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How one magazine became a mainstay of New Jersey's Chinese community

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Ethnic media outlets can be a lifeline for new immigrants who don't have a firm grasp of English. They introduce their readers to civic life in America and to each other. That's just what an independent magazine has been doing for decades in New Jersey, which has one of the country's largest Chinese-speaking populations. Here's NPR's Mary Yang.

MARY YANG, BYLINE: The pages of Sino Monthly come together in a one-story office building neighbored by single-family homes in Edison, N.J.

IVY LEE: Sorry my office is small.

M YANG: Editor and founder Ivy Lee is at her desk on the morning of their print deadline. Copies of previous issues sit around the room. She points out last month's cover story.

LEE: They looks like 40...

M YANG: Yeah, they're gorgeous.

LEE: ...But they are 70 years old.

M YANG: It's about a friend group of older Chinese women who share their secrets to staying young.

LEE: We interviewed them. What do they eat? What do they exercise? What do they do to keep them young?

M YANG: That's something her readers would want to know, Lee says. Also in that issue, a profile of the new White House deputy assistant for racial justice and equity, Jenny Yang, who grew up in New Jersey with Chinese immigrant parents. A black-and-white proof of next month's edition teases a feature on Edward Tian, the Princeton student who coded an app to detect ChatGPT. Lee says her magazine is like milk.

LEE: Milk is healthy. Milk is inexpensive. And you can get milk everywhere.

JENNIFER LU: (Through interpreter) I was either at a Chinese school or a medical office where I was surprised to see a handful of the magazines.

M YANG: Jennifer Lu, whom I met at a tea festival, doesn't remember exactly where she first came across Sino Monthly, but she remembers being happy to see it.

LU: (Through interpreter) I'd just moved to New Jersey and thought it was great to have the local information.

M YANG: Sino Monthly and other ethnic media outlets don't aim to be papers of record covering all the news fit to print. They cover news, culture and politics that matter to their community. Tao Yang, a librarian at Rutgers University, maintains an archive of all Sino Monthly issues since the first in 1991. He walks down to the basement where the magazines take up four rows of one large bookshelf. He says they'll be useful for future historians.

TAO YANG: They can understand the conditions in the community. Even advertisements are useful.

M YANG: Sino Monthly stands out among the Chinese language press for its independence. Yang says many other outlets have ties to the Chinese government or spiritual groups like the Falun Gong. The magazine's nonpartisan but promotes participation in U.S. elections. One October 1994 article ahead of the midterms reads...

T YANG: (Non-English language spoken) - which means, please, please cast your sacred vote.

M YANG: Current print subscriptions, which go for $12 a year, hover around 10,000. Researcher Anthony Advincula, who studies ethnic and community media at Montclair State University, says staying small has kept these news outlets alive.

ANTHONY ADVINCULA: The general market - it's always with the bandwagon. Like, oh, let's go digital. Everybody goes digital.

M YANG: For ethnic media, he says, most ad revenue comes from print. Immigrant business owners, their main market, want to see themselves in paper. But the pandemic was hard for Sino Monthly, and Lee worries about the financial picture ahead.

LEE: My business started at ground zero, so I know how to survive.

M YANG: Lee's husband retired from his full-time job a few years ago. She's been searching for a successor, but for now, she's not done.

Mary Yang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Yang
Mary Yang is an intern on the Business Desk where she covers technology, media, labor and the economy. She comes to NPR from Foreign Policy where she covered the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine and built a beat on Southeast Asia, Asia and the Pacific Islands.