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.