Nepali Media Boom in North America
There may be a boom in Nepal and Nepali-related news websites and other mass media in North America, but that surge does not come paired with professional growth, writes KRISHNA SHARMA
A slow but steady growth in the population of non-resident Nepalis in North America has contributed to the growth of a nascent ethnic Nepali journalism in the continent. It is a story of constant growth, even as we speak, and far too younger than even the relatively short history of journalism back home in Nepal.
As the Nepali community has grown, now estimated to be 150,000, the need to communicate among members of this community has also naturally increased. As a result, news outlets and other means of mass media have grown phenomenally in the past few years. These news media and informational outlets also serve as forums where members of the Nepali community, who constitute a segment of the new immigrants in the USA, share their common cultural identity and heritage.
At a time when the power of media has become so pervasive in the United States, sometimes a medium in itself is the message, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan. Hence, the significance of such a message is as important to the Nepali communities as it may be to many other ethnic minorities in the USA and Canada. Beyond cultural and social relevance, there are also some policy implications of ethnic Nepali media practices in the USA and Canada.
In this paper, first I would like to draw a historical sketch (and I mean a sketch, really), and then offer some thoughts that may relate to the prospects and challenges of ethnic Nepali journalism in North America.
Following the established practice back home, Nepali journalism in the USA also started with literary journalism. It began with the publication of Antardristi (Insight) in 1991. The International Nepali Literary Society (INLS) was behind that initiative. With the active editorial responsibility of Hom Nath Subedi, Antardristi first came out in an electronic version and then in print magazine form. The mission of this quarterly magazine is to promote Nepali literature, and since its inception, it has been covering literary activities across North America.
Electronic Publications and Forums
One important distinction in the way North America-based Nepali media outlets began is apparent in the nature of the media themselves. Contrary to the general development of journalism anywhere from print to the electronic media, journalism among Nepali communities in the USA started with the adoption of electronic media. Factors such as low production cost, less need of human resources as compared to the print media, dramatic advancement of information technology and the general readers’ easy access to electronic tools must have helped accelerate the development of electronic media.
Antardristi had begun as a literary ‘list-serve’ web-journal in 1991, according to Subedi. However, from 1992 the INLS started to issue the print version as well. The fact that Antardristi is still published is remarkable. Compare it to Aawaz, Nepal’s first literary magazine, which paved the way for journalism in Nepal, but could not sustain itself. INLS has also been actively involved in promoting literary journalism outside Nepal and encouraging writers. According to Subedi, founding president of INLS, so far, the Society has published over 25 books authored by Nepalis living in different parts of the world. Gopal Parajuli’s Madan Prize winning book “Naya Ishwor Ko Ghosana (Declaration of New God)” is among them.
The Nepal Digest is another early publication started in 1993 under the editorial guidance of Rajpal J. Singh. It began in the form of an “electronic mailing list.” This e-zine, which was very popular during the 1990s, was directly delivered to subscribers via email. Today, it is available online and its archives go back to its earliest days.
Small community newsletters and mouthpieces of professional organizations may also be mentioned here. Although America Nepal Society, the umbrella organization of the Nepalis in the USA, was founded in 1967, it began to issue its newsletter “Aawaj” (Voice) only after 1997.
In terms of online forum, gbnc.org is among the hugely popular ethnic Nepali online forum in North America. This began in 1989 along with the founding of the Greater Boston Nepali Community (GBNC) organization itself. Based in Boston, this site is operated by Shan Pradhan since 1999. In 2001, this website became sajha.com. GBNC published “Samachar Billetin” from 1994 to 1996. However, it could not sustain for various reasons. After almost a decade, with the editorial leadership of Shiva Prakash Paudyal, the GBNC has come out with its souvenir “Subhakamana-2064” lately.
There is also the bulletin board called “Nepal Horizons” which is perhaps the most widely subscribed such Nepali service in North America. Managed by Sunu Pratap KC, it circulates, via email, news articles, all the public notices, invitations, community events and the photos of the functions.
By 1995, the World Wide Web had made some significant advances in terms of its technological flexibility. To communicate to the masses, one did not have to rely on old formats such as the list serves and bulletin boards. One only needed a Website (and of course, skills associated with it, such as HTML). Publications began to go online with their own unique domain names, thus heralding the beginning of online journalism. The Chicago Tribune was the first to go online, and many newspapers around the world followed suit.
In North America, it was newslookmag.com that began Nepali online journalism in 1999. The Whois domain name protocol records July 4, 1999 as the date of creation of this publication, less than a year after Nepalnews.com (created on July 16, 1998). Newslookmag began as Nepal’s first “complete online newsmagazine” (whereas the Nepal-based Nepalnews.com also hosted many Kathmandu-based print publications). Another Nepal-based and the hugely popular Kantipur Online came into being on 20 February, 2000. The Washington D.C. based Nepalipost.com was created on 12 September 2001.
