By Angela Evans
Tucked between a sprawl of Devon Avenue stores, and obscured by the bustle of life in the heart of Chicago’s Indian-Pakistani community, are the modest offices of Sandesh Publications.
But except for the cramped offices nothing has been modest about what happens here.
Hemant Brahmbhatt,48, is the publisher behind Chicago’s division of the major publishing company based in India. Brahmbhatt is the man behind the plan, a business- tried and true.
This business of his, or rather, that he has been an active participant of for the past 16 years is the publishing industry. That is only taking into account his experience in Chicago.
The soft-spoken Brahmbhatt was introduced to the business by family friends who ran Sandesh publications in India. His primary duties included all graphics and images, as well as writing- which he produced for 12 years prior to his voyage here.
Seeking a new opportunity in America, Brahmbhatt found it. He knew there was a large Gujarati-speaking Indian population in Chicago. So he decided to cater to that, obtaining permission to run a weekly version of India’s daily Sandesh newspaper.
It was granted to him, and thus began Brahmbhatt’s foray into ethnic publishing. The Sandesh paper, printed in Gujarati, has been a successful staple in local publishing for nearly 15 years, amassing 17,000 subscribers.
But the more ambitious venture is it is hi INDiA,weekly which considers itself as the only local paper catering to more modern, English- speaking Indians and Pakistanis who are interested in what is happening within their own communities here in the Chicago area.
The paper is positioned as a choice to some of the older publications who are more interested in what’s going on back home.
This is what, according to Brahmbhatt, makes hi INDiA fresh and different.
hi INDiA , which is nearly a year old, prints 20,000 copies of the paper per issue. They go to press every Tuesday, distributing the paper throughout Chicago and nearby surrounding suburbs- even on into St. Louis, Indiana and Milwaukee. This extensive reach further propels hi INDiA ahead of many of its competitors.
The paper covers a range of topics from the political to the humane, compiling editorial content from its staff of three in house writers and other contributors. Hi INDiA also subscribes to wire services from India and INS News, printing top international stories. The bulk of the paper’s content, though, are the stories taking place in Chicago’s Indian-Paki community. That is what Brahmbhatt believes that people want to read.
Another unique feature of hi INDiA is online accessibility. The newspaper is available in its entirety on each Thursday following publication. Brahmbhatt emphasizes how convenient this is for the businessmen who want to read the paper. They do not frequently have time to spend at a local grocer where they might pick up a copy, so an online version of the paper provides them with an easy alternative. The website averages an impressive 15,000 hits per week.
While the reader interest might be there, winning advertisers’ support is a more difficult battle.
But that is the challenge facing ethnic media in any community
“It’s a very tough market,” he said. “Indian TV channels nowadays are very, very popular- so most of the corporate advertisers go with the TV. But still we survive by the local advertisers.”
The paper is otherwise personally financed. Brahmbhatt explained that even when advertisers don’t pay on time (or at all), the paper is a business and they will always go to print. But it is a challenging task to pay for print, and this economy hasn’t made things any easier.
“In the last 15 years I have never seen this type of economy run like this.”
Conversely, hi INDiA appeals to advertisers because of its reach beyond Chicago.
And this smaller scale of outreach is just a glimpse of Brahmbhatt’s vision to eventually turn the paper into a daily. And not just a daily paper in the Midwest, but also in New York. But not just in New York, “I want to open hi INDiA in each and every city,” says Brahmbhatt.
“This is a business,” Brahmbhatt says. “This is what I did in India and what I do here. It is my passion….I could go into another business, but I decided to go into this business because I know this business and I can feed my family. This is business- so I like that.”
If the number of readers is any indication so far, they seem to like this business too.
Angela Evans is an intern with the Community Media Workshop