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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Twenty years!

Reading Time: 9 minutesIt’s time for a bit of trumpet-blowing as we celebrate our ‘coming of age’, writes editor RAJNI ANAND LUTHRA. Take a look at the kind of work we’ve done in the past two decades at Indian Link

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Not another Indian newspaper the spice-shop-wallah had said to us, somewhat disdainfully.

“We don’t need another newspaper – there’s two already”.

We hadn’t expected this answer, not from someone who we knew well; we had been buying our groceries from him for the past five years.
As Pawan and I stared at him open-mouthed, he relented.

“Okay, you can stock your paper at my store,” he said. “But it will have to live outside my door. If you can sustain it for a full year, I will let you keep it inside”.

A year later, Mr Spice Shop Wallah rang us.

“I’d like to advertise in your paper”.

“Oh, but you don’t need to advertise,” we said. “You’re the king of the spice shop universe”.

“That’s true,” he agreed, “But the times are changing. The community is growing, and the competition is picking up…”

It was 1995, and Indian Link newspaper had survived its first year of life.

We had survived thanks to the support of the King of the Spice Shop Universe (who remains a good friend and well-wisher to this day), and thanks to the community that he rightly identified as growing by leaps and bounds at the time.

But mostly, we’ve thrived, not just survived, because of two strong principles that have been our cornerstone ever since the very idea of this project took root in our minds. These are a commitment to quality in terms of content, design and regularity of production, and the amassing of a storehouse of talent behind us that we like to call the ‘Indian Link family’.

Today, in our twenty-first year, we have well and truly come of age. Graduating from a small 24-page black-and-white monthly publication in 1994, produced with next to no resources except the voluntary contributions of a small group of six interested people, Indian Link is now a media group active on many platforms. It produces 72 publications a year with a team of more than 80 regular contributors and reports from every major city in Australia.

Indian Link has a radio arm that broadcasts 24 hours a day and which can be heard traditionally, online or via a smartphone app that has been downloaded some 11,000 times. With over eight hours of talk back shows every day, it has a following which even government funded radio channels such as SBS could envy.

Our website, first launched in 2003, is updated daily and has a variety of sections to capture breaking news happening all over Australia, as well as relevant information from India. Users can join the conversation as we give our readers a voice when it comes to important issues.

Indian Link has always been at the cutting edge of technology. We have heavily invested in social media, reaching out to readers on Facebook and Twitter. We are able to deliver instant news and community happenings to our strong base of followers and have high user engagement as compared to other similar media organisations. We also deliver news directly to the inbox of subscribers every fortnight.

Ever since the Multicultural Media Awards were announced in NSW three years ago, Indian Link has become the most-awarded ethnic media group in the state, bringing home multiple awards and even more nominations, in a whole host of categories. We have been recognised as a top contributor to the fabric of Australia’s multicultural society.

We have published the Best Print and Online News reports, been rewarded for our innovative use of digital and online media and nurtured a Young Journalist of the Year. We have been recognised for our community work with a Harmony Award and been given accolades for our coverage of community affairs abroad. We have been awarded Best Image of the Year, Best Online Publication of the Year, and our CEO Pawan Luthra was awarded Multicultural Journalist of the Year.

 

About Indian Link

Indian Link is a free publication targeted not only at Indian-origin Australians, but also mainstream Australians who have an interest in India. Indian Link is the Circulation Audit Bureau’s oldest ongoing member from amongst the Indian publications.

As watchers of the trends in Australia’s Indian community, our clear grasp of issues in the community for over 20 years has made us much sought-after.

Our considered commentaries on issues that put the community in mainstream spotlight, such as the students’ crisis of 2009-2010, and the contentious one of Australia’s sale of uranium to India, have been widely read and welcomed.

In times of national crises such as the Victoria bushfires of 2009 and Queensland floods of 2011, we look out for members of the community, seeking out the affected and bringing their stories to our readers.
From within the community, the social and cultural expressions of individuals and groups, in particular the celebration of our many festivals, find much coverage on our pages. The community’s performing arts scene is increasingly become prolific – reports of classical and popular dance and music shows, theatrical productions and art exhibitions are now beginning to cram our pages. An increasing trend is the organisation of fund-raising events, as the community becomes more settled and begins to give back to society.

We are proud also to feature everyday individuals who shine through with their intelligence and application. These might include school students who have excelled, professionals who have been awarded Australia’s highest civilian awards, and those excelling in sport or art or business in the mainstream.

As well, we like to cast a regular look at the different layers that make up our community: seniors and the issues that concern them; kids (their lives at school and at leisure); home-makers and aspects of their lifestyle; the youth and their particular passions, and the gay community in their attempts to reconcile their lifestyle choice with age-old traditions.

Our reports of community events in Australia have been welcomed by the mainstream as an informed comment on relevant issues. Our features such as travel, food, sport, literature, health, fashion, Bollywood, humour, kids and heritage, are read with interest by both the Indian and the wider communities.

An important segment of our coverage is also devoted to mainstream Australians who have an interest in India. We have followed interested Aussies on their trips to India, and others who have explored film-making with some of Bollywood’s greats. Indophiles in Australia pore over our pages reading stories about the intercultural connections. When the mainstream has a question about India, or when the community has a story to tell, Indian Link is the first point of contact.

