filling the gap
NEW OUTLETS RUSH IN TO
BRING NEWS TO VALLEY'S VIETNAMESE COMMUNITY
Three new Vietnamese-language newspapers and an online news
outlet are vying to fill the void left by the closing of the Mercury
News' Viet Mercury publication, underscoring the vibrancy of ethnic
media even as mainstream newspapers face uncertain futures.
Two former Viet Mercury editors plan to start publishing in the
next two months while the paper's former advertising manager has
launched an online news portal. A third newspaper plans to offer
bilingual business news.
The publications aim to nab readers of Viet Mercury, which ceased
publication in November.
``The enthusiasm for replacing Viet Mercury speaks about the
viability of the market,'' said Jim Nguyen, Viet Mercury's former
advertising manager who founded online news site VietUSA News after
leading an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the paper. The site will
soon relaunch as a news portal catering to Vietnamese readers
globally, Nguyen said.
Former editor De Tran and his managing editor, Hoang Xuan Nguyen,
have plans for separate publications modeled after the one they ran
together for almost seven years.
The proliferation of Vietnamese and other ethnic publications is
in stark contrast to the challenges facing mainstream newspapers:
declining readership and advertising. Knight Ridder, the nation's
second-largest newspaper chain and owner of the Mercury News, agreed
to be purchased by McClatchy, a sale forced by major stockholders
unhappy about Knight Ridder's financial performance. McClatchy has
announced it will sell the Mercury News and 11 other Knight Ridder
The landscape of the ethnic press is dramatically different.
About a dozen Vietnamese publications now circulate in the Bay Area.
Readers of Chinese can choose from at least six dailies and
Indian-Americans, at least six monthly and weekly publications.
Ethnic media, including television, online and radio, reaches
one-fourth of the entire U.S. population and 80 percent of adults in
minority communities, according to a 2005 study by New America
Media, a San Francisco-based association of ethnic publications.
``If all the mainstream media went on strike, I wouldn't miss a
beat,'' said Ling-chi Wang, a prolific reader of Chinese
publications who heads Asian-American studies at the University of
California-Berkeley. ``What I read in Chinese papers is so much
richer than mainstream content . . . There's many more pages of news
The success of ethnic publications goes hand-in-hand with
increased immigration. The Chinese-American population in Santa
Clara county more than doubled between 1990 and 2004 to 134,000
while the Vietnamese-American population also doubled, to 107,000.
Numbers of Indian-Americans grew nearly threefold, to 72,000. As a
result, the circulation of monthly magazine India Currents increased
20 percent, to 22,000, in Northern California over the past five
``It's pretty competitive,'' said editor Ashok Jethanandani.
``I've seen so many publications come and go.''
The ethnic press thrives on a symbiotic relationship with
mom-and-pop enterprises since both predominantly serve the local
immigrant communities. ``Korean dry cleaners need Korean media to
grow their businesses,'' said Sandy Close, founder of New America
Still, ethnic press have challenges of their own. Readership
drops off considerably with the second generation, according to a
2003 San Francisco State University study on ethnic media.
Mindful of that, two of the upcoming Vietnamese publications plan
to offer some English content.
Leaders at the new ventures say they want to emulate Viet
Mercury, which was well-received by readers for its balanced
journalism and high professional standards in a community where
advocacy journalism is the norm and papers are susceptible to
pressures from political and business interests.
Viet Mercury was also the first local Vietnamese newspaper to
attract mainstream advertisers on a large scale rather than relying
on just area immigrant businesses for revenue. The new publications
hope to pair that model with lower overhead that will allow them to
charge less for ads.
Viet Mercury charged up to $1,000 for a full-page ad, and
couldn't pull in enough high-paying advertisers. Vietnamese
publications typically charge $120 for a full-page ad.
But competition is already intense, and some watchers doubt the
market is large enough for many more entrants. All four of the new
Vietnamese publications are currently talking to one another about
Quality -- and profit
Tran, whose VTimes publication makes its debut next month, is
convinced he can deliver both quality and profit. ``We'll have the
same quality of Viet Mercury,'' he said. ``But we'll do it for less
and we'll be able to charge much less for advertising.''
Tran wants his paper to be ``a bridge to connect
Vietnamese-Americans to the larger community,'' he said. Viet
Tribune, headed by Hoang Nguyen, will focus on culture and
lifestyle, particularly on issues affecting women and seniors.
Each of the new papers is being jump-started with only a few
hundred thousand dollars. They aim for circulations around
20,000, compared with Viet Mercury's 57,000. They will rely on
freelancers for most content.
The small scale of those operations leave many wondering whether
they can match Viet Mercury's editorial content.
``Viet Mercury raised the quality,'' said Nguyen Qui Duc, the
Vietnamese-American host of KQED's Pacific Time program. ``I don't
know that anyone can duplicate that because no one has those
Nguyen of VietUSA News said he wants to replicate Viet Mercury's
``integrity'' but said there may be limitations. ``Because we had
the backing and protection of the Mercury News, we were able to be
bold and courageous about exposing fraud and write exposes,'' he
said. ``With a community newspaper that has no shield, would we be
able to do those same kinds of stories?''
Tran is undeterred: ``A paper that's high-quality, objective and
well-designed -- there's a great need for it in the community.''