As private newspapers in Bhutan struggle to survive, The Journalist celebrates 3rd birthday

It’s good to hear that a newspaper in Bhutan celebrated it’s birthday, especially at times when private papers are financially struggling in this five-year-old democracy. The Journalist paper launched in mid December 2009 was led by seven scribes who walked out from the country’s first private paper Bhutan Times citing management interference. The paper which  was touted as Bhutan’s micro mini Le Monde, was owned by journalists; but not anymore.

The Journalist, which has a new team, is now edited by Columbia graduate Kencho Wangdi, the former news editor of Bhutan’s biggest paper Kuensel. 

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Caption and photo from the 24 October 2009 issue of Business Bhutan:  Seven Bhutan Times journalists who resigned on Thursday in a meeting mulling the future: From left, Sonam Pelvar (online editor), Passang Dorji (chief reporter), Dekey Choden Gyeltshen (senior reporter), Tashi Wangmo (senior reporter), Gopilal Acharya (editor), Tanka Raj Subba (reporter), Tara Limbu (reporter)

Ok, now where are the founding journalists of the paper?

1. Gopilal Acharya: Edited Bhutan Times newspaper before he left with other reporters to start The Journalist; now runs a consultancy firm.

2. Passang Dorji: Managed the biweekly The Bhutanese paper after he left The Journalist. He is the first president of The Journalists Association of Bhutan.

3. Deki Choden Gyaltshen: Now works as press attache to the prime minister of Bhutan.

4. Sonam Pelvar: Presently the news editor of The Bhutanese newspaper.

5. Tara Limbu: Journalist with the Bhutan Broadcasting Corporation.

6. Tashi Wangmo: Was senior reporter with The Bhutanese. Now taking a break.

7. Tanka Raj Subba: Now a corporate employee.

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Reproducing the piece I wrote for Business Bhutan in December 2009 on the launch of the paper. 

Journalists’ paper starts amid financial woes

21 December 2009

The former editor and six journalists who walked out from Bhutan Times in the last week of October will publish the first issue of their weekly Sunday newspaper tomorrow.

Called The Journalist, the 24-page paper is owned by the scribes with each of them holding 10% ownership. Sonam Gyaltshen, who heads Bhutan Media Services (BMS), a publicity firm, has put in the initial investment to start the paper. (Sonam Gyaltshen now owns the paper)

The editor and chief executive officer of the paper, Gopilal Acharya, said Sonam Gyaltshen’s investment would be paid back as soon as the paper starts generating money, thus making the paper completely owned by journalists.

The paper, with a print run of 5,000 copies was prepared on computers the journalists had borrowed from friends.

“No one has been paid since we left Bhutan Times,” Gopilal Acharya said.

Investors had shown interest to put in money for the paper but the journalists declined such offers.

“We don’t want to repeat the BT story,” said the editor, who along with the journalists left their parent company after alleging management interference in news matters.

The team fears that having investors will force them to represent their interests in news.

But the decision has been tough on the scribes including three women. Personal debts have been mounting with the sudden stop in income. One of them has started walking to office instead of taking a cab and another is desperately searching for a one-room apartment.

The newspaper now shares space with the BMS office in a three bedroom apartment. Friends have donated chairs and cameras, and at many times, the scribes, who are used to official transportation when on duty, had to walk to offices in search of news.

All reporters, since they own the paper, are also involved in canvassing advertisements. But the response has not been very positive, the editor said.

“The moral support has not translated into income,” he said trying to repair a rod heater in his office which has a life size mounted photograph of the Constitution signing ceremony.

But, despite financial woes, the journalists are upbeat about the launch of the paper.

“We can’t close shop because we started it,” said Tankaraj Subba, who will cover financial news and features.

The team brushed off rumors that their leaving from Bhutan Times was triggered by the resignation of its founder managing director, Tenzin Rigden.

“It was not a solidarity walkout,” said Gopilal Acharya, “In no way will we be working with Tenzin Rigden.”

The paper is also looking at forming an editorial advisory board including representatives from the corporate, private, and government sectors and the clergy to provide feedback and give guidance. But they will not have any financial stake in the paper.

The paper, expecting help from a funding agency that gives interest-free loans to new entrepreneurs, will be printed at Galing Printers in Bjemina, 20 kilometers south of the capital.

“We will survive,” said Sonam Pelvar who covers environment and technology.

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