VOLUME 28 NO. 4 | JANUARY 17 - JANUARY 23, 2009

Happy Anniversary to us!
27 years of great luck

Last updated 1-15-09 at 1:32 p.m.

Designed by former staff member Evelyn Hou, Seattle Chinese Post’s first advertising poster, from 1982, promises to deliver news to the Northwest every Friday for 25 cents.

In December, I was happy that the Northwest Asian Weekly made it through another year though the recession had hurt many businesses. Little did I know, that there was a bomb coming our way on Christmas Eve.

How do you turn moments of difficulties into something magical? This was Oprah’s theme on her Dec. 31 show. I wish I had watched it before our disaster.

What happened to the Northwest Asian Weekly and its sister paper, Seattle Chinese Post, could have destroyed nearly 27 years of reputation.

Reflecting on our 27th anniversary (Jan. 20), I know that we have never tried to be big, important, or wealthy — we just wanted our newspapers to inform, educate, empower, and inspire the Asian American community. We pride ourselves on being on time. We have never missed a single issue in the past 27 years. Then came the horrible snowstorm.

We weren’t sure if we could publish. The snow shut down roads and public transportation. Our office in Chinatown/International District was in a horrible part of the city to drive in. The vans that pick up our papers did not have snow tires. Many of our staff members could not come into the office. Sure, they could send their stories in to the office electronically, but we needed their physical presence to coordinate details before we went to press.

A big embarrassing mishap on the front page

December’s last issue of the Seattle Chinese Post carried an obvious error on the front page. It was not the gift I expected to get for that Christmas.

What we learned is that checking the hard copy of a page is not always reliable. The staff member who was supposed to check did not look at the digital version on the computer. She rushed home due to the snow storm.

So what happened? Well, the “Seattle” part of the Seattle Chinese Post’s masthead was absent.

Imagine our horror when we discovered this mistake. We were stuck with thousands of these eyesores.

To reprint or not to reprint?

Deciding to reprint or not reprint the issue was a decision I had to make on Christmas Eve. This error was not something we could run a correction on in the following issue. That incomplete masthead would be the joke of the community.
My first instinct was to reprint to avoid embarrassment.

As soon as one of my staff members hung up the phone (after telling the printer to go ahead with the reprint), I signaled “no” to him. What changed my mind was that I was not sure if we could go back to the printer to pick up our papers a second time. With treacherous road conditions, the fact that the papers were picked up the first time was a miracle. The delay could have produced a chain reaction of crises for the whole operation.

The magical solution: Cooperation

Looking at my staff, I found the solution to my disaster. Instantly, we transformed our 13 staff members into an army.
“Cover the ugly spot with new labels by hand,” I said. And do it over and over thousands of times.

One staff member printed labels to cover up the spot as a few others cut and pasted. Another person called in her mom and friends who lived in the International District to come and help. I woke my eldest son out of bed. Jason was visiting home for the holidays.

Thank God we have color printers in-house. We had stacks of nametag labels because of the many events we hold during the year. Another person went to Office Depot to buy more labels.

And get this: A former staff member just happened to walk in to volunteer because her employer closed down its office due to the snow storm.

Why did she come to us? If you said there were no angels, I would disagree. In Chinese culture, angels are called “valuable persons” who walk into your life to help without an explanation.

The week before was another hardship due to the snow. A staff member’s boyfriend, who had chains on his station wagon, helped us by picking up our papers when our delivery drivers could not. He is another angel who came to our lives unexpectedly!

We treated everyone to lunch on Christmas Eve so the ID residents did not have to go home to eat. It’s a blessing that we have so many restaurants nearby.

History thankfully not revisited

In our past 27 years, we have only reprinted the Seattle Chinese Post twice.

The first time occurred when we printed a photo of the wrong murder suspect in the Wah Mee Massacre in 1983 on the front page. The second time, a staff member forgot to place an ad in the paper leaving a big blank space.

These days, the mainstream papers often leave huge empty spots in their classifieds section. I don’t know whether this is acceptable or not.

However, I have not regretted any decisions I’ve made so far.

Lessons learned

There is no one specific formula to solve problems in your business. “You have to be adaptable to changes in your operation,” said my younger son, John, who also works in the office.

I changed the newspapers’ goal — to adapting to new challenges. “We are not going to be perfectionists,” I told my folks on Christmas Eve. “Just get the job done.”

And they did, with promptness and organization.

