It shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people (particularly to those reading this editorial on a screen) that the newspaper business has seen better days. It’s a model of distribution historically defined by location and physicality that has, in the last 15 years, been swallowed by the globalized, locationless, and omnipresent nature of digital consumption. Social media now keeps us informed about what’s going on, for the most part, in our general vicinities, and what we want from our news outlets has shifted. Or has it?
For the most part, we’ve been lucky at the Weekly. Our paper’s unique background and organizational ties have helped us remain resilient to some of the challenges faced by more traditional journalism outlets. In other ways, however, we have succumbed to the times.
Our transition to the digital realm was an immense boon to our readership. Our articles now reach hundreds of thousands of people all across the globe, thanks in no small part to the hard work of savvy past and current editors. But this February, when our editorial board launched a survey to gage what our paper means to readers and to understand how best we can evolve, less than 20 percent of survey-respondents said they subscribed to the print.
When asked “Why not?” answers ranged from “Print media is dead” to “Save the trees.” But the answer that we found most surprising—even discomfiting—was, perhaps this one: “Didn’t know about it.”
Yes. The Armenian Weekly is a physical newspaper. And while no one can be sure what the future of print media looks like, it’s important to us that readers today and tomorrow remain at least aware of our unique past as the eighth oldest ethnic newspaper in the United States.
But aside from nostalgia, there are also certain practical advantages inherent to print that we want to be transparent about. There is limited real estate in the pages of a newspaper: It is absolutely finite. Each week, we have 16 pages to work with. There is a curatorial element involved. Editors must use the space they have wisely and these strategic decisions are made with readers in mind; to help them navigate the immense amount of news from and around the Armenian world each week. The newspaper, then, we can start to think of like a map, which helps readers get from here to there, traversing the goings on in Armenia, to the Diaspora, and back again.
You may have noticed that we’ve already begun to implement this conceptual element to the print paper, and if you subscribe to our email newsletters, you can see the shift manifest there, as well. (Email newsletters, it has been said, are the closest thing you can get to a physical newspaper in the digital format.) We’ve created new titles to designate sections of the paper, like “Armenia,” “Diaspora,” and “Opinion.”
But even more importantly than that, we’re also making an effort to be more clear about the different types of articles we publish, as this is often the most subtle distinction in media. Readers should know what it is exactly they are reading—be it a news briefing, an opinion piece, a press release, or an analytical report—and understand why these differences matter.
In particular, we hope to make transparent what we consider to be the most important distinction in the world of journalism: the one between opinions and straight news. The opinion pieces we publish from members of our community and experts from around the world make up some of the most interesting and compelling content on our site and in our pages. It’s just important our readers understand they are opinions, or op-eds: pieces composed by independent writers not formally affiliated with the Weekly, who are offering an interesting or unexpected take on a particular issue that affects our community today. Op-eds let the personal or professional experience of the writer inform the perspective, and end with a clear argument, with which you may agree or disagree.
With the new changes in layout come changes in content. We are working to secure more original articles that are exclusive to our paper, starting with the articles that come directly from the heart of our paper: editorials. Editorials, like the one you are reading now, are also opinion pieces, but are different from op-eds because they are written by members of the Weekly’s editorial board and reflect the broader stance and values of the newspaper. The practice of writing weekly editorials was relatively consistent until the early aughts, when it was retired for a while and the paper focused heavily on building its digital presence. We are only now renewing the tradition.
We are also happy to announce that the Armenian Weekly has recently acquired a new columnist. Raffi Elliott is an entrepreneur and occasional journalist originally from Canada, who currently resides in Yerevan, hence the name of his new column “Notes from the Pink City” (which references the color of tuff, the pink stones many of Yerevan’s buildings are made of). His voice has been a loud and provocative one in the community, which is why we were excited to get him writing for the paper. His column, which is exclusive to the Armenian Weekly, will explore the Armenian condition and each week, will discuss a new topic of economic, political or social importance in the homeland. We’ve also started devoting a portion of our opinion section to a column we’re calling “Khosq” (or “խօսք” in Armenian, meaning “talk” or “conversation”), where we will feature comments from readers to various articles on our website. This section will feature exclusively in the print, so if you’re reading this on digital and want to see for yourself what we’re talking about, you should purchase a subscription.
When all is said and done, readers should know that the Armenian Weekly is at its heart a small operation. This has its advantages. The wise Tatul Sonentz, who wanders the friendly corridors of our offices in Watertown, Mass., recently reminded us of the old Arab proverb: “The camel is a racehorse designed by a committee.” Having a small staff means we are able to have a quick turnaround, which enables us to make necessary, sweeping changes over a short period of time. But for the same reason, we are also limited in how much we can cover in a single week. Our resources are spread very thin.
Revisiting the structure and stability of the print isn’t purely a move made out of nostalgia for former times; it’s also partly out of necessity. Each week, we have 16 pages to work with. For your sake and ours, we plan to spend them wisely.