Small, Ethnic Newspapers May Not Be Immune to the What's Killing the Big Dailies After All

Categories: Print Pains

Things continue to look bleak for newspapers -- the Times-Picayune in New Orleans announcing recently that it's cutting down to three days a week seems like an ominous harbinger of things to come.

In general, it's been taken as granted, however, that very small newspapers -- and in particular, the ethnic press -- have escaped a lot of the misery that is making large dailies look increasingly untenable.

A 2009 poll, for example, showed that ethnic media had enjoyed a 16 percent increase in readership in just 4 years, and it's been taken as granted that recent immigrants are better newspaper consumers than the rest of us.

But apparently, that's not always the case, as we found out when we chose one local ethnic paper, basically at random, to ask how they were doing.

"We were hit harder by the economy than American newspapers," says Tomasz Deptula, an editor at the Polish-language newspaper, Nowy Dziennik.

Hit harder? That seemed to go against conventional wisdom. But Deptula explained that newspapers like his rely on a steady stream of new immigrants who want to read news in their native language. And for his newspaper, that's something he can no longer count on.

"After Poland joined the European union, Polish people stopped coming to America. Our readership shrunk in half."

Founded in 1971, Nowy Dziennik serves a readership that spans Brooklyn, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. But a combination of Poland joining the EU in 2004 and the recession that's affected the rest of print newspapers has seen Deptula's readers dwindle from 25,000 to less than 12,000.

Nowy Dziennik is owned by president Nick Sadowska and has no editor in chief. Deptula had that title at one time, but gave it up. And he says no one else wants it.

"It's not 1 or 2 hats. I wear 2,000 hats," Deptula says about his many responsibilities in his 20-plus tenure with the paper.

He says that ten editors and reporters produce the bulk of the newspaper's content, with some other stories coming from about 30 other freelancers.

Advertising dollars for the Nowy Dziennik largely remain local: doctors, lawyers, travel agencies, and other businesses that attract immigrant customers.

Without a steady influx of new Polish immigrants, however, Deptula says many of these businesses have scaled back on their advertising budgets and the paper is barely breaking even.

To expand their audience the paper has now taken over a weekly Saturday programming block on channel WYNT, where for 30 minutes in the evening they broadcast weekly highlights of Polish news from around the world.

Other ethnic papers are doing better, says Jehangir Khattak, associate editor of Voices of New York, an ethnic press trade group. "A main reason this media sector has been able to weather the economic slowdown is because they were never dependent on corporate advertising," he says. "These papers are almost completely funded by the local businesses in the communities they serve."

It's almost comforting to know, however, that all print papers -- large and small -- are struggling to get to better days.

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Excellent article. I also find it disconcerting that a newspaper with such a humble and diverse history is being eliminated because of economics, or shall I say greed. Having a hard copy of the Times Picayune is still a joy to a large and dedicated population in New Orleans...mainly our seniors and rural population. Well at least it's not a done deal yet so let's hope that this paper can survive the signs of our time.

Staten Island Bob
Staten Island Bob

The egalitarian internet finally gives the common people an outlet that they can exploit. No longer will be terrorized by editors who determine what we can see and what we can't, based upon their ability to buy and sell newspaper companies. The consolidation that has been going on in the business end only increases the likelihood that the blogging trend will continue to grow. As for the small ethnic newspapers, well, they are always hanging on a thread anyway. I suspect they will have to transition to the web also. As far as any of us making any money in the digital format, that is another story entirely. If you are not immensely popular you are forced to compete alongside the other billion commentators and the other million websites. But, we did all want to be heard, didn't we? That is the price of the mass exposure of the masses.

Lisa Wheeler
Lisa Wheeler

Great first article Candace.  As a New Orleanian I can tell you that this new limited newspaper thing is very disconcerting.  The Times Picayune is the same paper that survived the greatest natural disaster to hit the United States.  It served as our beacon of hope for someday returning home, and our light as to what we'd have to go through in order to get there.  New Orleans reminds me of the many small New York burroughs with its varied cultures.  The main thing about it is old line New Orleanians don't do internet.  We are a word of mouth society, and until the last of us is gone, we want things to remain as they are, good, bad or indifferent.

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