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After Community Support, Historic Newspaper Plans to Continue Operations

The Rafu Shimpo, one of the last Japanese-English newspapers in the United States, will remain in operation for another year, despite an announcement earlier in 2016 that it faced the possibility of closing.

“[That we’ll be open for another year,] it’s a feeling of tremendous gratitude to both the community who really rallied around us and the new management team that’s come in,” Gwen Muranaka, English editor for the publication, told NBC News. “We have a long way to go, but this is a great first step for us.”

For more than 100 years, The Rafu Shimpo, based in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood, has served the Japanese-American community. It started as a newssheet in 1903, according to the Japanese American National Museum, and has weathered trying seasons, including World War II, when its writers and editors were sent to Japanese-American incarceration camps. Publication ceased for a few years during that period before resuming in 1946.

But with the constant evolution of media, the newspaper has been met with new challenges, such as finding stories that appeal to its audience, modernizing its database, and ensuring it puts out a good product every day, according to its staff. It’s also examining how it can improve in the digital sphere, including revamping its website.

From 2012 to 2015 the newspaper lost $750,000, an amount that was revealed in an open letter in March by The Rafu Shimpo’s publisher and president, Michael Komai, whose family has managed it for three generations. He further wrote that the losses had been covered by the Komai family trust, but encouraged the community to subscribe to its eNewspaper. Its goal was to sign up 10,000 online subscribers to raise $500,000 in new revenue.

Since then, The Rafu has gained 1,500 new subscribers, bringing its total number of online subscribers to approximately 10,000, according to its staff. While that figure is far below the initial target, the publication has also seen an increase in its print subscriptions for the first time in about 20 years.

Despite not meeting its eNewspaper subscriber goal, Ellen Endo, interim chief operating officer and former managing and English editor for the newspaper, said that an analysis of the newspaper’s finances found it could actually operate for another year with less than $500,000.

“We realized it wasn’t as bad as we had thought,” Endo told NBC News.

To address its revenue problem, the paper has made cuts by renegotiating its contracts with the post office and printing company.

Endo said the newspaper is also looking at a number of ways to bring in new money, including digitizing the archives — which can be licensed to museums, universities, and research facilities for a fee — and investing in investigative journalism to cover specific issues critical to the Japanese-American community.

Additionally, The Rafu Shimpo has hired a new head of sales that started two weeks ago, Endo said. For the last few years, the position was vacant and ad sales accounted for only 30 percent of the publication’s revenue.

The Rafu also took steps to inform the Japanese-American community about its plight by attending Obon festivals in the summer, Muranaka said.

“This year we had our booths out there and we’d meet people and talk to a lot of people. The community as a whole was very concerned with what was happening with the publication. It’s been around since 1903 and it amplifies many voices that compose the Japanese-American community,” she said.

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Following decisions to cut cost and raise revenue, the newspaper announced during a public meeting in Little Tokyo last week that the newspaper would remain open throughout 2017. And, according to Endo, the outlook for the newspaper is optimistic.

“We had to create new business plan and what we found is that this is still viable. We realized we had a market share that was isolated and unique,” she said.

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