoy and AsianWeek, are most likely a harbinger of
much more contraction in this sector of the media industry.

Until the middle of last year, analysts say, the ethnic press was
largely insulated from the vicissitudes of the newspaper industry,
including severe downturns in advertising revenue and circulation,
which have brought many mainstream newspapers to their knees.

Devoutly focused on local, largely immigrant communities, ethnic
newspapers provide readers with news particular to those populations
and reports from the immigrants' homelands that are hard to find
elsewhere. They also address the specific needs of immigrants trying
to adjust to a new country and new lifestyle.

"People don't necessarily see themselves reflected in the mainstream
media, so different cultural populations were turning to the ethnic
media more and more," said Cristina L. Azocar, director of the Center
for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State

In addition, advertisers are often the neighbors and acquaintances of
the newspapers' staff, creating an intimate relationship between the
newspapers and the communities they serve, analysts said. Many ethnic
papers have not gone online in any comprehensive way, but until the
broader economic downturn, that did not much matter since much of the
readership, particularly in working-class and poorer communities, may
not have been connected to the Internet anyway.

But beginning last year, growth in the ethnic press began to level off
and the footing of many papers has not been secure enough to withstand
the recession.

Ethnic newspapers are now having to scramble to stay alive, cutting
staff, printing less frequently and shifting to the Internet.

"Some are finding very innovative ways to keep afloat and others are
committed to operating in the red," said Sandy Close, director of New
America Media, a nationwide association of more than 2,000 ethnic
media organizations.

According to several current and former Ming Pao staff members, the
paper has always struggled to find a niche for itself in the
rough-and-tumble market of Chinese-language dailies.

Ming Pao was founded in 1997 as an offshoot of a well-respected daily
in Hong Kong that also publishes iterations in San Francisco, Toronto
and Vancouver. It has tried to cast itself as the most intellectual of
the four Chinese-language dailies in New York, mirroring the
reputation of the Hong Kong paper. But it has not been able to cut
deeply enough into their market share, industry experts say.

An employee smoking a cigarette outside Ming Pao's offices in Long
Island City last week said he was unsettled by the possibility of
layoffs, but he was also philosophical about the matter. The economic
malaise, he pointed out, was ubiquitous. "It's happening to
everybody," he shrugged. "Not just us."
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