At 6:30 every weekday morning, Sung-Woun Hong, restaurateur and Korean immigrant, helps his wife heat up the grills for another day of business in their Northwest Washington carryout. Three hours later, he rushes off to a small office in Arlington.
For the next eight hours, Hong immerses himself in another role: editor of the Hankook Shinbo, a weekly Korean-language newspaper that covers events in the local Korean community. It is a task he considersnecessary because, he says, "Korean people in thearea need the newspaper for communication with oneanother."
Hong is one of a handful of editors in the Washington area who are struggling to produce newspapers in their native tongues in an English-speaking nation. Aside from the Hankook Shinbo, they include the Metro Chinese Journal, Iran Times, Washington Journal (a German-language paper), and perhaps as many as five otherKorean-language newspapers.
It is a difficult job. Four of the 10 ethnic newspapers listed in the current city and suburban editions of the Yellow Pages are, in fact, defunct -- victims of, among other things, the steady and time-honored Americantradition of immigrant assimilation. Others come and go before they even have a chance to be listed in the telephone book.
"About 80 years ago, you had close to 800 German-language papers in America," says Gerald Kainz, editor of Washington Journal, today the area's oldest newspaper, having been founded in 1859. "Now you have less than two dozen."
The reason is simple, Kainz says: "People have become good Americans and read the English papers."
The threat posed to these newspapers by Americanization is being felt by Kainz, Hong and the other ethniceditors. Already, they say, their sons "hardly speak German," or "cannot write Korean," or "will never be able to read a Chinese newspaper."
"I don't know if my sons will take it over," says Kainz. "They don't even want to speak German. They are all wrapped up in Star Wars and all that."
Like other print media, ethnic papers have been hit hard by increased printing and other costs, as well as competition from the electronic news media. And the ethnic papers have faced other problems.
"Many of the ethnic newspapers were started by foreign nationals fired up about specific political crises in their home countries," says Glynn Wood, an international media specialist who teaches at American University's School of International Service. "But they died out as soon as those events fizzled out."
All but the Metro Chinese Journal, which comes out biweekly, and the Miju Hankook Shinbo, a semiweekly, are weeklies. Circulations average 3,000 to 4,000, with most copies sold through subscriptions that cost about $30 a year.
Over-the-counter copies can be bought in such places as German delicatessens, Chinese bookstores, and other businesses frequented by immigrants. These same places provide much of the advertising.
The papers, some of which are slickly produced, usually devote about a third of their pages to community news, and typical fare includes articles about upcoming cultural events and local-ethnic-makes-good success stories.
Some stories provide information unavailable elsewhere, while others highlight news from other media that may be of particular interest to the papers' readers. An article in the latest issue of the Washington Journal, for example, reminds readers of an upcoming 81-year-old festival in Baltimore celebrating the German heritage in that city.
Three weeks ago, Hong's Hankook Shinbo summarized a Washington Post story about the academic achievements of Asian Americans, in which a Korean student at a local high school was featured.
The editors of these newspapers say their papers perform a much-needed community service. The editor of the Metro Chinese Journal says that his publication helps this area's widely dispersed Chinese communicate with one another. He says the paper also informs those who do not read English about government policies and programs that may affect their lives.
But while most of the papers struggle to build circulation and advertising, occasionally one emerges as an out-and-out financial success. Javad Khakbaz's Iran Times is one, and he started it in a small room at 19th and I Streets NW 11 years ago, while he was a university student.
"I laid out the paper, and took a bus with all the pages to a Rockville printing plant," he says. "At that time, I had 5,000 copies printed, many of them for promotional distribution."
Back at his office, Khakbaz addressed and bundled up the papers, dumped them into large mailing bags, and persuaded friends to help him carry them to the post office.
Today, Iran Times has a circulation of about 6,500 in the Washington area, 55,000 in the United States, and another 10,000 abroad. Eighteen staff members -- 12 of them full-time -- help Khakbaz put out the paper in a three-story Georgetown house.
Wood and other observers of the international media say that Washington, while home to many ethnic groups, is not a good market for ethnic newspapers. Wood notes that the recent immigrants "do not hit Washington in clumps, as they do in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Here there are 150 flavors."
Even dramatic increases in immigrtion do not guarantee success for ethnic newspapers. Hong says that the six-fold increase in the number of Koreans in Washington in the last ten years -- from just over 4,000 to nearly 28,000 -- has failed to make life much easier. And even if it had, Hong and other ethnic editors are not sure it would be desirable.
The Hankook Shinbo is "a temporary paper," Hong says, and is at the moment helping immigrants adjust to their new land.
"But unless Koreans keep coming here in great numbers like they have been doing, in 20 years every Korean in the United States will know English, and they will read English papers," he says. "In the future, perhaps, Korean papers should change into English papers . . . . It is just a natural trend."