Twin Papers Prove Power of Print for DC-Area South Asians

Twin Papers Prove Power of Print for DC-Area South Asians

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Photo: Editor Rajan George in the India This Week and Express India office.

Editor’ Note: New America Media is partnering with American University and other journalism schools to present profiles of ethnic media in their regions. The following story profiles India This Week and Express India, bringing news to South Asians in the Washington, D.C. area.

WALDORF, Md.--Rajan George, editor-in-chief of India This Week and Express India, runs a one-person show these days.

“I used to have five people in the office once upon a time,” he said, thinking back over the papers’ 23-year history. Today he alone serves as editor-in-chief, local correspondent, layout staff and business manager. He also operates the printing press, a 100-foot long machine dominating his headquarters in an industrial park in Waldorf, Md., near Washington, D.C.

Two part-timers help out: A freelancer compiles community announcements, and a delivery person distributes the final products to South Asian stores, Hindu temples and gurdwaras (Sikh temples) around the Washington-Baltimore corridor.

Since 1990, India This Week and Express India have weathered the arrival of the Internet and the decline of print newspapers relatively smoothly, but the recent recession hurt business.

Demand for Print Newspapers

Sometimes, the future looks bleak, George said. But he is convinced that reader demand can sustain print newspapers, especially in immigrant communities. He notes that his papers are the D.C. metropolitan area’s only Indian ethnic publications.

The two free, tabloid-size papers primarily cover news from India and other parts of South Asia. In addition, a small percentage of pages are devoted to announcements of local events and news about D.C.-area ethnic celebrations.

George aims at a readership that might be described as “pan-South Asian.” He chooses articles that will interest immigrants from not only India, but also from Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The papers obtain most of their international content from the wire service, Asian News International. George and a couple freelancers generate local coverage.

The two papers function together like a single semi-weekly publication. Express India began coming out every Tuesday in 1990, and India This Week started publication each Friday in 1995.

The two papers share the same masthead, editorial goals and visual appearance, but they do not duplicate content, George stressed. Together the papers have a circulation of 10,000 and reach immigrants in the District of Columbia, the city of Baltimore and a half-dozen counties in Virginia and Maryland. The region is home to the third largest South Asian population in the United States, one that has grown rapidly in the past decade.

George publishes a wider range of news items on South Asia than mainstream media, which focuses its coverage of the region on U.S. interests. He described Indian Americans as “far from home” and in need of news about their country of origin. George noted that not everyone has access to the Internet.

“This is what puts people together,” he said, turning the pages of the latest issue of Express India. “It’s a unifying factor when you have a community event and publicize it through the local ethnic media.”

English – Indians’ Unifying Language

Express India and India This Week are published entirely in English. According to George, “Even though the national language is Hindi, the only thing that unifies the Indian people is English.”

George shakes his head as he recalls that a friend started a D.C.-area paper in Hindi, but it didn’t succeed. Actually, George is from Kerala, and Hindi is not his native language. India has over a dozen languages designated “official” and English has become the lingua franca of educated Indians. English has the added advantage of reaching South Asian immigrants who aren’t from India.

George isn’t sure what the future holds. He no longer gets advertising dollars from large mainstream corporations, such as Verizon or Citibank.

A decade ago, real estate agents and mortgage brokers were his most reliable advertisers, but most of them have gone out of business since the housing market collapsed in 2008. Today, many of the papers’ largest ads are aimed directly at the ethnic audience, such as placements for local concerts of Indian pop idols on tour.

He Won’t Give Up

But George isn’t giving up. He admits that in the past he did not seek out advertisers because they approached him. Now he thinks more carefully about revenue and expenses.

To reduce costs, he recently moved his office from Takoma Park, Md., to a cheaper space adjoining his printing press in Waldorf. He recently acquired new capacity to print in color. George is in the process of developing a website, which will eventually be at www.indiathisweek.us.

George did not start out in journalism. He earned a master’s degree in theology before coming to the U.S. in 1990, and he remains closely involved with a local church he helped to start. Publishing and religion are equal, simultaneous “passions” for him. Perhaps this unusual background helps him maintain the two papers through what he describes as “a tough time.”

“For me it takes one day at a time,” he said, “We are not thriving, but we are sustaining ourselves. If I don’t have advertisers coming in for a certain time, I’ll close up. I won’t run a losing business. But so far,” he added, “I don’t have a losing business.”

Jessamine Price is an American University student. Assistant professor of journalism Angie Chuang assigned Price and other students to profile ethnic media outlets for her Race and Community Reporting class. American University’s School of Communication is the only professional school in Washington, D.C., that brings journalism, film and public relations together, with an international perspective and a focus on new media -- digital, interactive and social media.