A founding editor of the long-running Hyphen Magazine – the Asian American publication that launched its first issue in 2003 – has expressed frustration on social media after learning of the recent launch of Hyphen Media, a podcast company that claims to want to increase diversity in the audio space. Hyphen Media appears to have appropriated several aspects of Hyphen Magazine‘s brand identity, including its name, logo, and focus on Asian American story-telling. Whether these similarities are intentional or unintentional remains unclear.
Hyphen Magazine was founded in 2002 (around the same time as Reappropriate) by a small volunteer group of Asian American journalists and artists, most of them women. In the nearly twenty years since its inception in San Francisco, Hyphen Magazine has published numerous print issues, as well as maintained an active and incisive group blog. Altogether, that work has consistently elevated discourse around Asian American identity, and has been a powerful voice in the Asian American alternative media space.
Yesterday, writer and editor Melissa Hung – who is one of Hyphen Magazine‘s founders – tweeted sarcastically about news of Hyphen Media. Hung wondered if the founders of the podcast company had bothered to find out about Hyphen Magazine‘s long history as a major Asian American alternative media outlet before launching their own company and brand.
“Oh, [I don’t know], maybe check to see if there’s already something called Hyphen in the media space before launching your new venture?” Hung said, sharing a news article that included a picture of Hyphen Media‘s logo, which bears striking resemblance to that of Hyphen Magazine.
Hyphen Media was launched by media executives Andrew Kuo and Kareem Rahma. Its (infuriatingly all-frills, no-details) website describes itself as “a new premium podcast-first entertainment company telling stories by and about people of color, for everybody.” In an interview with Deadline, Hyphen Media says it has several podcast projects in the works, and that it has partnered with several companies in the podcast landscape including Topic, QCODE Media, SALT, and doc studio XTR.
Hyphen Media is backed by Hyphen Capital, an Asian American venture capital group.
“We invested in Hyphen Media because they’re building a platform for underrepresented voices to be heard, which is something the entertainment industry needs right now,” said Dave Lu, founder and Managing Partner at Hyphen Capital, in the interview with Deadline. “By creating content that represents the perspectives of people of color, audiences can see themselves and that’s extremely powerful.” Hyphen Capital – which surprisingly also boasts a logo that appears similar to that of Hyphen Magazine‘s – was launched in September 2020.
“Putting authentic voices at the helm of these podcasts is paramount to delivering entertaining stories and we look forward to using our storytelling to build community over time,” said Hyphen Media‘s founder Kareem Rahma in that same interview with Deadline.
Hyphen Media‘s domain (hyphenmedia.com) was registered in 2018, according to public WHOIS records. It appears to be associated with Hyphen Media Group (hyphenm.com), a web design and development company that serves clients in the United States and Pakistan. Hyphen Media Group’s website was registered in February 2021.
“For more than a decade, I put in the equivalent of a part-time job volunteering on Hyphen [Magazine] on top of my full-time work. Hyphen’s a scrappy operation, which has survived this long because of the dedication of its volunteer staff. We are a labor of love, rooted in community,” said Hung on Twitter and Instagram when she learned of Hyphen Media. “Hyphen has been a training ground for Asian American editors, writers, photographers, and artists. We’ve been a stepping stone for many in their careers. Hundreds of people have come through Hyphen over the years. We also covered emerging artists and helped boost their careers.”
The similarities between Hyphen Media, Hyphen Capital Group, and Hyphen Magazine‘s name and logo is likely to cause serious brand confusion. Several people familiar with the Asian American community and media landscape – myself included – said on Twitter that our initial reaction to news of Hyphen Media’s launch was that we believed that Hyphen Magazine had expanded its scope into audiovisual media. Many were therefore surprised to find that Hyphen Media and Hyphen Magazine are unaffiliated.
This story comes in the same week that activist Helen Zia revealed that the new podcast Hold Still, Vincent had not contacted either her or the Vincent Chin Estate during production of that series.
“Creators–please at least check in with community people who lived these experiences, including the estate of Lily and Vincent Chin—the AAPI community and its activists deserve that respect,” said Zia on Instagram. “I’m not dead yet and it’s weird hearing/seeing myself fictionalized by people who have never tried to connect with me or the Estate.”
Today, Zia again posted, saying that she felt it was the responsibility of media creators to “respect AAPI community stories and the lived experiences of the real AAPIs–at the front end, not as an afterthought.”
Shortly after Zia’s announcement, A-Major Media, the production company behind the podcast, apologized and suspended downloads of Hold Still, Vincent.
Ironically, Helen Zia also sat on an early advising board to Hyphen Magazine, according to Hung.
On June 1, Hyphen Magazine confirmed that they are not associated in any way with Hyphen Media.
“If you are confused by a new podcasting company called Hyphen Media, we are too,” tweeted Hyphen Magazine’s official Twitter account. “We are not associated with them.”
Sources revealed on June 7 that following widespread community backlash, Hyphen Media have asked to meet with representatives of Hyphen Magazine and that they have agreed to change the name of their company.
“We are glad that Hyphen Media is open to changing their name and look forward to resolving this situation amicably,” said Hung in response to the decision. “We also hope that investors wishing to uplift Asian American voices will look for opportunities to meaningfully support the community groups that have already been doing this work.”
This post was updated on June 1 to add a tweet from Hyphen Magazine confirming they are not affiliated with Hyphen Media. This post was updated on June 7, 2021 with new information regarding Hyphen Media’s decision to change their name.