Ethnic Presses Growing Nationwide

The Bangladeshi community alone has eight newspapers. Polish New Yorkers have six to call their own. And nine publications in four languages are aimed at Indian immigrants.

Nearly 200 ethnic newspapers and magazines are printed in New York City today, as many as three times the number 10 years ago. The growth reflects the intricate diversity reflected in census figures released this week - and mirrors a publishing trend seen across the nation.

"We're just starting to look at the growth of ethnic media. But everyone I've talked to agrees that ethnic news media across the U.S. is growing by leaps and bounds," said Jon Funabiki, deputy director for media, arts and culture for the Ford Foundation. "There's just incredible vitality going on there."

It comes at a time when the major English dailies struggle to post circulation gains, said Abby Scher, director of Independent Press Association-New York, which found 198 ethnic publications in its 2001 survey of the city. That includes dailies such as the Spanish-language El Diario/La Prensa and the Chinese-language World Journal, and monthlies like African Press and U.S. Portugal Brasil.

The ethnic publications are growing in ways that reflect the changing demographics of the city. The census shows New York's ethnic groups are themselves increasingly diverse. In both the Asian and Hispanic categories, immigrants are coming from more countries.

National figures on ethnic publications are scant, but analysts say the trend can be seen in places from Florida to California.

"California is ground zero. The ethnic media really took off here 10 years ago and have been growing ever since," said Sandy Close, executive director of New California Media, a network of ethnic outlets based in San Francisco.

In San Jose, Calif., more than a dozen daily or weekly newspapers serve the Vietnamese community alone.

"For a population of 100,000, it's pretty amazing," said De Tran, editor of Viet Mercury, the San Jose Mercury News' Vietnamese-language newspaper. "The newspapers in non-English languages are booming. If you look at the census numbers, you see why." In Chicago, more than 80 publications serve Hispanics, Poles, Koreans, Russians and other communities. And in Miami, where Spanish-language publications have long thrived, newspapers are now targeting immigrants from the Caribbean as well.

"There's been a great proliferation just over the last five years. There are far more publications than anybody realizes," said John Virtue, deputy director of the International Media Center at Florida International University in Miami.

Ethnic newspapers fill a void left by the major newspapers, said Garry Pierre-Pierre, a New York Times reporter who took a leave of absence to start the Haitian Times, an English-language weekly. These papers are able to focus on specific communities, concentrating their resources on stories that may be important to a section of New York rather than the city as a whole, he said.

"The need is really tremendous," he said. "As sweeping as coverage of the city is" in major newspapers, "they can't cover a lot of stuff these people need."

New York has always had an ethnic press, but one that has ebbed and flowed in size and composition. While newspapers published in the early 1900s had circulations reaching into the hundreds of thousands, no ethnic paper today has that kind of reach, Scher said.

Still, today's publications command the attention of anyone who wants to connect with ethnic communities, said Bryan Pu-Folkes, founder of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an advocacy group. As an organizer, he said, the best way to reach new immigrants is through the ethnic media.

Alice Cardona, a 71-year-old Puerto Rican activist from Queens, reads El Diario and Hoy along with the mainstream dailies. When it comes to issues such as the Navy's test bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, "you don't get the stories from any other paper the way you do from El Diario or Hoy," she said.

"If you're going to be a well-rounded person," she said, "you have to read your ethnic newspaper and a daily newspaper."P> - AP