We have developed a reputation as a leading media group in Australia, and small and medium businesses within the community, corporates, government departments, and businesses from India seeking to enter the market all come to Indian Link to get the word out about their products and services.

At Indian Link we pride ourselves on our high quality of content and design as well as regularity of production.And yet, while we whole-heartedly embrace new trends such as those in technology, we prefer to be old-fashioned when it comes to separating our editorial content and our advertising. We follow an ethical business model and will not be seduced in any form of “cash for comment”. We have managed to keep at bay the recent upsurge in native advertising (where ads are camouflaged to look like news), supposedly the way to go to survive in a diminishing industry.

 

The Team
Indian Link is the only Indian community media organisation to have a professional office, with headquarters in the Sydney CBD. Our team of contributors now numbers more than 80, with many being long-time Indian Linkers.

Our core office staff of ten oversees their work and the production process. More dedicated and conscientious than we could ask for, they go beyond their required hours – too frequently on recent occasions – to meet deadlines, and to being ambassadors of the company at public events after-hours.

A pillar of strength is Vivek Trivedi who has been with the team for over seven years. In charge of marketing and sales for Indian Link, he has taken our core policy of objectivity even further with a standard ethical procedure for all potential clients and a streamlined process in the booking of ads. His strong values and work ethic make him an invaluable member of the team.

Softly spoken, yet a master salesman, his conviction in the values of Indian Link often has him at odds with potential advertisers, but his gentle persuasion wins them over.

With his role in the frontline, he has strengthened our position in understanding the moods of the community, and serving their needs accordingly.

His mentoring of the sales team not only in Sydney but also other centres is enabling further growth of the company.

Kira Spucys-Tahar as assistant editor, has taken the company to a new level with her online expertise, expanding the company’s influence on other platforms (and teaching us social media dummies a few things along the way). Her work with both our design and marketing teams, to ensure a quality product is sent to print every fortnight, has won our admiration.

Nitika Sondhi and Bindiya Masabathula both contribute to the smooth running of the office with their pleasant personalities and always complete their work with a smile.

Preeti Jabbal, Indian Link’s Melbourne coordinator, has been with the newspaper for 12 years, and was recently awarded the Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence in Media. Ashish Chawla, in charge of sales in Victoria is well respected for his dedication and work in making Indian Link as a premier brand in the state.

On the radio, Neelam Vasudevan is in charge and ensures the music flows beautifully. With a team of 10 radio jockeys and listeners across the globe, many of whom call in on a regular basis, Indian Link Radio has taken us to the world stage.

 

Influence

Observing the trends for over 20 years now has enabled us to draw conclusions about community movements with some precision and objectivity.

This was particularly true in the case of the students’ crisis. Our reports were unbiased, taking into perspective the views of all parties involved, and pointed out flaws in the system as well as suggestions for the future. Our take on the issue, considered balanced and mature, made us a leading commentator for both the Australian and the Indian media, with our CEO Pawan Luthra called upon to make regular comments on TV and radio in both countries. (Pawan has been a frequent guest on ABC Radio 702, ABC TV’s Lateline, Channel 7’s Sunrise and on other television programs like Today Tonight, ABC News 24, BBC Hindi Radio Service, as well as on television and radio networks in India, who seek him out for his in-depth knowledge of both local community affairs and the India-Australia relationship. He was also the guest commentator on Fox television’s coverage of the opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi with Tracey Holmes and Steve Leibmann).

At election times, our polls to gauge the mood of community voters have become a long-standing tradition. (In fact, one such survey is currently on, to assess voter sentiment regarding the upcoming Victorian State elections). We would like to go so far as to suggest, that our analysis enables the undecided voters to make up their minds, our coverage significantly influences public opinion.

Our reports are not always flattering to community stakeholders, such as when we explored the divisions within community organisations a few years ago, or the debacle that was the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Sydney more recently. Yet the readers out there see the merit in our assessments, and can appreciate that we come from an objective editorial position. They understand better than those purporting to hold community leadership positions, that putting Bob Carr on the cover, for instance, does not make us Labor supporters, just as reporting a community poll in favour of the Coalition does not mean we back the Liberals.

 

The next 20 years

In a scenario where community newspapers are spawning even as their mainstream counterparts are dying off, we at Indian Link hope to keep carrying on with the same ideals with which we started. The times ahead are indeed exciting, not only as we reinvent ourselves as the media industry goes through an upheaval, but also as the mainstream finally begins to give us some much-deserved attention. There are deadline pressures to contend with as always, plus the stresses of diminishing revenue and new forms of media that we struggle to understand. Reporting on a community that is beginning to feel some growing pains (health issues, old age issues, bicultural stress in the youth, assimilation issues in new migrants, domestic violence, even a gradual increase in gambling addiction), we have our work cut out for us.

But every day at the Indian Link office is enjoyable, from regular dashes for coffee to the gentle teasing among co-workers and the frequent hounding of the boss. We have fun working on stories and getting to know the people of the community. Even though there are stresses, we laugh and smile together as we collate each new edition.

In 20 years we hope to tell our future generations that we were able to help create that perfect blend of Indian and Australian values and lifestyle that has made us a successful multicultural community. We have kept our Indian traditions alive and lasting while learning and integrating from Australian culture the values of openness and fair go.

The support of the community, we know, will continue to be with us just as we continue to tell their stories.

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Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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