3 lessons in community journalism
I have been dreading writing this post, but it's time to be real with you. 2023 has been off to a very draining start for me. I am overcommitted and in desperate need of prioritizing the work that suits my needs at the moment. Namely, that need is income. As a result, I have been wondering whether I need to put this pet project of mine, so young and so special and yet so not an income generator, on hold.
I'm not ready to do so just yet, especially since Central Desi is going to be part of a statewide collaborative journalism project this spring on racial segregation in New Jersey schools. 🥳 This newsletter will bring the perspective of Asian students to that project, an angle that otherwise would likely not have been included. It's the exact reason why I wanted to create this venture in the first place. (More details forthcoming!)
So why am I struggling? It comes down to my ability to devote time to nurturing and producing this newsletter, and my sense that I need to stick to the cadence and schedule I've developed. Is that necessary? Is it better if I post on occasion rather than ditch the entire idea? Is it okay to skate by until I am able to spend more time on it?
These are the questions whirling around in my mind, and for the time being, I've come up with this:
You'll keep hearing from me on a monthly basis, whether it's with a reported article, an interview, or just a general update on how the project is developing.
I will suspend the payment platform and halt all monthly subscriptions. If you have an annual subscription, you'll get a refund for the remaining months. This only feels fair to me (and will absolve me of the guilt of feeling like I am not fulfilling my end of the bargain!).
I will continue actively applying for grants and recruiting writers to build up the capacity for Central Desi, so this project doesn't live and die by my own personal availability. If you have thoughts on how to achieve that, please reach out as well.
I appreciate your support and interest in creating a voice for South Asian Americans in New Jersey. I know by the rapid growth of the newsletter and our incredible open rate (70% for the last issue!) that we are on the right track here. I don't want to lose momentum. ❤️
TAAZI KHABAR: 3 lessons in community journalism
What I've learned about community journalism (Source: Pixabay)
In the six months since I launched Central Desi, I have reflected deeply on the concept of community journalism. There have been early successes, but there have also been plenty of ways that this project hasn't quite reached the milestones I had set. Here are three lessons I have learned so far:
Lesson 1: Community journalism takes a community
It may seem obvious, but one of the biggest challenges I have faced is getting the word out. I'm a journalist by training, and one who only uses social media begrudgingly. I am also a mother of three, so I'm not exactly at every community event and engagement. This makes promoting this newsletter very challenging. Establishing inroads into the South Asian community in New Jersey has been slow, but I do see regular growth each month and feel that the pace is only a reflection of my own personal limitations.
That leads to another way that community journalism requires community: Having a solopreneur run this project makes it very dependent on me. I know that Central Desi will require more collaborators, including writers and business minds, in order to take on a life of its own. I am often torn between writing the next newsletter or spending time on grant applications and other resource-building activities that can help create more long-term sustainability. Both are needed, and yet there is only so much time.
Lesson 2: Community journalism is messy
One of the biggest hurdles I've faced in writing about the South Asian community in New Jersey is that it is deeply divided. There are stark political, religious, economic and cultural lines within the larger group of people who identify as South Asians. These have become apparent in reactions I've received from readers about stores I have done so far. For example, when I interviewed NJ State Sen. Vin Gopal, who is the highest ranking elected South Asian official in the state, some readers questioned the validity of the profile because of Gopal's political stances.
As a journalist, I have a bias towards inclusion. It's not a black-and-white stance, but I do believe that most perspectives deserve a platform. I don't think I should be the arbiter of whether a person gets to be included in the South Asian umbrella. However, I am also becoming increasingly aware that there are entrenched camps in place, and that my newsletter will inevitably be perceived as being in one camp or the other and thus run the risk of alienating significant numbers of South Asian residents in New Jersey. This is the very thing I want to fight, as I believe that we are a stronger community when we focus on our similarities, but it remains a challenge I have yet to solve.
Lesson 3: Community journalism takes time
This is perhaps the most important takeaway I've gotten from this project so far. I have to learn to be patient in a way that I am not professionally trained to be. I am used to reporting a story and instantly feeling the satisfaction of publishing it and feeling DONE. Yet the work of building up a community newsletter takes time, and there are lots of ups and downs.
The vast majority of journalism newsletters are abandoned in the first year, and I hate the idea that I may be on the verge of adding to that stat. Yet, this reminds me of a quote I've heard about marriage: "What's the secret to staying married? Not getting divorced."
And so here I am, not giving up, being quite forthright about my challenges, but also saying that this newsletter will live to see another month. I hope that you find it valuable enough to continue along this journey, rocky as it may have become.
That's all I have this month. You'll hear from me again at the beginning of March. In the meantime, please help spread the word about Central Desi by inviting a friend to subscribe.
For this to be an inclusive space, I have to reach beyond my own personal network and you can help! Let's make this a place for all Desis regardless of background, class or creed.