Solutions to crises lie in your own business. You just have to be vigilant, able think on your feet, and able to map out strategies wisely. My decision not only saved money and time, but also helped to maintain good morale. Had we been unable to get the paper out, it would have tarnished our holiday spirit and our credibility.

I like for our readers to know that behind every issue, there are untold pressures and unsung heroes who have fought with determination to resist any deference so that our readers can get the paper on time. From writers to editors, delivery drivers to mailing staff, they all play a crucial role.

Lunar New Year blackout

The first day of Lunar New Year in 2008 was supposed to be a celebration. We planned the day by ordering takeout for 15 staff members from four restaurants in the ID. However, power outages affected several blocks of the International District, including our building. It was a Thursday and our papers, still fresh with wet ink, were just hurled back inside the office. Suddenly, it was pitch black.

But I was prepared. I had seven candles in the office, in preparation for times like these, so we could mail our papers to our subscribers on time. We were lucky to have the power outage on Thursday instead of Wednesday, our production day. Perhaps another angel was taking care of us.

The shooting at Southcenter Mall

The last community fundraiser and awards dinner we organized was particularly dramatic. I was shopping for supplies for the Top Contributors Dinner when a shooting occurred at Southcenter Mall on Nov. 22. I still remember it vividly, how I ran for my life during the shooting. I was just a few feet away from where the victim lay on the ground. How I managed to escape this calamity was perhaps, another act of angels.

New (young) blood

If you were to tell me earlier that we would have a complete new personnel change in the Northwest Asian Weekly in 2008, I would have probably fainted.

But we did. Stacy Nguyen is our new editor, and Han Bui is the new layout editor and Web designer.

President Obama says change is good. It’s a gift not to know about your future sometimes, especially when it could be bleak. In a stressful business like ours, we don’t need to be consumed by unnecessary worries. Coping with actual issues step by step is less draining to our psyche rather than worrying about potential disasters.

Change brings opportunities, fresh perspectives, and ideas. It actually improved my creativity and expanded my network during the hiring process.

My staff motivates me to be visionary. They are my reasons to work hard. “I have many mouths to feed,” I’ve told friends. As long as my staff gives me the freedom to travel and stay involved in interesting community projects, I am very satisfied.

In 2007, Northwest Asian Weekly was redesigned, but the look of our paper is still evolving because of the new staff. This year, we added a new feature to the paper by creating a Web site.

If you haven’t seen it lately, please take a look and give us feedback: www.nwasianweekly.com.

This is the reward for having new energies in our papers to grow our operation.

The power to make a difference

When I founded the newspapers 27 years ago, I did not know the full potential of a newspaper. One of our strengths is gathering donations for passionate causes. Through the “newspaper machine,” we can make things happen for different organizations.

Every project begins with a simple idea, and we build on these ideas to make the impossible into a reality. Sure, there were many obstacles along the way, but our imaginative ways turn obstacles into opportunities.

In 2008, we were able to raise funds for Sichuan earthquake victims, Asian Counseling & Referral Service, Wing Luke Asian Museum, Executive Development Institute, Family Services, and the UW Business School’s API scholarship funds, in addition to many organizations we support through other means.

Will we survive?

Last year, the pessimistic news for print media never ceased.  

“Your survival is an achievement,” said June Chen, a supporter.

“Yes, we will survive,” said my son John. “We are a niche.”

Szeto Hung, former editor of the Seattle Chinese Post, said, “No one can do a better job than the Asian Weekly and Chinese Post to do local news for the Asian community. No other papers have more local advertisements than you do.

We want to read local ads to see what local businesses are doing. Who wants to fly to California for a nice meal or shop there?”

Will we eliminate our print version and just be online? No. This is because each version has a different audience. How can we afford to lose either one of them?

It was also in 2008 when we broke records by printing 80 pages for both newspapers combined during Lunar New Year. About 1,500 people participated in the seven events we organized during the year.

We wined and dined our employees with live lobsters, Beijing duck, and free-range chicken during Thanksgiving. Our bonus checks were delivered to everyone on Dec. 30. There are no layoffs.

Every 2008 setback we faced not only produced a happy ending, but also taught us to reach beyond our horizon.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do not feel dismayed when people have doubts about the future newspapers.

This is what you call “growing pains.” We’re having fun. Most importantly, optimism propels us to think of possibilities rather than roadblocks.

As for adversities in our journey, “You just have to make a decision to live through them,” said Oprah. The hardships faced during the last two weeks of December had merely become great material for one of the chapters of our history. We are resilient!

Thank you to our readers and advertisers for helping us continue for 27 years! (end)

Assunta Ng can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


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