Similar to medianews.org in its format, Newslookmag looked much like a blog long before the advent of blogs. It emphasizes current events, with highlights on news and media issues, and offers one of the largest collections of international news-links on Nepal. It is probably still the number one site for young journalists to glean story ideas for their respective beats. This site, which is now a part of the online journal Nepalmonitor.com, was started by Dr. Dharma Adhikari, who teaches journalism at Georgia Southern University.
Nepalipost.com, started by journalists Girish Pokharel and Kiran Sitaula, is another popular web-journal among the Nepali readers. The news-site carries news in both English and Nepali languages. Its uniqueness lies in its literary columns and its extensive coverage of community events by staff writers.
There are other online news sites too that have been targeting Nepali and foreign readers alike. Among the well-known is nynepalitimes.com. Another popular online news site is samudaya.org. However, this site has not been updated for months now. There is peacejournalism.com, which mostly shovels content from print sites and other outlets. Another is NepalAboard.com, published since the last two years by Sujit Aryal, which is based in Washington DC. Similarly, New York-based Bed Kharel runs NepalinewsUSA.com. Prameya Bhandari of New York meanwhile, has started an English-language citizen journalism site. Similarly, Hari Siwakoti’s web journal called Canada Nepal Vision is popular among the Nepalis in Canada. Texas. Another is dcnepal.com, created and run by Ramhari Subedi. It hosts scores of programs on politics, and entertainment.
Clearly, there has been a huge surge in online journalism, particularly in the past couple of years.
Advances in technology have led to the development of new publishing tools and software on the Web. A Weblog or a blog is one such advance. Because a blog is more a publishing platform than content type, this categorization can be problematic when it concerns websites. Many online news sites adopt blog platforms, hence they might also be called blogs.
As far as personal blogs (popularly known as web diaries) are concerned, there are now many such blogs based in North-America that cover Nepal or are maintained by Nepalis based in North America. One such blog is by Paramendra Bhagat. Blog sites by Nepali students Bhumika Ghimire and Abha Bhattarai are worth visiting. There are many others.
In Nepal, United We Blog! and mysansar.com are the leading blog sites run by Nepalis.
Because blogs are interactive, they foster exchange of ideas and discussions. To a large measure, blogs have enabled to put into practice the new concept of citizen journalism. However, Nepali weblogs have yet to learn a lot when it comes to the culture of blogging. Experts suggest that there is more personal vendettas and vulgarities and little analysis or decency.
So far, Sagarmatha Television (NepalTVUSA.com) is the only ethnic Nepali TV channel operated by Ram C. Kharel in Nepali language. It has been broadcasting news on Nepal, community news and events, interviews and other entertaining materials for the viewers since its inception in August 1997. The TV is uplinked via MHz and is broadcast for an hour once a week-- every Sunday morning from 9 a.m. EST.
According to Mr. Kharel, as the MHz reaches to 4.2 million homes, Sagarmatha TV could be watched by all the Nepalis who are living in the greater Washington area which includes Maryland and Virginia. The TV, which has become a window for the world to see Nepal and its culture, is popular among the greater Washington area viewers.
Some Nepalis in Colorado operated a TV program a few years ago. However, it could not sustain for financial and managerial reasons.
Although FM radio stations are popular in the United States, Nepalis are yet to catch up with that trend. Between 1992 and 1993, some Nepalis managed to introduce and air some Nepali programming in the Voice of America. Sadly, it could not last long. After 18 months of service, according to the VOA web archive, it was stopped.
Hom Chetry (father of Kiran Chetry, a co-anchor of CNN’s American Morning) served as one of the three anchors of that radio program. He says that after the end of cold war in which US interest against USSR was served, the Nepali radio program was stopped. At that time, the Nepali language program in VOA was running under Indian program. Chetry believes that budget cut and VOA’s prioritization of Tibet could be other reasons behind the stopping of Nepali program. The Nepali program in VOA used to be transmitted every Friday evening for 15 minutes.
There are a few FM radio stations run for the Nepali ethnic communities in Nepali language. Some like-minded Nepali youths from the Washington DC area started Radio Dovan in September 2000. According to program producer Nagendra Poudel, the station broadcasts community events, contemporary Nepali politics and other burning issues and music programs every Sunday for one hour, starting at 1 p.m. EST.
Similarly journalist Chandra Prasain has been running the Everest FM. The Everest FM, according to Prasai, is the only FM run for the Nepalis in Nepali language. Running under the banner of Everest Media USA Inc (EM-USAI), the weekly radio hosts Sangit Sangam, on-air Kurakani, weekly news analysis and community events on “Things to Know”. The radio serves almost 12,000 Nepalis in the DFW Metroplex,
Recently, Nepalhorizons.com decided to launch a web-based radio service where the visitors will be able to tune into the latest news and events updates from Nepal. It is also adding podcasts of the news for people on the go so that they would be able to get news on their iPods or other digital music players.
In Cananda, Namaste Radio serves the Toronto Nepali community. Started since 2005, the station airs news and music programs for half an hour from 7:30 local time. Likewise, Namaste FM is a popular radio station among the Nepalis in the state of Texas, and “Halkhabar” in New York.
