Media: The Weekly Voice Of Cricket, Saris and Bollywood
On my way out of Mr. India Grocers I glanced upon a newspaper placed strategically by the exit counter. Taking a closer look I saw on its cover, two attractive black women wearing South India’s famous Kanjeevaram silk sari.
I could not help myself, so I picked up the free copy of The Weekly Voice and to my complete delight the women were none other than the William sisters Serena and Venus. The international tennis stars had decided to take the fashion plunge while in the south Indian city of Bangalore, where they were to play at the Indian Open tournament.
“This is what my audience craves for and this is what I give them,” says Binoy Thomas the energetic editor of The Weekly Voice, the largest South Asian ethnic newspaper in the English language serving the south Asian population across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
When I was growing up, Binoy Thomas was a household name in middle-class Mumbai, India. He left behind a lengthy journalism career to immigrate to Canada in the mid-90s. In India, he was editor of several magazines about Bollywood stars. (Bollywood is located in Mumbai, the commercial and entertainment hub of India. Mumbai was originally called Bombay, which why the Indian film industry is collectively referred to as Bollywood.)
It was a few weeks ago that I met him in his office in the industrial heart of Mississauga where he works with a staff of ten (most of his writers are freelancers.) When Thomas came to Toronto he learned quickly that working in the mainstream media was very hard.
“It did not matter that I had over 30 years of experience in several large English publications in India, where readership is vast, as compared to Canada’s minuscule market. I simply lacked Canadian experience,” he said.
Links to homeland
Without wasting much time Thomas decided to go his own way; in 1997, The Weekly Voice was born as a community newspaper comprising 15 pages. It has now evolved into a 60-page newspaper with a circulation of approximately 30,000 and is given out free every Friday across the GTA.
“In addition to the weekly 60-page paper, we also add on supplements on a fairly regular basis. The World Cup of Cricket or the Indian Filmfare awards (which recognize Bollywood talent) are of interest to our readers, so we make it a point to add on this news as an extra […] These events also lend themselves to attracting much-needed advertisement which supports the paper,” he explained.
The audience he caters to is primarily between 30 to 50 years, mainly first generation immigrants and young professionals living within multi-generation families in the GTA.
Before Thomas began his venture he did some market research, concluding that Canadians of south Asian origin were looking for:
- Stories reflecting the changing social landscape in south Asia.
- A strong analysis on the fluid political situation in the Indian sub-continent.
- Bollywood Masala (gossip).
- Food and Fashion.
- What is happening in the community where they live.
In shaping his paper, Thomas was quick to understand that South Asians in general and Indians in particular, were used to a very vibrant press back home. Also, that they were deeply attached to traditional media, primarily print and TV.
There are over 1.2 million people of south Asian origin in Canada, a fairly large market ignored by the mainstream media. To tap that market he made sure his paper was free. “It was the first free ethnic South Asian newspaper in the GTA. I have people lining up outside grocery stores every Friday simply to get their weekly dose of The Voice,” Thomas says.
“I filter the news from back home, essentially performing the function of gatekeeper. I have my finger on the vibrating and ever-changing pulse of my community both here and back home,” he says.
Eastern News, an Urdu language bi-weekly newspaper was established in Mississauga, Ontario in June 1979. It is the first and oldest regularly published Pakistani newspaper in Canada and it encourages and enables newcomers from Pakistan to learn about life in Canada, ensuring a smooth transition into a new culture. It is replete with articles on multiculturalism, celebration of the Canadian mosaic and local/community news.
In addition to local news, there is a small section reserved for news from back home. Its website states that its readers are primarily looking for politics, sports, current affairs and interviews of celebrities, making it the number one choice for Urdu-language readers in Canada.
Eastern News can be found in most South Asian and Middle Eastern outlets throughout the GTA. Some copies are available in Ottawa, Windsor, London, Kitchener, Whitby, Hamilton and Montreal. Most libraries also carry copies of this newspaper.
In 1995 Eastern News started giving out the Eastern News Awards, for Urdu literature and Urdu poetry. They have been well received by the Pakistani-Canadian community across the country.
Monsoon Journal is a monthly English language newspaper with a circulation of 15,000. Its target audience is Tamils of Sri Lankan and/or Indian origin. It is distributed free of charge throughout the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal and Vancouver.
According to its Managing Editor and Publisher, Logan Velumailum, “We started this paper particularly in English so that we can reach the younger audience. The Sri Lankan community has been in Canada for over 20 years, so the second generation which is well-versed in English is now coming of age.”
“As over 90 percent of ethnic newspapers serving our community are only in Tamil language, we felt there was a void in giving out the information in English, hence four years ago we came out with Monsoon Journal,” he adds.
Velumailum is by training an engineer. He has hired a team of media professionals to work on the 52-page monthly newspaper which is also available online. Originally from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, Velumailum has established his contacts within the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and now has a pool of almost two dozen writers who regularly freelance for him.
“I try to give young writers a platform from where they can go forward while also giving my community up-to-date information on what is happening back home as well as in the community where they live.” Website: www.monsoonjournal.com