By Amir Kurtovic
A new Bosnian-language newspaper in St. Louis, the Sehara Tribune, is concerned mainly with the loss of religious and cultural identification of an immigrant populace that is quickly assimilating to life in the United States.
The 32-page tabloid, printed in full color, began publication in July . “Sehara” is a Bosnian word for an antique chest often used for storing valuable possessions. For the first two issues it was published as a weekly, but then switched to a bi-weekly. It is distributed through Bosnian grocery stores at $1.50 a copy in St. Louis, where an estimated 50,000 Bosnians live.
The paper reached about 7,500 Bosnians in St. Louis after its first two issues, according to Amir Kurtovic, the paper’s 36-year-old founder. It is supported through sales, subscriptions and advertising – though ads at the outset have been slim; those of a lawyer, a real estate agent, an Islamic bookstore and a bridal store. An effort is being made to attract businesses that want to reach the Bosnian community.
National distribution of the Sehara Tribune is organized around a network of Bosnian mosques throughout the country. The paper is printed in St. Louis, shipped by mail and distributed by mosque volunteers to ethnic grocery stores in cities with significant Bosnian communities, such as Grand Rapids, Mich., Atlanta, Ga., and Salt Lake City, Utah. Subscribers can get the paper by mail.
Kundalic lives in Ballwin, Mo., with his wife Belma and their two young children. He came to the U.S. in 1996 from the Bosnian town of Zenica, about 40 miles north of Sarajevo. There he got a start learning English while working for U.S. humanitarian organizations. He was one of the first Bosnians to attend Forest Park Community College and eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Webster University in 1999, and an MBA from Phoenix University in 2008. He and Belma, also a Bosnian immigrant, met here; she is a 2009 fine arts graduate from Webster University.
The first two issues of the Sehara Tribune included coverage of the 14th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, where more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed by Serbian forces in what was described as the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. The second issue contained over 14 pages of coverage about the massacre, including a two-page spread with a list of the 534 names of Srebrenica victims identified in 2009. The message is “Don’t Forget.” Other articles deal with the history of Islam, the role of the religion in the lives of young people, and Bosnian cultural traditions.
The Sehara Tribune is clearly advocacy journalism with harsh critiques of the current state of politics and culture. “We want to stay connected to our history, our culture, our religion, so that they are not forgotten. Bosnians are the only ethnic group that has assimilated in the first generation,” said Kundalic.
Some Bosnian youths, perhaps too young to remember the war, roll their eyes and take refuge in their rooms, too busy with Facebook or TV to be bothered with the same old stories from their elders about the war or the motherland. Most youths speak English better than Bosnian. And some in the Bosnian community are not happy with this quick cultural adaptation.
Kundalic feels there has been a lack of coverage devoted to religious and cultural issues in other Bosnian publications such as SabaH and Bosnjacka Dijaspora. The Sehara Tribune is trying a different approach. Its articles are longer, more opinionated and analytical. The plan is to make each issue of the newspaper dedicated to a specific theme, according to Kundalic.
“We found a niche market in the ethnic media where there was an opportunity. There are a lot of people looking for this,” Kundalic said about his paper’s narrower focus on cultural and religious topics. The commercial success of this new paper will largely depend on its popularity in the St. Louis market. Grocery store owners report that the paper is selling well, partly because people are seeing the newspaper for the first time and want to check it out.
One person who knows about the hardships of running a Bosnian newspaper is Amir Hotich. He was the owner of the now-defunct newspaper 5ta Strana Svijeta (The Fifth Side of the World) and is host of a popular Bosnian radio show on WGNU radio which airs Sundays between 6 and 6 p.m. Hotich said the costs of printing and shipping the newspaper, which was given away for free, and paying a small staff of reporters, made it almost impossible to turn a profit.
The Sehara Tribune has no office and is produced in the Kundalics’ home. Articles and photos are contributed by freelancers and volunteers. Some articles are reprints from other publications and some photos are pulled from online sources. The production and layout are handled by Kundalic and his wife Belma using computers, publishing programs and emails.
A digital edition of the paper is not yet available. Kundalic said he is trying to figure out how to publish online and make money doing it. He and his wife are considering publishing a monthly magazine but no firm date has been set for the first issue.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 7/2009).