Agos, Jıneps, Sabro and Şalom: We Seek Solutions to Continue Publishing News

By Hikmet Adal published 22 April 2020 on Bianet

Istanbul, Bianet News desk  /@bianet_org – The bilingual newspapers in Turkey are going through a difficult period due to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Publishing newspapers in the already challenging press life of Turkey, the editors-in-chief of bilingual newspapers say that their readers do not lean towards online publishing as they want their newspapers in their hands. Another problem that they face nowadays is losing their ad revenues.

We have spoken to Yetvart Danzikyan, the Editor-in-Chief of weekly Agos newspaper published in Turkish-Armenian language pair; David Vergili, the Editor-in-Chief of monthly Sabro newspaper published in Turkish-Syriac; İvo Molinas, the Editor-in-Chief of weekly Şalom newspaper published in Turkish-Ladino; and Serap Canbek from monthly Jıneps newspaper, published in Turkish and North Caucasian languages.

CLICK – How has Coronavirus Affected Local Newspapers?

Danzikyan: Our readers want printed newspaper

Yetvart Danzikyan: In the first week when the outbreak came up in Turkey, we didn’t print the newspaper, worrying about our health, and published it in PDF format. But the average age of our readers is really high. We have seen that they want printed newspaper, they want to have the newspapers in their hands. Online newspapers don’t really appeal to them. Thinking that printing a newspaper in such a period is a form of existence, we have returned to printed newspaper.

But this period is challenging for us in many respects. We distribute our newspaper to subscribers and newsstands ourselves. Considering the health of our distributors, we can allow for a limited distribution at this stage. When we print the newspaper, we have only one day to distribute it.

‘Press Ad Institution should move 2020 allowance to an earlier time’

As several businesses have been closed due to the outbreak and funerals cannot be held, we are also in great trouble in terms of ads. This process is challenging for not only us, but for all minority newspapers. If it goes on like this, we, as all minority newspapers, will find ourselves in a bind. Because our newspapers appeal to a very narrow circle with very limited means.

As we come out on a weekly basis, our newspapers are sold on Friday, Saturday and Sunday the most. Our sales have dropped due to the curfews and social isolation. If it continues like this, we can say that we will go through very difficult days.

The Press Advertisement Institution (BİK) doesn’t give public ads to minority newspapers, but since 2012, it has been allocating a certain amount of allowance, say a contribution, every year. They did it last year. If they move this year’s allowance to an earlier date, it will relieve all minority newspapers.

Vergili: We have difficulty in making news

David Vergili: Sabro comes out monthly. We continue with our normal work order. April issue has been sent to our subscribers in both Turkey and Europe. We didn’t experience any hardships in April in terms of distribution. But, in the event that the outbreak continues or the situation gets much worse, I don’t know what we will do in next months.

We have subscribers, but if the current situation affects their financial condition, it will also affect us in turn. Because the outbreak will lead the ones in financial straits to not pay for the newspaper.

We are now working on our May issue and what we find rather more challenging is to make news. We had problems with doing basic journalism like interviews, etc. Because minority communities already live in a closed society in Turkey. Coronavirus has caused Syriacs to get even more isolated and the community has a tendency to not speak at all about these issues. Even making a very simple news takes days. We try to persuade the ones that we will meet. Because as long as they don’t speak, it is not possible for us to fill the newspaper or make news and report the latest developments.

‘Our subscribers don’t lean towards online newspapers’

Our current system is not suitable for online distribution, either. We have recently launched and updated our web page. Our subscribers are mostly the second generation Syriacs who went to Europe. I mean, as they are in their 40s and 50s, I don’t think that they will lean towards the idea of reading their newspaper online.

Moreover, as we appeal to a very limited audience, we don’t have many ads and advertisements, either. Last year, it was the first time that the BİK allocated an allowance for us. The payment of this allowance amid such a crisis will save our newspaper from financial trouble.

Molinas: It is a newspaper printed for 72 years, we didn’t want to publish it online

İvo Molinas: When the outbreak came up in Turkey, we discussed whether we should publish the newspaper online or not. But, Şalom is a 72-year-old newspaper. We are a newspaper that has been printed every week for 72 years without any interruptions despite all hardships. I mean, we didn’t just find Şalom out there. So, we have said that though it is a pest that one can see once in a hundred years and though we cannot see the future, we will still wage our struggle and print the newspaper. And it is what we are doing now.

But our most important source of revenue is subscriptions and ad revenues. In this process, we have reduced the number of our pages. Our newspaper is as full as it was before despite having fewer pages. There is a significant drop in our ad revenues, which is a very big alarm bell for us.

‘Curfews are a setback for distribution’

“Because we don’t have the opportunity to receive ads from the state. There is the annual allowance paid by the BİK, it is so meagre that it cannot be compared with the revenue that would come from public ads. But, this support is very important for us. In these days when the ad revenues are almost zero, we will make the necessary applications and request that the 2020 allowance be paid at an earlier date. Because we are both trying to print the newspaper and keep our head above the water.

Another problem that we face is to distribute the newspaper to our subscribers’ homes. We are having some small problems and setbacks at this point. For instance, due to the curfews, we won’t be able to distribute our newspaper on Thursday, Friday and at the weekend. I hope that our readers will tolerate the delay.

Canbek: We are devoid of collective work

Serap Canbek: As there is an extraordinary situation, we decided to distribute the April issue of our newspaper in PDF format so that “we could protect ourselves from ourselves.” Coming together at the office of our newspaper, we put aside all other work and started to do everything on a virtual platform. We – of course – announced it to our readers and wished that they would appreciate it. And it is exactly what happened.

The actual impact is the resulting inability to come together, which is what really makes a team like ours sad. We normally do everything with a collective work, from the layout to labelling the bags, folding and packaging the newspapers, carrying them from the printing house to the office and then to the post office. We are now devoid of a collective work that we don’t and cannot do on the virtual platform.

But, so long as the current situation continues like this, we will also continue the PDF distribution. As long as the risky situation doesn’t change, it will be like this. As our newspaper is published monthly, the impacts of this prolonged period on us won’t be visible that much. If we were a weekly newspaper, then we would be talking about other things now. By the way, when we decided to distribute the newspaper in PDF format and started to work on the April issue, we stretched all limitations as well. And, for the first time in our history, our newspaper was published in 28 pages.

‘Nothing has changed as we have no ad revenues’

As we have almost no ad or advertisement revenues, nothing has changed about it. The newspaper has always had economic difficulties. It is good for us that we don’t have printing or posting costs in this period. Putting aside the trouble of paying rent despite not using the office…

We don’t receive allowance from the BİK. As a monthly newspaper and within the scope of our legal rights, we are supposed to be on the list of newspapers that can take ads. Legally speaking, we are not a minority, but we are a newspaper making news for the Circassian community and we want that a positive discrimination be shown to us and the newspaper be supported to continue publishing. (HA/SD)