Just weeks before its 40th anniversary one of the three major Chinese daily newspapers in North America has ceased printing in Canada.
The World Journal issued its last edition on Dec. 31, 2015, marking yet another setback for the ailing Chinese ethnic media.
From daily newspapers to TV and radio stations, traditional ethnic media outlets have been fighting to survive under the irrevocable challenges brought on by the rise of social media.
Like other traditional Chinese media, World Journal has been struggling with declining readership and advertising revenues, coupled with increasing labour costs.
Founded by the United Daily News Group in Taiwan on Feb. 12, 1976, World Journal mainly targets readers from the island whose political perspectives are not aligned with Beijing.
Announcement not a surprise to some
The closure of the newspaper’s Vancouver and Toronto offices resulted in more than 20 full-time jobs in editorial, translation, graphic design and printing being slashed on New Year’s Day.
The World Journal will keep publishing in the United States; its North American headquarters in New York, along with its west coast bureaus in Los Angeles and San Francisco will remain in tact.
“It’s obvious that traditional media is a dying business, giving up the market to new media and free pickup weekly newspapers.”
Jiansheng Ge, a senior reporter who has been working for the newspaper in Toronto for over eight years after emigrating from Taiwan, was not shocked by the abrupt announcement the newspaper’s CEO made earlier in December.
He says he knew the end was coming, he just didn’t know when.
“It’s obvious that traditional media is a dying business, giving up the market to new media and free pickup weekly newspapers,” he laments.
According to Ge people are joining the battlefield to publish free weekly newspapers without paying enough attention to quality because it’s a legitimate and easy investment for them.
Examining why the newspaper folded
Joseph Lau, the founding president of Toronto’s Chinese Media Professionals Association, appealed on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app with over one billion users, to buy the World Journal’s last edition on Dec. 31 to show support.
“Traditional media has a weakness, from my perspective, which is a ‘one-way’ communication.”
“Media colleagues should examine why the business is not doing well,” he says. “Traditional media has a weakness, from my perspective, which is a ‘one-way’ communication. You won’t be able to trace back your readers’ data, not like new media that grabs users’ information for its marketing purpose.”
He adds that World Journal publishing electronically online for some time was also part of its downfall.
“This is suicidal and it kills the hardcopy edition, but it’s the trend nobody in the business can avoid,” Lau says.
“I believe news always needs content regardless what the carrier is, either on paper or on a smart phone. Paper media’s readership will be less and less, losing to other carriers. However, we are not a fully digital age yet. In the coming 10 years, paper media still has some space to survive.”
He adds, with a laugh, that his own online TV news channel, www.torontotv.net, has been operating since 2003 and is still “surviving”.
Finding work for former ethnic media
After losing their jobs in ethnic media, reporters can find it difficult to find work. They often find themselves using transferable skills to land work in other fields.
A popular career alternative is working as a politician’s constituency assistant.
“Media professionals often make great hires for both public and private sectors.”
Two reporters, who preferred to remain unnamed, who previously worked at OMNI TV found jobs at the riding offices of Conservative member of Parliament (MP) Bob Saroya and Liberal MP Shaun Chen after Rogers cut most of its ethnic programming last year, while a former reporter for the World Journal started working for Liberal MP Arnold Chan months before the newspaper announced its closure.
Miriam Ku, a former World Journal reporter who left journalism several years ago in pursuit of a career in politics has since worked as an assistant for a municipal councillor and is now an outreach adviser for Ontario’s Conservative party leader, Patrick Brown.
Wilson Chan, who is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s communication adviser, previously worked as Editor-in-Chief of a Chinese daily newspaper called Today Daily News that was rebranded to Today Commercial News after he left.
“Media professionals often make great hires for both public and private sectors, whether it could be working for a politician, an NGO (non-governmental organization) or a public relation firm,” says Ku, adding that media professionals’ vast knowledge on current affairs, strong community networks and effective audience-focused writing talents are useful when seeking jobs.
Some reporters work as licenced interpreters in the community, hospitals or courtrooms. Others become part-time realtors serving the particularly property-hungry Chinese community, and often, their part-time income easily supersedes their humble reporter’s salary.
As for Ge, he had already planned something years before the closure announcement was made.
He is a seasonal Chinese language teacher working at the elementary school level for the Toronto District School Board. Although his working hours are not enough right now, he is confident and wants to pursue this path, getting more training to become a full-time teacher in a more stable and sustainable job environment.