When Assunta Ng was a college student new to Seattle in the early ’80s and living in the Chinatown-International District, she noticed her neighbors huddled along the sidewalk at a bulletin board. On closer observation, she could tell they were there to get the news.
Ng wanted to provide a better option: reliable news in a format they could at least sit down to read. So she started the Seattle Chinese Post in 1982, with hardly any money or training.
“That bulletin board was the only source of news for the entire Chinese community, but it was questionable news — posters and little bits of paper here and there,” Ng said. “Many of them were propaganda because the community at that time was anti-communism.
“So when I saw that bulletin board, it motivated me to say, ‘Hey, it’s time. We should have a real newspaper, so people don’t rely on rumors.’ That was my motivation back then.”
Financial and racial pandemic pressures have demanded all of Ng’s and current editor Ruth Bayang’s motivation to keep up the Post and the company’s other publication, Northwest Asian Weekly.
“It was so rough last March, April and May. I thought we were going to fold up. I really did,” Ng said. “But then this year — miracles happen when you work at it, and I have this strong belief that I have a lot of people relying on me. The community believes in us.”
Ng and Bayang said the C-ID neighborhood that many of their readers frequent was a ghost town at the beginning of the pandemic, obscuring local news and distribution avenues.
Then these two leaders witnessed a renewed need for local journalism. “We had more news last year than anything, right? Just covering the pandemic and the election,” Ng said. “In all my decades in the U.S., last year’s election was the most exciting I’ve ever seen. … And the death rates every day, it was terrible. It was hard for us to be journalists last year. At the same time, it was very rewarding to be a journalist last year. It showed everything, last year. It proved to us that our job was worthwhile.”
More news came rushing forth when outsiders came to their home neighborhood to loot and attack Asian people and businesses, in part because of misinformation about the virus’ origins.
“In the beginning, the attacks were so shocking to me personally,” Bayang said. “Then it happened more and more. We’re a weekly paper, and then every week, there’s this case and there’s that case, you know, all in Seattle and across the country. And we had a bunch of community protests, which we covered.
“We also got emails, in the very beginning, about ‘how come you’re not covering this?’ I was reluctant to give it the attention because I think we kind of perpetuate each other. You give attention to it, and then there’s more. So it was a struggle for me personally, as an editor. It just came to a point where, yes, we have to cover this.”
Ng nodded. “I really appreciate her approach in covering the anti-Asian hate crimes in our community. If you have all your front pages every week about anti-Asian hate crimes, are we playing a role in perpetuating that?
“How do we present information that will empower a community and at the same time not overwhelm our community? We already know there are immigrants afraid to go out of the door. … How do we educate the non-people-of-color communities, the mainstream community, that what you are doing is racist? What you are doing is illegal? It’s a constant battle on these issues that I don’t really have answers to.”
“We don’t,” Bayang said. “We don’t know.”
“Yeah, we don’t. It’s the honest answer,” Ng said.
They have worked together producing two papers and a news site since Ng hired Bayang in March 2016. They were a match immediately.
Bayang said, “I answered the job ad, and then she called me, and I was surprised! She said, ‘This is Assunta Ng.’ I knew who she was because, oh, she’s a legend.
“After the very first interview, she said, ‘I want to see how you write. Can you write a story for us?’” Then, Ng walked Bayang over to an event starting right away at the Wing Luke Museum.
Recalling this, Ng smiled at Bayang and said, “It impressed me because she finished that story by 12 midnight the same day. That’s commitment!”
Ng herself had not considered she could be a journalist before the day she realized what was going on with the C-ID bulletin board. “I believe if you want to do something, the question is not, ‘How do you do it?’ No, the question is, ‘Why do you want to do it?’
“Because when you have passion to do something, answers will come, and everything will fall into place. It’s just like, I don’t have much background in running a newspaper. I don’t. I didn’t go to a business school, get an MBA degree. That’s what a lot of the mainstream media looks for when they look for publishers, right?
“I don’t have any of those backgrounds, but I think my passion was strong all these years. There was not any day when I got up in the morning that I didn’t want to do journalism — I’ve never felt that way.
“So, that’s why I’m not retiring.”
The Seattle Chinese Post was an early beacon of Asian-language media in the U.S., and Northwest Asian Weekly is the only English-edition newspaper for Asian residents of Washington.
Bayang says Ng, as a woman from an oppressed community, set a vital perspective for this work. “Having a female publisher is very, very unusual. I would venture that Assunta is one of the very few nationwide,” Bayang said. “What an honor it is for me to work at a place like this with someone like her.”
We chose Bayang and Ng to win Real Change’s annual Editorial Excellence Award because of their leadership as journalists for marginalized people enduring economic challenges, racism and displacement.
Read more of the Sept. 8-14, 2021 issue.