Newspaper Racks: A First for Nepalese Papers in NYC 

Newspaper racks in Manhattan. (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

Newspaper racks in Manhattan. (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

In recent years, sidewalk racks have proliferated around New York City, selling and in some cases giving away a variety of community and ethnic publications, from the Forward, to the Irish Echo and the Epoch Times. Recently, a Nepalese paper, Vishwa Sandesh, entered the fray. The paper’s editor, Bijay Poudel, says the 12 racks set up in Queens and Manhattan over the past two months have boosted the paper’s visibility in what is something of a competitive market for Nepalese readers.

Poudel, 40, was really excited the morning of Sept. 21 when he set up the first rack, in Jackson Heights, Queens, where several thousand of the city’s estimated 20,000 Nepalese live. Restaurants like Lali Guras, which means Rhododendron in Nepali, serve the Nepalese community there, and Vishwa Sandesh, which means World’s Message, is still distributed there for free. But in stores and restaurants, numerous Nepalese publications jostle for attention as they pile up, and that makes it difficult for one particular paper to stand out. Poudel is hoping the racks will help him break away from the pack.

“It took our newspaper more than 10 years to have its own newspaper rack,” said Poudel, who is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the weekly. The racks for free papers like Vishwa Sandesh are actually plastic boxes on pedestals – and stand out on curbsides.

Bijay Poudel, in orange shirt, at a Vishwa Sandesh news rack installed on September 21 in Jackson Heights, Queens. (Photo courtesy of Bijay Poudel)

Bijay Poudel, in the orange shirt, at a Vishwa Sandesh news rack installed on Sept. 21 in Jackson Heights, Queens. (Photo courtesy of Bijay Poudel)

So far, Poudel has managed to install 12 racks in the city – three in Woodside, two in Sunnyside, two in Ridgewood, two in Manhattan and three in Jackson Heights. Ultimately, he aims to place at least 50 newspaper racks across the city, in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. He bought a $1 million insurance policy for the racks and is paying an insurance premium of $1,500 per year. Each newspaper rack costs around $125.

Krishna Kumar Subedi, consul general of Nepal in New York, was pleased to hear that he could pick up the paper close to the consulate office on East 49th Street.

“Nearly 150 people come to visit the consulate office every day. I have always requested that [Nepalese] editors leave their newspapers at the consulate office but I don’t know why, maybe they are busy, they are not so willing to do it,” he said. “People will obviously read their newspapers if they see them here. Now at least Vishwa Sandesh has started this, and I am happy about it.”

Subedi sounds as though he is relatively indifferent to which Nepalese paper is available. Today, he can select from five published in the city – two are weeklies (Khasokhas and Vishwa Sandesh) and three are fortnightlies (Everest Times, Nepalaya and New York Samachar). A television station, White Himal TV, has been under financial stress since its founder died last summer, while Himali Sworharu, Nepalese online radio programming produced from New York City, is struggling economically, too.

Nepalese papers stacked on a windowsill in a Queen restaurant. (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

Nepalese papers stacked on a windowsill in a Queen restaurant. (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

The presence of competing media in the relatively small community is a function of many things – including the fact that a number of Nepalese journalists, including this writer, have settled here in recent years. For some, they are simply doing what comes naturally.

There is also cross-fertilization among the papers. The current editor-in-chief at Everest Times, Ang Chhiring Sherpa, was editor-in-chief at Vishwa Sandesh from 2007 to 2008. “The newspaper rack is really helpful for the distribution of papers. I am glad that he started this,” he said. But Sherpa worries about the long-term health of the Nepalese papers in this competitive market.

Meanwhile Gokul Shrestha, the editor-in-chief at New York Samachar – which started publication in March this year – said he worried about the health of the community papers. He hoped that the broader distribution of papers “might add more opportunities to attract sponsors.”

Right now, the papers are competing for a very small pie of ad dollars, and many note the financial stress they are under. For his part, Bijay Poudel said that he has seven journalists working for his paper from Nepal, and he’s able to pay their salary.

“Other than that, I pay once a year to the regular contributor of my paper here, but it’s minimal,” he said. “I am content that my newspaper is not losing money and is able to fund itself.”

But Poudel’s predecessor, Suresh Sapkota, who founded the paper and sold it to Poudel eight years ago, isn’t happy with what he sees these days. Now a realtor in Virginia, Sapkota faulted Poudel for failing to expand across the U.S. “Ten years is a long time. I feel it should have reached across the U.S., where there is a huge Nepalese population.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year estimates, there are about 142,000 Nepalese living in the U.S.

Poudel has a press run of 3,000 copies a week, compared to the 1,500 run every two weeks under Sapkota’s direction. But Sapkota devoted half of the content to English-language articles. Poudel says he’d like to resume publication in English, a move that might pull in more ads.

Because of the pressure on these small papers, editors are obliged to do other jobs to make ends meets. Bijay Poudel, Ang Chhiring Sherpa and Bishnu Poudel have all worked as Uber drivers, and at various times editors have held jobs in local retail stores, groceries and restaurants. Community journalism, Poudel admits, can be a hard slog, and the results aren’t always what he’d wish for.

“We don’t break news and barely have any investigative stories in our paper,” said Poudel. “But when I see people reading my newspapers on the subway, I feel pleased with myself that at least my paper is informing my audience. This is what keeps me going.”

That, and the prospect that distributing his paper via racks may give Vishwa Sandesh a leg up in a competitive landscape.

Anuz Thapa is an occasional contributor to Everest Times who once held a job at a 7-Eleven store in Manhattan. He’s currently a member of the 2017 class at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. 

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