A Lifetime Covering Polonia, from Warsaw to Greenpoint

Tomasz Deptula is the executive editor at Nowy Dziennik, a leading Polish daily newspaper in New York and New Jersey.

Tomasz Deptula is the executive editor at Nowy Dziennik, the leading Polish newspaper in New York and New Jersey. (Photo by Gwynne Hogan/Voices of NY)

Even at a young age, defending freedom of speech and off the press ran in Tomasz Deptula’s veins.

Deptula, who is now the executive editor for the Polish daily newspaper Nowy Dziennik, began his interest in journalism at the age of 17 in communist Poland. He and a group of his peers managed to publish 13 issues of a publication that criticized communist-sponsored media before martial law cracked down on all press freedoms in 1981.

Then Deptula’s publication was forced to adapt.

“There was an underground network of small printing shops,” Deptula, 50, told Voices of NY. “My partners were involved in the Solidarity movement [Polish anti-communist movement], so we knew people who could print it for us.”

For nearly a decade, Deptula worked as an underground publisher and then as a writer of original pieces. In 1988, he came to the United States and for three years earned his way up the food chain working as a roofer.

“An average immigrant life,” Deptula said of his early years in New York. “It was a great experience to get to know my future readers because I was working for Polish people.” 

In 1991, Deptula began working full time as a reporter and editor for Nowy Dziennik, the oldest Polish daily in New York dating back to 1971. Over the past two decades, Deptula has worked his way up to his current post as executive editor and watched as the paper’s role in the Polish community has shifted.

“When I came to the United States there was still a communist system in Poland; there was still censorship,” Deptula said. “So basically this newspaper was focused on the fight against communism in Poland.”

But then communism collapsed in 1989.

“This newspaper had to regroup,” Deptula said. “Its mission has changed. It changed from fighting communists to supporting democracy in Poland on one side, and then helping a wave of immigrants coming to the United States.”

But Deptula revealed that Nowy Dziennik is now facing another radical shift in purpose. The tide of Polish immigrants to the U.S. has all but ceased. When Poland formally joined the European Union in 2004, many Poles who were living in the U.S. illegally relocated to the U.K. where they could work legally and be closer to home.

“[A] shrinking Polish population… that’s one of the challenges,” Deptula said. “People assimilate, people want to live in better places and how to reach them is a big challenge.”

The number of city residents with Polish roots has been steadily shrinking for decades. In 1980 there were 338,100 residents of Polish ancestry compared with just 211,400 in 2006, a 37 percent drop, according to the New York City Department of Planning.

Nowy Dziennik targets Polish-born residents who are more likely to read in Polish. Their numbers have been on the decline as well. The 2010 census counted 55,200 foreign-born Poles in the city, down from 66,000 a decade earlier.

In addition to a smaller target audience, Nowy Dziennik has another concern.

“We share the same problems as all print medium share: shrinking circulation, shrinking advertising market,” he said.

In the face of these challenges, Nowy Dzennik is diversifying. Its website now draws more viewers than the print paper, and it began a 30-minute Polish daily news show, NDTV, on public TV station WNYE. Deptula says that traffic from one medium helps drive viewers and readers to the others.

Despite demographic and media shifts, Deptula maintains that Nowy Dziennik serves a similar purpose today as it always has.

“I always talk about my professional mission to help people. That’s what the ethnic newspapers should do in a country like this one,” Deptula said. “People come over here completely inexperienced with no language at all and they pay a big price for lack of basic knowledge.”

For Deptula, Nowy Dziennik helps those people in need by promoting specific kinds of material. 

“By publishing stories about how to live better, what to do; publishing stories about people who achieve something in this country and how did they achieve that,” Deptula said.

Nowy Dziennik has published works on successful Polish businesses, inspiring teenagers and community efforts to help out people in need.

“We would like to tell our readers how to live better in this country. How to use benefits and to use the tools that are available to them offered either by the state or by society.”

This story is part of a series of profiles on editors from the community and ethnic press. Read the rest of the profiles here.

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  1. Pingback: A Lifetime Covering Polonia, from Warsaw to Greenpoint | Gwynne Hogan

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