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Ethnic press stung by recession, advertising drop

Associated Press | 4/1/2009, 6:45 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — The sinking economy is threatening the ethnic publications that immigrant communities rely upon to stay informed and navigate American life.

Although the ethnic press once seemed immune to the forces hurting mainstream newspapers across the country, a growing number of publications that serve immigrant and minority communities are laying off staff, closing print editions or shutting down altogether.

Unlike mainstream newspapers, which have seen circulation decline over the decades, most ethnic publications have been retaining or expanding their print readership base, thanks in part to the growth of immigrant populations with strong newspaper-reading habits.

But a severe recession has led to a steep drop in advertising from small businesses, including many owned by immigrants, that have come to rely on the ethnic press to reach these communities.

As a result, ethnic or racial groups in some communities might lose the only media organizations that cover issues important to them, and businesses and government agencies will have more trouble reaching groups that speak little or no English.

Many immigrant communities depend on such newspapers, which often have circulations in the tens of thousands, to keep informed about regional and national affairs and follow news in their home countries. For example, Chinese-language newspapers provided extensive coverage of last year’s devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan province and helped mobilize donations for the victims.

Ethnic media organizations have also given immigrants a political roadmap. The publications have become influential in immigrant-heavy cities like Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco, where the ethnic newspapers’ endorsements are coveted by local politicians.

“Ethnic newspapers are the lifeline for many immigrant communities,” said David Lee, a San Francisco State University professor, who heads the nonprofit Chinese for Affirmative Action. “The trend of ethnic papers closing or cutting back editorial content or circulation could have very negative effects on voter or civic participation in those communities.”

While mainstream newspapers and their readers have migrated online, many ethnic publications have been slow to do so because they lack the financial resources and their readers tend to be older, speak little English and have less access to the Internet. However, a few publications are trying Web-only efforts.

AsianWeek, an English-language weekly that catered to Asian Americans, published its last print edition on Jan. 2. With a circulation of 58,000, it was an influential force in San Francisco culture and politics for nearly 30 years and had subscribers across the country. The publisher laid off the entire editorial staff, but continues to publish online with contributions from freelancers.

“It has become more and more difficult to run a hard-copy publication and make it profitable,” said James Fang, whose father founded the newspaper in 1979. “The printer is very unforgiving.”

The Ming Pao Daily News, one of Hong Kong’s leading newspapers, stopped publishing its San Francisco edition on Feb. 14, less than five years after it entered the competitive Bay Area Chinese-language market.

Hoy New York discontinued its print publication on Dec. 30, about a decade after the Spanish-language daily launched. Hoy’s Chicago and Los Angeles editions, under separate ownership, continue to publish in print, though owner Tribune Co. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.