The Magpie-Ladakhøs new weekly newspaper

IN Regional Media | 12/06/2006

The Magpie-Ladakh`s new weekly newspaper



It had become important that somebody should come out with a newspaper which lives up to some of the people`s expectations.




Tashi Morup

The Magpie


I started The Magpie  this year to fill the desperate need for  a newspaper giving regular coverage of events and developments in Ladakh, where people have been dependent on AIR and Doordarshan  until now. I have been able to bring out this weekly newspaper regularly without break, 18 issues have already been published and the response has been positive as the circulation has increased to around 800 from the initial number of 500 we started with. It has also gone to six pages from four.


There is no other newspaper in Ladakh. In the past decade, Ladags Melong (Mirror of Ladakh), a bilingual and bimonthly magazine brought out by an NGO called SECMOL  (Student Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh), has been partially filling this vacuum, however, Melong has always been under the shadow of criticism primarily for being a one-man show of the Director of SECMOL. The magazine also failed to meet the regular deadlines with sometimes just one issue in several months or even a year. It is a bilingual periodical publication. Though it has not appeared for a year, the NGO is planning to resume its publication.


Even though,  the local literary circle often boast about Ladakh being one of the first places in J&K where print media first came into being in 1930s in the form of Phonya- - a quarterly news magazine brought out by the District Information Department in local language--, however, it has remained by and large as a government`s propaganda tool. The Ladakh Chronicle - a periodical in English was another weak attempt that lasted for a very brief time mainly for, its irrelevant and poor quality of content.


The local Doordarshan station has a very limited coverage for a limited viewership. Doordarshan Kendra Leh (DDK, Leh) was set up in the year 2000 to be run mainly by non-local staff, but soon people realized that the corruption was the mainstay in this broadcasting station seriously affecting quality of its programs. Cable TV channels too are limited to the Leh town only. Ladakh is sparsely populated and sometimes the distance between two villages is almost about 100 kilometers, with accessibility being an impeding factor in distributing a newspaper.


I chose the title as The Magpie for the symbolic meaning attached with the most common bird here in Ladakh magpie, which is often called messenger bird and several other myths associated with it that explain the relevance of the title apart from the `black and white` colour of the bird and the `freedom` a bird is identified with. Soon after starting the newspaper letters of praises started coming in with suggestions and advices including starting the Ladakhi version of is as well.


Given the gaps in the available media everybody felt the urgency to start a local newspaper and that too as frequent as possible and since I have been doing active reporting as a freelance journalist for the past eight years for various state and national newspapers and magazines pressures of expectations were building up on me.


Meanwhile, an ex-councillor of local self-governing body the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Chimet Namgyal started a quarterly newspaper called Ladakh Sargyur in Bodyig (local language) on rather a low-key basis due to limited resources and skills available with this elderly writer.


It had, thus, become important that somebody should come out with a newspaper which lives up to some of the people`s expectations and without giving a second thought to it I started The Magpie involving a friend of mine in Tourism business to take care of marketing section.  The army, which has its large and significant presence here, takes some 150 copies. The number of pages have increased to six from four and it is very much likely that the pages will increase as the demand for advertisement space grows with every issue. Two friends, one of whom is a mass communications graduate, assist me in news collection in their spare time.


I fully share their concern for accessing the information to only the privileged section of the society by having it only in English. There are two problems in having the Bodyig version of The Magpie: my own limitations in this language and finding a dedicated language expert to translate the newspaper into Ladakhi language.  It also seemed challenging to woo the Bodyig readership, mainly comprising those people who have not gone through modern schooling including monks and their reading habit has been limited to scriptures.  In schools the local language is given the least importance with most of the school does not even have a Bodyig teacher.


Despite these facts we are planning to start the Bodyig version of our newspaper on a trial basis to see the response.  Although The Magpie  has now become sustainable after initial investments,with a minimal salary for me from the earnings, we are aware that circulation has its limitations with even stagnancy after a point due to the limited English readership  of miniscule population of Ladakh. The non-local subscribers could take the circulation little further but, for taking it beyond the present limit would need resources not available at the present time in Ladakh.


 Though I am taking care of the newspaper including layout, advertisement design and news coverage on my own there are some people who contribute occasionally. My partner, a travel agent, looks after the marketing and distribution. The Magpie has now become sustainable - we are working out on engaging a full time assistant, but so far we have been just able to break even. There are many difficulties in bringing out a newspaper here in Ladakh, mainly, limited readership, poor facility such as printer, electricity, telephone, and internet services. But the other major challenge is to how to get into writing openly about sensitive issues. The reason being Ladakh is a small society where everyone almost knows each other.


The Magpie
Ladakh`s Newspaper
Room No. 9, Hemis Complex
Zangsti, Leh - 194101



The Magpie
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