As they witnessed the near demise of Boston’s dominant black-oriented newspaper this month, editors and publishers of other local ethnic publications said they too are suffering from declining advertising revenues and have had to reduce staff and coverage.
However, representatives of most local Armenian, Indian, Jewish, Korean and Japanese publications also expressed confidence that the support of their communities will see them through.
For the Bay State Banner, that support took the form of a $200,000 loan from the City of Boston, as well as a campaign by key members of the black community to raise funds and backing for the 44-year-old weekly, that apparently will keep it going. Publisher Melvin Miller announced on July 6 that he had suspended publication, based on sliding ad revenue, and was seeking a buyer. After accepting the loan from the city last week, Miller said he would continue operating the newspaper.
Officials at other ethnic papers serving the region said they also are facing tough times.
Khatchig Mouradian, editor of the Watertown-based Armenian Weekly, said the 75-year-old publication has reduced its paid contributors by approximately 70 percent in the last three months, and cut the assistant editor’s hours from a full-time position to part time. The paper’s Armenian-language sister publication, the Hairenik Weekly, created 110 years ago, eliminated its assistant editor’s position, and now only has only one full-time editor.
“Because the team is so small in Armenian newspapers,” Mouradian said, “removing one full-time position could really impact the paper.”
The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, also based in Watertown and the country’s first English-language Armenian weekly, has significantly reduced its use of freelance reporters and photographers over the last year, according to editor Alin Gregorian, and has missed some community events that it normally would have covered.
Several subscribers to Waltham-based India New England, which publishes twice a month and covers the region’s South Asian community, noticed recently that two issues arrived in the mail simultaneously, and took this as a sign that the newspaper is having troubles.
The paper had mailed two issues together as a cost-saving measure, confirmed associate publisher Terence Egan. The publication has only one reporter and one advertising-sales representative left, after a reporter was laid off at the end of May, and has reduced a bookkeeper’s hours to part-time, Egan said.
“There’s this view that ethnic media is somehow insulated. That’s not the case,” he said. “Many of our longtime advertisers are struggling in this economy, and that affects us as well.”
The weekly Jewish Advocate recently laid off a graphic designer and lost positions in editorial, advertising and circulation, according to Grand Rabbi Y.A. Korff, its publisher. The paper’s revenues have declined by about a third compared with last year, Korff wrote in an e-mail.
The Jewish Journal in Salem, the Korean American Press in Woburn, and J magazine, a Japanese monthly published in Boston, also experienced drops in ad revenues, and either laid people off or did not fill positions after resignations, their editors said.
Despite these troubles, top officials at most of the ethnic publications say it is unlikely they would go out of business.
The Armenian press has experienced declining circulation due to the migration of readers and advertisers to the Internet and the assimilation of second and third generations of Armenian-Americans, said Gregorian at the Mirror-Spectator, but stopping publication is not a real danger.
Armenian Weekly editor Mouradian agreed, saying, “I think the community would not let that happen,” and noting that the papers rely not only on advertising, but also on donations.
Waltham resident Sharistan Melkonian, 40, said that three generations of her family have grown up with Armenian newspapers, and if they were to close “it would be very sad.”
“It’s not the type of coverage you would get elsewhere,” said Sevag Arzoumanian, a graduate student who reads the Armenian Weekly’s website regularly.
Indian-Americans said they feel the same way.
“I hope that India New England makes it through,” said Newton subscriber Kumar Nochur. “There is no other newspaper of its kind.”
Despite the recession, India New England’s circulation has held fairly steady at about 9,000, thanks to the growth of the region’s South Asian community, Egan said.
“I guess that’s one of the good things for ethnic media,” he said. “There are unquestionably more South Asians in New England than there were five years ago.”
At the Jewish Advocate, publisher Korff said the paper has faced the same challenges as mainstream publications, but circulation remains strong.
“The drop in our print circulation is being well compensated for by the increase in our online subscribers, who receive the exact same paper but via the Internet,” his e-mail stated. Unlike most publications, the Advocate charges for its Internet content.
Meanwhile, some publications reported they are weathering the tough economy and expecting growth in the future.
Advertising sales at the Hellenic Voice, a Greek weekly in Lexington, are off 20 percent compared with last year, but executive editor John Baglaneas said he wants to hire salespeople to make up the difference. He said the paper expanded from 14 to 16 pages this month, and plans to add more in the fall.
Brazilian and Latin American newspapers in the area also reported business is going well.
The circulation of El Mundo, a Latin American weekly in Jamaica Plain, has grown more in the last five years than in the previous 30, said vice president Alberto Vasallo III, whose father founded the paper in 1972. “We’re the largest minority group in Massachusetts,” he said. “It’s a very sought-after market for advertisers.” he said.
Ethnic newspapers are not losing classified ads to online competitors that do not offer listings in foreign languages, said Ric Oliveira, publisher of the division of GateHouse Media that puts out O Jornal Brasileiro, distributed in Framingham.
“When Craig’s List came along, it didn’t impact us,” said Oliveira. “When you’re renting a home or an apartment, there’s a certain comfort level when you can speak to your tenant in your own language.”