Russian revolution arrives in U.S. Competition: For the first time, a foreign publication -- a Russian weekly -- is printing editions in the United States, competing against domestic foreign language publications.

Sun Journal

September 20, 1997|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK -- Every Tuesday at 2 p.m., a revolution from Russia arrives by Internet in Sam Chen's press room, a warehouse with the distinct smell of fresh blood, the result of its ,, location in Manhattan's meat-packing district.

Chen is the Taiwanese-born godfather of another bloody business: New York City's immigrant-run, foreign language press. For two decades his company -- Expedi -- has printed more than half of New York's 100 or so ethnic papers, in languages from Creole to Arabic. But Chen says Moscow-based Argumenty I Fakty, the weekly that arrives in his office by Internet, is something entirely new.

Argumenty I Fakty (Arguments and Facts) is edited entirely in Moscow. But it signed a contract six months ago with Chen to print about 20,000 issues in New York. Working from a layout of the paper transmitted by Internet every Tuesday afternoon, Chen typesets and rolls the papers off his presses Tuesday nights.

On Wednesday morning, the papers are picked up by a company that distributes them to Russian businesses and newsstands from New Jersey to Brighton Beach, where they are displayed alongside dailies produced by New York's Russian immigrants.

"This is the beginning of a new age: We're seeing foreign papers go into direct competition with the immigrant-run papers here," says Chen. "It's a tough time for a lot of my local clients. The hometown news seems more authentic when it's coming directly from your hometown."

The competition is another sign of the blurring of international boundaries in immigration gateways such as New York. The easy availability of foreign language media, combined with cheap airfares and improved long-distance phone connections, makes it easy for U.S. immigrants to keep up with events in their native countries. And immigrant-run papers are responding by making major changes.

These papers used to see their missions as easing their readers' assimilation into American society. But they are giving up on local and U.S. news in favor of a steady diet of reports from immigrants' native countries.

"The newspapers that prosper here in the United States are the ones who get the best news from Russia," says Alex Agoureev, 35, a New York correspondent for Russia's Itar-Tass news agency. "People don't read the Russian papers to find out about New York."

Foreign newspapers such as Argumenty I Fakty are entering a crowded field. New York, which has three daily papers in English, offers another three in Spanish, three in Russian and six in Chinese. Now, the Tokyo daily Asahi Shimbun and two Arabic dailies from abroad have begun printing and distributing editions in New York. More competition comes through the mail; newsstand vendors estimate that three dozen Spanish-language papers in Latin America send copies into the city every day.

Some of the circulation fights have ended up in court. Earlier this year, Tass, Pravda and 11 other news organizations won a $500,000 judgment in federal court against the Kurier, a popular weekly published by a Ukrainian immigrant in Brooklyn. The Kurier's sin: using stories from the Moscow-based Russian press without permission.

"Five years ago, no one would have bothered suing," says Agoureev. But now Itar-Tass has begun selling a weekly newspaper in New York City, the Itar-Tass Express, and a paper like the Kurier is competition. "Because of pirate papers like this, it's hard for our paper to gain ground in circulation."

Rosanna Rosado, editor of New York's Spanish-language daily, El Diario, says: "Our competition is not the Post or the Daily News but these papers flying in from Santo Domingo. So we have had to beef up our section of foreign news," called "Nuestros Paises" (Our Countries). To free up space, El Diario dropped its daily English lesson feature.

It is a departure from the policy of New York's most celebrated foreign-language newspaper, the Forward, a Yiddish paper now celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Forward had an openly assimilationist (and socialist) mission for its Jewish immigrant readers. "We will consider our task done," reads an early editorial, "when we have so awakened our readers' interest that they will turn to other languages, and most of all to English."

If anything, the paper did its job too well. Once a daily with a circulation of 275,000 in the 1930s, the Forward is a weekly with 9,000 readers and a staff of aging men whose health is waning.

The best of the Forward's modern heirs are feisty papers, such as the Haiti Observateur, published from the Brooklyn Navy Yard by Haitian-born Raymond Joseph, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Even as the Forward circulation drops, papers like Joseph's are adding pages, fueled in large part by millions in advertising from phone companies, which are competing fiercely for the long-distance affections of immigrants.

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