90 years of journalistic community service, but we must not take it for granted

   The Great Depression. With primarily single income households, unemployment was rampant, people were losing their homes to foreclosure and dreams were put on hold. The order of the day was survival. In the Armenian community, the migration of Genocide survivors, who had resigned themselves to America as their new home, was mostly complete. The first generation of Armenians born in the United States fueled the growth of our communities. Those who were raised during the Depression, saved the free world and returned to propel America to explosive post-war prominence came to be known as the “Greatest Generation.” 

This was the first Armenian generation educated in American public schools and fluent in Armenian and English. They spoke Armenian in their homes and ethnic community. They were also American kids enjoying the blessing of this culture. They began the hyphenated journey that continues today. The English language became a prominent part of their lives with friends, school and employment. 

It was under these circumstances that the Hairenik (later Armenian) Weekly was born. It took great vision and courage to publish an English language Armenian newspaper in a community led by the survivor generation. They recognized the need and responded. The AYF was established a year earlier during the memorable field work of Karekin Nejdeh. The Weekly was a brilliant decision, and we must never underestimate its impact. Consider American Armenian life, especially before the internet, with this regular source of nurturing knowledge. The paper immediately became a literary channel for young Armenians to write poetry, opinion columns and news reports. A generation born outside the homeland was given an opportunity to express itself and build an identity. It became a staple in their lives that we enjoy to this day.

The Hairenik has always been an important instrument of information. I grew up listening to my father and uncle talk about the delivery of the Hairenik Daily to the Indian Orchard community in the mid-1930s. During the Depression, families sacrificed in many ways, but very few could do without the Daily. My grandfather served as the bulk distribution point for the Orchard community. In return for his services, he received a subscription. Of course, the responsibility for delivery fell on my Uncle Paul. His two older brothers, Murad and my father Carnig, were in their early teens and worked on local farms. The youngest brother, Charlie, was too young. That left Paul to receive the bundle, load it on his bike and deliver the papers to subscribers in the community. Fortunately, most Armenians lived within a square mile of each other in those days. There were no acceptable excuses for not delivering the paper, as these men and women waited for their Hairenik to provide daily nourishment on community and national news. After reading the paper, they would engage in community dialogue. Poor Uncle Paul was left delivering the paper, despite weather conditions and other interests for a young boy. If he was late, he would hear about it from the local subscribers. Today’s youth, living in the digital age with instantaneous news, would have a hard time understanding that level of dependence, but it is a part of our history.

The Hairenik newspapers through the years

A generation later, in my youth, I would spend summers working on my grandparents’ poultry farm in Franklin, MA. I vividly recall my regular trips to the mailbox to retrieve the Daily for my grandparents. They knew what time to expect the mail, and it was the most important delivery of the day. Upon completion of the afternoon collection of eggs, my grandparents would sit under the big toot (mulberry) tree and immerse themselves in the Daily. It was also my first encounter with the Weekly, when on one day a week an Armenian language Daily and English Weekly would arrive in the mailbox. I was a bit young to be considered an avid reader, but it stimulated my curiosity. 

I started regularly reading the Weekly that came to my parents’ home by the time I was about 11. It opened an entirely new world to me…the network of Armenian communities in America and the global presence of Armenians. Jimmy Tashjian was the editor during my youth, and he was the master of stimulating the curiosity of an Armenian kid striving to learn about our remarkable civilization. The content of the Weekly was a regular educational experience, encompassing contemporary news, history and social calendars (which became more important as I entered my teen years). By the time I joined the AYF at 13, I was thrilled to write small articles about our chapter and its activities. It gave me such confidence. I would imagine…what if we didn’t have the Weekly or if the leaders in 1934 had decided on a different direction?

One of the greatest mechanisms of our maturation is literary expression through prose and poetry. The Weekly was filled with youthful offerings of identity, pride, dreams and opinions. Many of those who were afforded that opportunity are leaders in our community today. Without legitimate journalism, how would we be informed and know the truth?

We see the downside in the inundation of digital offerings, filled with fictitious news and the blurring of fact and opinion. Journalism is a time-honored profession with a very serious responsibility to inform and encourage debate in the best tradition of a democratic society.

During this most impressive 90th anniversary, we should pose a question to ourselves. Is our relationship with Armenian journalism, specifically the Weekly, a two-way street? Do we give as well as take from what the Weekly offers? Let’s review this from a very pragmatic perspective. The Armenian Weekly is not a typical newspaper. It is run by an incredibly dedicated small staff who work long hours to produce what we enjoy each week and are underpaid from a market competitiveness standpoint. This is not a new observation. The Weekly and the entire Hairenik operation rely on the patriotic motivation of our professional staff, who clearly make this a mission and not simply a job. We do take it for granted. The Weekly arrives every week and has for 90 years. 

However, the newspaper business has dramatically changed. Most print publications, whether newspapers or magazines, are under financial duress. The number of outlets continues to decline, as the digitalization of the industry impacts the print tradition. Almost all newspapers have a digital version, which offers some distinct advantages. Content can be updated regularly, regardless of the print frequency, and publication costs are far less than print. Access to the general public is not limited to a print subscription, and as a result, audiences have expanded. A significant majority of newspapers in the United States charge a nominal fee for online access. That fee is less than a print subscription but provides a new revenue stream to offset the losses in print publication. There are still many users who prefer to hold a newspaper versus an iPad or smartphone, but the emerging generation is well accustomed to online access. The trends are clear. Try reading the Boston Globe, the New York Times or Washington Post with a digital subscription. 

In addition, the current generation has been programmed to expect instantaneous news through Twitter (X), Instagram and other platforms. This makes the print paper look static in their eyes in favor of more dynamic options. The Weekly of course offers an online version of the newspaper (armenianweekly.com) but has resisted the temptation to charge for access to content. It remains free and unlimited. One possible explanation is the fear of an unfavorable response from the reading community. Would people pay, even a small fee, for an Armenian paper? We’ll leave that for the future.

These observations beg the question of how we can balance the give and take of our relationship with the Weekly. We should start by rallying around the premise of the indispensable need for American Armenian journalism. An informed community is an essential element of a sustained community. How does the information process happen? Only a small percentage of members of our community are experts in our heritage. Newspapers provide an easily digestible common base of awareness. Our Weekly provides us with enough content to keep the general community informed. The absence of such outlets creates an over-reliance on less formal mechanisms (rumors, informal debates and unreliable digital content) and a level of ignorance. 

The absence of knowledge, awareness and a sense of purpose is the most significant challenge for the diaspora. Our newspapers, in this case the Weekly, perform a critical function. Ask yourself, in the “give and take” discourse…are you a subscriber to the Weekly, or do you simply browse the digital content? If the answer is yes, we thank you and encourage you to enlighten others. If the answer is no, then I urge you to consider subscribing and/or making an annual donation to support this essential mission. 

Every year, the Weekly offers a special issue magazine, and the focus this year is on the 90th anniversary of the publication. In this spirit, please consider donating at armenianweekly.com/donate. Every institution we have built in the diaspora continues based on an initial vision and leadership that understands how to evolve. Islands do not survive. The Weekly is an integral part of our communal culture. Its absence would have a devastating impact on our diaspora “ecosystem.” Let us make the adjustments now to eliminate that possibility by opening a new and refreshing window of support. Happy anniversary!

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.

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