It’s a long and tedious drive back from Las Vegas. Darkness has set and the red taillights wind ahead of the car like an unending ribbon twinkling in the night. Inside the car it is anything but quiet or boring. Shahane and Gayane are making a stream of phone calls, remotely trying to complete the layout of the upcoming issue of the college newspaper they co-founded, along with Arpine, four years ago while sophomores at UCLA. “Lets just do a newspaper and have all Armenians – not just UCLA Armenians – write to it and contribute to it and that’s how it started. Very randomly,” Gayane says of the original idea. At the time, she believed that students needed an outlet to express themselves in ways not available to them. “This way, students can write how they felt about our culture and how they felt about being in the Diaspora as students in a very free way without being judged for it.”
The newspaper, which has now grown into a credit earning class under the watchful eye of Dr. Peter Cowe, Professor of Armenian Studies at UCLA., covers Armenian topics and people such as actors, artists and opinion without censorship.
Like all publishing endeavors, the first issue took six months of hard work until it was ready to launch. “People were sort of like ‘it’s cute and its fine,’” says Shahane of the patronizing tone with which most people responded. Their biggest response came after the release of the second issue because they proved to be more than a “one hit wonder.” By the time of the third issue the distribution had risen to a thousand copies and the paper had found its voice. “The response was very negative, purely negative because it was very open. We had zero censorship whatsoever,” Shahane says. “If you wanted to curse, you got to curse in an article.” But Gayane clarifies that the cursing “had to be in context and not gratuitous.” Other than that, a good writer is never censored. “A lot of people were angry with us saying like ‘oh, my grandmother is not okay with this or my grandfather is not okay with this’ without realizing that the paper is not for their grandparents. It is for the Armenians who live in Los Angeles and grew up here. It’s a youth-oriented newspaper. It was directed towards them. It was for them, by them rather than for any grandparent. It’s not meant to please grandparents,” stresses Shahane.
Although some copies of the paper are distributed in Armenian bookstores, churches and café’s in Glendale, the majority is distributed on college campuses all over Los Angeles and Orange County with an occasional shipment to the New England and New York that area along with a website that attracts readership beyond the boundaries of the printer paper’s reach.
Of all the venues, the church was the most surprising to the young women considering the sometime risqué content of the paper. “At first, we had no idea how it got there and I don’t know who took copies of it down there. We haven’t heard any complaints so I am going to assume that they are okay with it,” she says and her laughter resounds in the inside of the car.
Petite and soft spoken, Shahane is a wisp of a girl who doesn’t look like she could withstand the rigors of founding and editing a newspaper on top of her already heavy class load at UCLA. Gayane on the other hand, statuesque with cascading waves of hair and a voice that clearly and loudly projects her ideas, seems more able to the task. But after a listening to them guide and advise their current editors while dealing with the frustration of intermittent cell phone reception available on the long and desolate desert road, it is clear that both recent college graduates complement each others’ skills and abilities in getting the job done to their standards.
Now that the women have graduated from college and are preparing for law school, they have withdrawn from the daily functions of the paper and simply advise the editors who have replaced them to make sure that “the paper stays true to its roots.” Although both Gayane and Shahane want to stay on as long as possible to supervise, they want to see the paper change and evolve to reflect the changing attitudes and mores of the next generation of students.
The tasks of publishing a newspaper came naturally to the women because they enjoyed working on a project they now know is bigger than them. “We never felt this was an extra hassle just because we didn’t sleep for a few days in a row. It was just a part of doing it. It was fun,” Shahane says. “We never complained about it. We never thought it was weird that we haven’t showered for a while,” she adds and laughs at the memory of the trials and tribulations all three of them endured.
They see it a vehicle to unite Armenian “because as Armenians, we have the tendency to divide amongst ourselves,” states Shahane. It is yet another reason they don’t censor the content of the paper. “We just let them write whatever they want as long as they are not trying to fit into certain type of Armenian motto. It’s meant for all Armenians to like it and feel comfortable with it rather than certain group of Armenians,” adds Gayane. She believes the paper has made a difference in people’s view. “I do think that a lot of times when people would interact with each other, the traditional people and then the liberal, more open-minded people, everybody has a different view of each other. But when those people read articles and had the chance of expressing themselves, it kind of became a way of them to express their views as opposed to just being judged. It was a good medium of doing it.”
Publishing is not for everyone but both women seem to love it immensely. “Stress makes us happy for some odd reason,” Shahane says and they both laugh. “It’s something that you accomplish and feel good about. You have this final product and it just makes you so happy.” They’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know people in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. “You get to know what people are really thinking, and how they are: Who’s flakey? Who’s punctual? Who has these crazy talents?” says Gayane. They loved uncovering hidden talents and sharing the story with their peers.
Their five year vision for the paper is to lay a stronger foundation for the paper and widen its distribution throughout university campuses. “I want it to be something that people in high school know about and they know that they have the opportunity to get involved,” says Gayane.
It’s time for them to move on but Shahane admits that it’s difficult. “Because I have always felt like it was my baby,” she says but both of them know that the “baby” is old enough to go out on it’s own.
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