In the past, New York's multi-ethnic newspapers' primary aim was to help immigrants adjust to life in the United States and maintain a unique cultural heritage. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, editors and reporters at some immigrant publications have had to tackle new responsibilities while facing an economic slowdown.
Editor-in-Chief of the "New India Times", Veena Merchant, says she used to argue that her newspaper's role was to fill a gap by covering South Asia, a region overlooked by the mainstream press.
But she has not been able to make that argument since September 11. After the attacks, the largest U.S. newspapers reported extensively on South and Central Asia. Mrs. Merchant points out that recently the "New York Times" won five Pulitzer prizes for its coverage of Afghanistan alone. "Our niche is South Asia and that region and South Asians living in North America. And the fact that [after] 9-11 the whole attention of the entire world switched to South Asia we had to pick and choose," she says. "What did the mainstream not do. It was difficult. We are still dealing with it because this issue is not going to go away for a long time."
Mrs. Merchant says that the competition has challenged her staff to constantly improve the quality of the newspaper.
Although the "New India Times" tries to avoid editorializing and aims to provide objective coverage, Mrs. Merchant says the events following the terrorist attacks have given the newspaper a role in clarifying the U.S. position in South Asia, specifically regarding India's long-time foe, Pakistan. The newspaper has a circulation of about 17,000 nation-wide but is available in India through a wire service. "When I say explaining, I gave an example of Pakistan being an ally even though we [India] are a democracy, after 9-1-1. There was a lot of misunderstanding. People were upset. So we tried to explain as to why this occurred. Why did the U.S. choose [Pakistan]," she says.
In the past seven months, immigrant publications have reexamined their roles, adjusting coverage to fit the post-September 11 climate. For example, the four major Chinese dailies regularly publish detailed stories on the economic impact of the attacks on Chinatown, which is close to the site of the World Trade Center.
Pakistani and Arabic-language newspapers have published regularly on the detention of immigrants suspected of having links to terrorists. And ethnic newspapers regularly follow changes in U.S. immigration and visa policies.
An economic downturn has made it increasingly difficult for small immigrant newspapers to survive. There are at least 198 ethnic publications in New York, many of which operate on small budgets.
Nayaba Arinde is an editor of the "Daily Challenge," which covers news stories from a black perspective. She says these days a shortage of advertising revenue has forced the newspaper to juggle its resources. "We are trying to find ways to be creative with the money that we have. It is just a struggle. Nine-one-one was devastating," she says. "The recession was devastating. Every day it is a continuing struggle to make sure we can maintain the advertising that we have, if not increase it."
After September 11, the non-profit Independent Press Association launched an advertising cooperative to help ethnic newspapers stay afloat.
The Association's New York director Abby Scher says in the beginning, the initiative brought in advertising related to the attacks. "We are moving away from the crisis ads and into the more stable ads. Now's a really important time when their corporate ad revenue was down one-third since September 11. And some people are saying it started even before with the recession. We have a lot of work to do," he says.
The number of ethnic newspapers doubled in New York City in the last decade. Advocates say it is crucial that the publications survive because they help inform new immigrant communities and serve as a bridge with the mainstream.