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Zethiopia: The Ethiopian Newspaper to Believe In

New America Media, Media Profile, Uzo Nnabuihe Posted: May 14, 2008

WASHINGTON -- When Dereje Desta left Ethiopia seven years ago, he hoped the United States would afford him the press freedom he lacked as a journalist in his country. Today as the publisher, editor, marketing manager and reporter for Zethiopia, he does have that freedom, but it has come at a price.

Sitting in the Mocha Hut on 14th street with his coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other, Desta stares at his computer screen waiting to get connected to the coffee shops wireless Internet service. As blues music blasts in the background, he talks about his life as a one-man production show. He says he has a newfound respect for the news industry. Since he launched Zethiopia six years ago, he has had to become a jack of all trades: he is not just focused solely on the stories, but also on the production, marketing and visual appearance of the paper.
Paste alt hereZethiopia publisher Dereje Desta speaks before congressional
staffers at a NAM briefing on reaching ethnic audiences.

Once again he stares at his computer screen and frowns; he still cant get connected to the Internet. Even though he now has the freedom to write the stories he cares about, he finds a lot of difficulties in running the newspaper on his own. Desta says too many Ethiopians and Africans, who have migrated to the United States due to political unrest and economic reasons, say being a journalist does not fit in with the American dream because it is not profitable.

Its very, very hard to convince people; its hard to convince yourself.

Unfortunately, because it has been hard to convince people of the merits and importance of journalism, it has been hard for Desta to get investors and business partners. Zethiopia is free, so he depends on advertisements to fund the everyday running of the paper. Desta says because he focuses more on the stories, the business side of running the paper suffers.

Sometimes Im busy with the stories and not too bothered with the business side, and advertisers are mad at me because they feel I dont do my job.

Unlike other Ethiopian newspapers, Zethiopia caters to the community and not advertisers, according to its publisher. The paper is filled with stories about life and the economic climate in Ethiopia and the issues that the Ethiopian community in America faces. Readers appreciate it.

Tigi Abebe, a cashier at an Ethiopian-owned dollar store on U Street, says she likes Zethiopia and reads it occasionally.

I like how they write about everything -- about love, comedy, Ethiopian culture and life in America and Ethiopia.

Desta says his main concern right now is getting the visibility and attention that will attract investors and bring in more revenue for the paper. He puts the papers circulation at 10,000 a month; he says it is available in most Ethiopian stores, restaurants and travel agencies. The paper is supposed to be in circulation and easily accessible to anyone interested in reading it, yet there are some Ethiopians who are unaware of the papers existence.

Bekele Hemancho, an Ethiopian immigrant and Maryland resident, has never heard of or seen Zethiopia.

Zethiopia? Is it like a newspaper with many advertisements? I had never known about it. Thank you for telling me, I will look for it.

Hemancho later said he searched for the paper in more than four Ethiopian stores and restaurants, but could not find it. At two of the Ethiopian restaurants on U Street, neither the servers nor the manager of the restaurants had heard of or seen the paper either.

This is why Desta is focused on building a name for Zethiopia. He says that since his paper is the only bilingual paper serving the Ethiopian community -- the paper is published in English and Amharic -- it is important to expand its circulation.

However, expanding the circulation is only the beginning. Desta wants to build a media institution that will better serve the Ethiopian community.

Im not done yet; Im not even started. Im still trying to convince people to start believing. Thats my goal, but in order to do that you have to start somewhere.

For Desta, this job goes beyond reporting stories, but helps him keep in touch with his community. It goes beyond being part of a profession and extends to using the profession as an avenue to achieve objectives. Zethiopia, he says, is a way for Ethiopians to take pride in their language, culture and heritage, especially in a different country.

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