Chinese and English newspapers at a newsstand in Vancouver
When Sept Days sent Montreal journalist Xian Hu to Afghanistan last December, the weekly Chinese newspaper was not only making a statement to its competitors in the community here, but to mainstream newspapers as well.
“We want Montreal to know that the Chinese community wants to integrate into society,” said the newspaper’s publisher, Ling Yin, and part of that involves giving Chinese immigrants an opportunity to debate national issues like the Afghanistan mission in their own language.
“Our initial goal was to see, from our own eyes, what the NATO and Canadian troops are doing there. We don’t want to hear just from La Presse or The Gazette, we don’t want to know what the so-called mainstream is saying, we want to know ourselves,” she said.
Rather than send Hu to cover Canada’s military operations in Kandahar, Yin decided that it would be more effective to send her to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, to hear from ordinary Afghans what they thought of international reconstruction efforts and life after the Taliban.
For the 54-year-old Hu, who had no experience in journalism before joining Sept Days, the trip was a revelation.
“I was shocked. I thought it would be more developed, especially after six years of reconstruction,” she said. Her experience was made all the more tangible by the fact that, rather than living in a hotel for the week she spent in the country, she stayed in the houses of “friends of friends of friends” and explored the city to speak with ordinary Afghans about their experiences.
Her journey gave Hu enough material for two feature articles, one that looked at how Afghans perceived reconstruction efforts and another that examined why Afghan women continue to wear the burqa.
Hu started her career as a journalist less than two years ago. After years of working in a dépanneur and then in accounting, she was intrigued by the opportunity of writing in her own language for a local newspaper. Yin, too, was new to publishing; before launching Sept Days in July 2006, she worked for several years as a financial adviser at Caisses Desjardins.
“The difference between us and other Chinese newspapers is that every article and every page is written by our (own) journalists,” explained Yin. She added that, although her paper’s writers are not necessarily trained as journalists, they produce original content, which sets Sept Days apart from many of Montreal’s other Chinese newspapers, which mostly rely on copy from other publications.
Sept Days competes with five other Chinese newspapers in a market of no more than 100,000 potential readers. Its three full-time journalists and five freelancers focus on a mix of local, international and entertainment news. Ten thousand copies are printed of each issue and, according to Yin, 50,000 people read the paper each week. The paper is free of charge, and advertising and investments from the paper’s board of directors keep it afloat, but Yin admits that it has yet to break even.
Sending Hu to Afghanistan was an unusual step for an ethnic newspaper, but it has earned Sept Days a certain notoriety in the Chinese community. Last month, the paper sponsored a lecture by Hu on her experience in Kabul, and this month, it will send another reporter overseas to cover the presidential election in Taiwan.
“We will continue to do things that let the Chinese community have our own voice. That’s our goal with this newspaper. We have to have our own point of view on every aspect of Canadian life,” said Yin.
Already, dozens of newspapers, magazines, radio shows, television programs and websites serve Montreal’s immigrant, allophone and ethnic communities, and more continue to emerge. The appetite for news and information from alternative perspectives is growing just as it has become easier than ever for previously marginalized groups to make themselves heard. Increasingly, new magazines, websites and newspapers are eschewing the traditional role of the ethnic media.
Karim Karim, the director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communications, points out that, historically, Canada’s ethnic media have served a dual purpose. On one hand, they have provided minority and allophone communities with a source of local and homeland news; on the other, they offer newcomers advice on life in Canada, with a particularly strong focus on jobs, housing and immigration issues.
“For newly-arrived immigrants it serves a function of familiarity, of comfort, of being able to receive information in the language and cultural nuances they find easier to digest,” he said. “Basically, there’s a cultural universe that every medium subscribes to and the cultural universe of mainstream newspapers or broadcasters might not be familiar to new arrivals. The media in their own languages fill that gap.”
Naturally enough, Canada’s largest and most established ethnic communities – Chinese, Italian and South Asian in particular – have the broadest array of media. Toronto’s large Italian community is served by the daily Corriere Canadese, which also publishes a weekly magazine in Montreal, Insieme.
“The debate has been on whether ethnic media ghettoizes people and impedes integration into Canadian society,” noted Karim. “My research has shown that it works both ways. It all depends on how recent the medium is and how recent the community is. If it’s a more recent community, a large proportion of the content will be concerned with homeland issues, whereas the more settled communities will be concerned with issues in Canada and Quebec.”
In many cases, ethnic media fill an important niche by covering stories that are under-reported in the mainstream media, such as the debate over an official apology for the Chinese head tax, which was followed closely by Chinese-Canadian media until the federal government finally issued an apology and compensation in 2006. This grassroots, community-focused approach to journalism is one reason why ethnic media in Canada are flourishing even as mainstream media struggle to hold on to their audience.
Canada’s big media corporations have taken notice. In 1998, the Torstar Corporation, which published the Toronto Star, bought a 50-per-cent interest in Sing Tao, one of Toronto’s four Chinese-language dailies. Last year, Rogers Media purchased Channel M, a Vancouver multicultural television station, after having bought OMNI Television, a similar station in Toronto. In January, Transcontinental Media, which operates a series of community- and commuter-oriented publications, took control of the Corriere Italiano, Montreal’s most widely-read Italian newspaper.
The Corriere was founded in 1952 by Alfredo Gagliardi, the son of Calabrian immigrants and an influential municipal politician in the 1950s. After he retired from politics in 1962, Gagliardi continued to work in the media, hosting Montreal’s first Italian-language television show, Teledomenica, in 1965.
