In a recent letter to JACL members, JACL National President David Lin announced that the organization’s newspaper, The Pacific Citizen, based in Little Tokyo, will transition from a print edition to a digital format next year. The letter reads as follows:

“I am writing to inform you about an important decision your National Board made at a meeting on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 regarding The Pacific Citizen.

“As all of you know, the newspaper industry has been on the decline for years with the advent of online journalism, mobile devices and social media delivering news and information to consumers using a new business model. This trend has resulted in declining readership as well as advertising revenue that were essential in supporting traditional print media as we knew it.

“At the same time, expenses associated with newspaper production, content creation and distribution have gone up steadily.

Cover of Pacific Citizen's Christmas 1945 issue.
Cover of Pacific Citizen’s Christmas 1945 issue. (Densho)

“Similarly, The Pacific Citizen, the flagship communications vehicle for our members and the Asian Pacific American community at large, has incurred significant financial deficits over the years due to the dynamics cited above in addition to our own membership decline. Specifically, the Pacific Citizen incurred a deficit of over $120,000 in 2014 and approximately $80,000 through July in 2015.

“Accordingly, if we continue maintaining the status quo on how The Pacific Citizen is delivered without any changes, we, as an organization, will be unable to remain financially stable long term.

“In 2010, the National Board accepted a Pacific Citizen Editorial Board recommendation to transition The Pacific Citizen from a printed newspaper to an online one with the target completion date set for 2012. Unfortunately, there were also major staffing changes in 2010 and the plan was ultimately delayed.

“Subsequently, the National Board accepted a revised plan from the Pacific Citizen Editorial Board to extend the target date of going digital to May 2015. At the Pacific Citizen Editorial Board’s recommendation, the National Board also lifted its hiring freeze in order to approve the hiring of an associate editor for the specific purpose of implementing this digital transition.

“Time and again, the National Board has demonstrated its willingness to work with the Pacific Citizen Editorial Board on this important initiative and make the necessary investment to ensure this digital transition goes as smoothly as possible.

“I’m sure many of you are asking the question, ‘Why is this needed? Is this the first step in doing away with The Pacific Citizen?’ We can assure you that is not the case. On the contrary, we are trying to save and shore up The Pacific Citizen, so it can stay financially sound in order to serve the JACL members for years to come.

“We fully understand the importance of The Pacific Citizen to our members, but the difficulty appears when reviewing the overall financial health of The Pacific Citizen. Based on that review, it was determined that the best course of action for The Pacific Citizen and for the JACL as a whole is to transition The Pacific Citizen to digital to reduce current and future expenses in a financially sustainable manner.

Cover of a 2012 special issue of Pacific Citizen.
Cover of a 2012 special issue of Pacific Citizen.

“Despite all of these grave challenges, our plan is to continue to publish The Pacific Citizen, but also make a change in how we deliver it. The vast majority of our members will be receiving an email message announcing the availability of the new issue of The Pacific Citizen with a direct link to a portable document format (PDF) file where our members can view the paper online immediately, without the delay of mail delivery. By the way, we know that many of our members are already receiving their chapter newsletters this way.

“For those members without access to computers, we will devise a way to have the PDF file printed and delivered to them.

“One more thing: we will continue to publish several special issues a year in newspaper print, such as the Holiday Issue and the Scholarship Issue, as two examples.

“To be clear, our members will continue to receive their beloved Pacific Citizen at the same frequency, and with speedier email delivery for those with email access. We also clearly understand that there is a risk in losing the advertising revenues as a result of this transition. The National Board has instructed the Pacific Citizen staff to begin discussions with our advertisers on our plan and to reassure them that there will not be any decrease in the number of exposures of their advertisement through this transition.

“For the past couple of years, we have stabilized the financials of this organization with the net income exceeding budgeted amounts two years in a row, under the stewardship of your National Board and by the amazing work of the staff. To ensure that will continue to be the case, we need to shore up the financials of The Pacific Citizen, hence this National Board made the decision to transition The Pacific Citizen to digital, with a strong focus on no changes to our members in receiving the content of The Pacific Citizen.

“To ensure a successful implementation of this plan, we will be communicating with you using all the channels we have at our disposal, including The Pacific Citizen, the JACL Digest, direct mail and district council and chapter meetings. I would also like to personally solicit your support by asking for your email address such that we can ensure that you and your family will continue to receive The Pacific Citizen on a timely basis.

“As it stands now, we plan to go with digital delivery of The Pacific Citizen in March 2016.

“In closing, I and my fellow board members thank you for the privilege and opportunity to serve on the JACL National Board and we thank you in advance for your support on this important initiative for the JACL.”

In an Oct. 16 message, Lin announced that the National Board, having heard concerns from the Editorial Board, will extend the print version for two months, until late April or early May, though the PDF version will become available in late February or early March as originally planned.

“By doing this, what we are essentially creating is a parallel environment where the electronic and printed versions will be distributed simultaneously for two months to ensure the delivery of PC to our members throughout this transition period and to eliminate any potential disruption of receiving PC by our members,” Lin said.

PC Executive Editor Allison Haramoto said in a statement, “The Pacific Citizen has been instructed by the JACL National Board to transition the PC to an all-digital format beginning in the first quarter of 2016. We are moving ahead with President Lin’s timeline.

“However, there are a lot of unknown variables that exist — no concrete data that the move is going to be entirely successful. We are hoping for the best and bracing for whatever the future holds. The PC’s main concern is that our readers — loyal JACL members and non-member subscribers — continue to come first and foremost. They are our most valuable commodity, and it is our duty to provide the PC for them, no matter what. We owe it to them.”

Originally called the Nikkei Shimin (Japanese American Citizen), the San Francisco-based newspaper was a lifeline for the Japanese American community since September 1929.

At the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent internment Japanese Americans, the newspaper was moved to Salt Lake City, where editor Larry Tajiri was hired to continue publishing a weekly newspaper to keep the fragmented community informed.

After the war, The Pacific Citizen returned to the West Coast, relocating to Little Tokyo, where the newspaper is still based.

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