Print journalism in vernacular Nepali language is a relatively new journalistic development among the Nepali Diaspora in North America.
Vishwa Sandesh (World Message), which is just one year old now, is published in both Nepali and English languages. Published by Suresh Sapkota, the 32-page tabloid covers news of Nepali communities in the USA, major political developments back in Nepal and entertainment tid-bits, among others. Vishwa Parikrama is the latest venture in the print journalism sector initiated by Govinda Giri Prerana.
These newspapers may soon begin to look like small-scale entrepreneurial efforts, although they began primarily with a desire to cover community events and issues. These publications have begun to cultivate small advertising clientele. For instance, Laxman Sedhain, owner/instructor of Kathmandu Driving School in Virginia said he was able to successfully attract many clients by advertising in Vishwa Sandesh.
In New York, Nepali Awaz, a bi-lingual newspaper, is widely popular among the Nepali-New Yorkers.
Challenges and Prospects
The above communication and journalistic efforts are largely individual initiatives. Almost all media outlets are run with a pure motive of informing the Nepali public and promoting public discourse among Nepalis and others interested in Nepal or Nepali affairs. Except for some publications that are attracting some advertisements, most of the TV or radio stations, newspapers and online journals are run on individual funds or gracious donations. These are voluntary efforts and rely mostly on unpaid services of reporters and editors.
But the fact is, this paper is only a baseline survey of the subject matter. We don’t know much about the motivations and internal workings and outreach of these outlets. In fact, some outlets did not want to share information publicly and some others did not respond to my interviews.
There is no doubt that parallel to the growth of media outlets, there has been a major surge in the number of Nepali journalists in North America. If anecdotal reports are any indication, there are now some 150 Nepali journalists as well as a couple of dozen of journalism students spread across North American universities.
Even though the second generation Nepali community is yet to emerge in leadership roles, we have already begun to see some movement to that effect. There are already media professors, news anchors and reporters teaching and working with America’s leading universities, TV stations and newspapers. News events on Nepali communities are increasingly given priorities in the newspapers and other media. Asian Fortune newspaper (for which I contribute stories), for instance, covers Nepali events with much priority.
We cannot say how many Nepali media outlets will survive in the days ahead and how many of the many journalists remain active at the moment, but the growth in media outlets and media professionals is precisely a reason that calls for the professionalization of ethnic Nepali media practices in North America.
In the short term, professionalization is a daunting task, with many challenges. But in the long term, meeting these challenges will yield many prospects for ethnic Nepali media in North America.
These budding media efforts and journalists need professional development opportunities, such as networking with peer groups and fellow-media professionals, training, building relations with communities that matter. The scattered individual journalists must come together to work collectively for the overall professional development of their field. This is particularly difficult in a vast land like North America. To address these issues realistically, we need substantial amount of money and human resources, which we don’t have right now.
The formation of the North American Journalists Association of Nepalis is one of the steps toward that. It is a good idea, and it may be easy to start. But sustaining it will be a challenge, beyond economics. One real concern, as in Nepal, is a potential for political factionalism within the group. Is this association going to be another political forum to serve our vested interests or a means to our professional growth? What kind of leadership do we have and can we afford to deliver the best out of our meager standing?
Hence, we must make sure that our interests are nothing but professional. Forming an association will provide a formal standing to our discipline and the potential for networking, training, financing and growth within the broader field of media practices in North America.
Such collaborative efforts are important to institutionalize and streamline ethnic Nepali media. The umbrella organization could help unite the professionals and media students alike and give a certain direction or a policy guideline to them. I believe that the outcome of this convention ‘The Washington Declaration’ would be first step in uniting and supporting journalists of Nepali origin in North America.
As we create this association, there are other equally important considerations we must make. These relate to the broader issues of content, participation, and skills, among others. There is a need to encourage and promote fair and accurate coverage of Nepali affairs in the North American media (including ethnic Nepali media). Similarly, we need to increase the number and visibility of Nepali journalists and other news professionals in the North American media industry. To do all this, we need a cadre of highly trained or highly motivated journalists and media owners. If we are to catch up with the media of other ethnic communities, we need to train ourselves so as to be able to do sustainable and responsible journalism.
Although we may be using a cutting-edge technology such as the Internet to deliver content, too often, we are doing a mediocre journalism. Enhancing our skills also means we must adhere to the basic codes of ethics. There are many Nepali news outlets that apparently violate copy rights issues, directly plagiarize content, and ignore journalistic attributions. We must also find a way and the means to address these issues, including the issue of remunerating authors, which form the heart of our profession.
If we address these issues, we can grow collectively and help create a path for the next generation to follow.
Krishna Sharma is a staff writer of Nepal Monitor. He presented this paper at the First General Convention of North American Journalists’ Association of Nepalis (NAJAN) held in Washington D.C. on April 22, 2007.
Posted by Editor on April 22, 2007 9:19 PM