“What we try to do is to give value to the people and culture of Montreal’s Italian community and to provide them with a source of information. At the beginning, we were a point of reference for Italian immigrants, but now we’re a bridge between Québécois and Italian culture,” explained Carole Gagliardi, the Corriere’s editor and the daughter of its founder.
Gagliardi estimates that about 60 per cent of the paper’s readers are Italian immigrants while the rest are second- and third-generation Italians who were born in Canada and “feel the need to maintain their roots.” The recent acquisition of the Corriere by Transcontinental, she said, is a sign that Italian-language media have a strong future in Montreal.
That’s a feeling shared by Isabella Federigi, the manager of CJNT, Montreal’s only multicultural over-the-air television station.
“The Italian community here in Montreal is very attached to its roots and language. If we produce a show here they really want it to be in Italian. We have one show geared to the younger crowd (in a mix of Italian and English) and one comment we get from the older generations is that it’s not in Italian enough,” she said.
More than just Italian programming, though, CJNT offers shows in 12 languages other than French and English. Italian is the best represented, with six separate programs, but there are also shows in Arabic, Cantonese, Creole, Mandarin, Farsi and other languages. Most of them are magazine-style programs that focus on sports, lifestyle and culture, but there are also soap operas like Terra Speranza, a Portuguese show about Italian immigrants in Depression-era Brazil.
Despite its broad appeal, CJNT has long struggled with a problem familiar to all media, ethnic or not: money. As much as Federigi would like to reinforce and expand upon CJNT’s ethnic content, the station’s financial limitations get in the way. Part of the problem is its reliance on low-rate local advertising.
“If we could get national advertisers like Canadian Tire, McDonald’s or L’Oréal in different languages, and I know they have those spots because I’ve seen them on OMNI (in Toronto), it would be awesome,” she said. “But it’s a question of being patient and knocking on doors often until they realize that there is a market in Montreal and that market is growing.”
Even if the market is growing, money is not always easy to come by, and Montreal’s ethnic media must often deal with a smaller pool of advertisers than their counterparts in Toronto or Vancouver. When three Colombian undergraduates at the Université de Montréal, Mauricio Garzon, Martin Vasquez and Edisson Triana, launched Erre, a magazine aimed at young Spanish-speaking Montrealers, the business of running an allophone publication in Montreal was something they overlooked. The magazine folded last year after just three issues.
“Erre was maybe too ambitious to start with. We just wanted to get the magazine out and we never thought of distribution. There were a lot of people involved with design, photography and production but nobody with a more administrative vision,” said Garzon, who majored in philosophy and had no experience in publishing.
Garzon and his partners printed 2,000 copies of each issue and distributed it through the Latino businesses near the Jean Talon Market as well as on the Plateau and in the area around Concordia. The launch parties for each issue were well-attended, attracting more than 300 people, and each issue was accompanied by a lively response from readers.
“We wanted to do a magazine that was different from the other Latin American newspapers, (which) were more like commercial catalogues than anything else. We wanted to really create something that was different, that related histoires de vie, that broke the stereotypes that people have here. People think that because you’re Latin American you like salsa, mariachis and spicy food, but there’s so much more than that,” Garzon explained.
With its mix of articles on South American pop culture, profiles of Latino Montrealers and a fascination with the details of everyday life, Erre resembled a Latin American version of Urbania, the francophone magazine with a wry take on art, design and culture in Montreal.
Despite the enthusiasm of its readers and writers, though, Erre proved unsustainable; it couldn’t match Montreal’s other Latino publications in the race for advertising. Still, Garzon sees potential for another magazine like Erre to emerge in the future, especially as the number of young, educated Latin Americans in Montreal continues to grow.
Hiromi Yamazaki and Asami Takemoto have been careful to avoid the problems Erre encountered. Since they launched CocoMontreal, a Japanese-language webzine and free monthly magazine, they have steadily gathered enough advertisers to cover their production costs.
The idea for CocoMontreal emerged after Yamazaki and Takemoto met while studying French, shortly after they came to Montreal in 2006.
“We talked about how there were not any Japanese newspapers in Montreal,” recalled Takemoto. “Luckily, I already had a website, so we made a decision to publish a newspaper (with) a website” that would serve both as a business resource for established immigrants and a guide to Montreal for Japanese visitors, students and newcomers.
About 1,400 black-and-white copies of the magazine are printed every month and distributed at schools, the Japanese consulate and Japanese and Korean restaurants and grocery stores. All of its content, along with classifieds and a discussion forum, is available on CocoMontreal’s website.
With less than 3,000 people, the limited size of Montreal’s Japanese population poses an obstacle to CocoMontreal’s expansion. Takemoto and Yamazaki hope to gradually introduce more French and English content as a way to appeal to curious non-Japanese readers. There is already a bilingual column explaining Japanese cultural and linguistic concepts, like setsubun, the turning of the seasons. They also hope to start printing some pages in colour.
This careful approach has helped CocoMontreal thrive, despite the fact that neither Takemoto, who sold computers in Japan before moving to Canada, or Yamazaki, who was a nurse, have any prior publishing experience.
With publication tools increasingly accessible and a growing thirst for alternative sources of news and information, Carleton’s Karim expects ethnic media to continue to grow and evolve.
“New immigrants continue to have more access to their own languages than previous generations did,” he said. “People used to drift away in the past from their ancestral languages and cultures, (but) they now seem to be remaining in the loop.”
Tags: Media, Migration, Montreal