Lily Chen: A Fortunate Decision

Lily Chen: A Fortunate Decision

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With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information technology, Lily Chen didn’t expect to be running a newspaper.

Chen, 32, used to type up stories produced on typewriters into primitive early 1990s computer systems for her father, who ran the monthly Asian Fortune newspaper from a home office in Haymarket, Va.
But when Jay Chen died suddenly of a brain aneurysm at 61 last year, his daughter found herself thrust into the role.

She soon quit her IT job to focus on the newspaper full time – even though she admits that writing “wasn’t something I’m really good at.” Stopping publication even for a moment would have degraded the paper’s value, Chen said.

Chen focuses on the paper’s business side, which she says has a bright future.

It remains the only newspaper in the D.C. region that targets all Asian Americans and publishes in English. While many first-generation immigrants associate more with their ethnic group, as Asian Americans learn English, they identify with other Asian groups, too, Chen said.

“It gives us an edge,” Chen said.

Chen’s father, a former reporter at Xinhua, moved his family to the United States when Lily Chen was 11 to study journalism at the University of Hawaii. They lived in the Hampton Roads area, but soon moved to Northern Virginia. Chen’s father worked as a translator for Voice of America and earned a master’s degree in urban planning from Virginia Tech.

In 1993, Chen’s father founded Asian Fortune.

The early years were tough, Chen said. Her father used to do most of the work himself, including distributing the publication. Now, the paper has a staff of 20 freelancers and a page designer.
Chen said the paper’s advertising has taken a hit since the recession began in 2008, but she sees things rebounding. The real estate market, in particular, is recovering, Chen said.

Still, she said convincing advertisers to target Asian Americans can be challenging.

Some advertisers tell her, “‘I already advertise in mainstream papers. Why should I advertise with you?’” Chen said.

Pointing to a recent issue with an advertisement for an apartment complex – featuring clip art of smiling Asian Americans specifically selected for the paper – Chen said advertising with the paper allowed companies to reach a valuable demographic. With advertisers, Chen points to statistics like a 2011 Nielsen report found 52 percent of Asian Americans over 25 hold at least a bachelor’s degree, while only 30 percent of whites do.

And the paper, following an industry-wide trend, plans to expand its Internet presence. Chen said the publication wants to add email blasts to subscribers and video content. While she said the paper already had a growing presence on social media networks Twitter and Facebook, Chen said she couldn’t envision the website replacing the print product in the near future.

Still, she said, “It’s very different from 2006.”

Her tips for running a business?

“Be collaborative,” Chen said.


This profile, part of a series of who's who in the etnic media, is provided by the American University Journalism Department.