Armenian International Magazine (AIM) was an Armenian magazine that was started in Los Angeles in the early 1990s and then moved its base of operations to Yerevan. It closed down after a few years in Armenia.
TAKING AIM AT ISSUES: IT'S UPHILL ALL THE WAY, BUT ARMENIAN INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE IS LEADING ARMENIAN JOURNALISM IN A NEW DIRECTION
by Elise Nakhnikian
Deciding to base their magazine in L.A. was the easy part for the founders of Armenian International Magazine (AIM). As managing editor Raffi Shoubookian tells the story, the glossy monthly started as a vision shared by a handful of Yerevan Polytechnic students from various Middle Eastern countries. After graduation, some emigrated to the United States, where they became successful "doctors, accountants, engineers, whatever." Ten years after they first dreamed of an international magazine about Armenian affairs, they met in L.A. and pooled their financial resources to turn the dream into reality. With so much happening in Armenia in 1990, the time for such a magazine was as right as it ever would be. And what better place for it than L.A., where four of the five major American Armenian newspapers already were based. The founders gathered editors from five papers, who set to work creating the magazine's content and format-a shorter, all-Armenian version of Time Magazine with letters to the editor and short profiles and news briefs up front, longer news stories in the middle, and cultural coverage in the back.
Unfortunately, nothing else about producing AIM has been simple. With the exception of Shoubookian, who left his paper to work full-time at AIM, all the editors held down two jobs during the launch. On top of that, each did the work of several people on the magazine, since they had no one at first to design or produce it. "It was a tremendous job," Shoubookian acknowledges. "When I look back on those times, I wonder how we came up with those issues. If it wasn't for desktop publishing and available technology, the magazine couldn't have survived."
What's more, none of the editors had worked on a magazine or an international publication before. "This is pioneering work for Armenian journalism," says Shoubookian, "so we don't have any framework; we don't have any experience to count on. Finding a network of correspondents was one of the most difficult problems. "Simply communicating with people in Armenia or the Middle East was hard enough. Because it was so much later there than in L.A., contributors weren't usually available during the magazine's working hours. Often, there was no direct-dial phone service to their countries from the United States, so getting through could take hours. And unless they wrote in English, the floppy disks they sent in couldn't be deciphered by AIM's Macintosh until executive editor Salpi Ghazarian created software that taught the Mac to read and write Armenian.
But the real problem was the quality of their work. "There are no Armenian journalists around the world," Shoubookian explains. "You can find people who will send you reports, but they're not based on fact; they're subjective. You have to read two or three pages until you have a grasp of what the writer is trying to say. And then there's a lack of facts, or there's a lack of attribution-there's a line, say, 'Armenia produces 10,000 cattle a year,' and you have to go back to them and say, 'Where did you get the information from?' "
Political and community leaders unused to being called to account for their actions create another problem for the magazine. "So far, especially in the Diaspora, the leadership has been given full rein," Shoubookian says. "Nobody asked them, 'What are you doing with that money?' They did whatever they wanted." So when AIM reporters started asking tough questions, they often found it impossible to get answers. "You call somebody to ask him questions and he just doesn't answer your call, or you even go to the place and knock on the door and nobody answers you, or they tell you that he's gone to Fresno. Things like that." Officials in the Armenian government often stonewall too, he says. "For instance, you are doing an article on Armenia's economy. You need facts and figures, and they can't supply you those figures because maybe they come from Moscow, or just [because] there's a bureaucracy."
It helps to have staff writer Tony Halpin, a seasoned journalist with a knack for getting the story even without the cooperation of officials.
Although Halpin is not Armenian, "he was very quick in adapting to the situation," says Shoubookian. In fact, on a recent visit to Yerevan for AIM, Halpin "met an Armenian lady there. He's going back to marry her, so he's becoming really Armenian."
Shoubookian is proud of Halpin's investigative pieces, like a pair of stories that traced what had happened to the outpouring of money donated to Armenian organizations for earthquake relief (millions of dollars, he found, were still sitting in bank accounts three years later, or were spent for things that may not have helped earthquake victims). Doing this kind of story is, as Shoubookian says "a breakthrough in Armenian journalism." He's also pleased by "the response we get generally regarding the magazine. The word everyone uses is 'prestige.' Armenians didn't even imagine they could have something like this so soon." But a shortage of resources has forced him to shelve plans for improving the magazine, such as running a feature on some social issue and a survey every month. Hardest of all to give up was AIM's separate Armenian language edition, which was losing too much money to be continued after the July 1991 issue.
Shoubookian speaks hopefully of being able to revive the Armenian edition someday. As long as AIM is published only in English, he points out, it will fail to reach tens of thousands of potential readers. Most of its eight thousand subscribers are American Armenians, second, third generation. Or they're people coming from Middle Eastern countries-Iranian Armenians, Lebanese Armenians, Syrian Armenians-because in those countries they learn English as their second language, usually. Shoubookian says AIM staffers are still convinced the Armenian version could find a large readership among non-English-speaking Armenians, particularly in the Middle East. The hard part is cracking the financial code. In the Middle East, there's the problem of the exchange rate. One dollar is around 2400 Lebanese pounds, so people can't afford fifty-five dollars for a subscription. And running ads to help finance the magazine, thus cutting down on subscription costs, isn't an option, since "there are no big advertisers there either."
Shoubookian sums up the situation with a rueful laugh. "Armenian journalism," he says, "is not easy."
- http://armenianinternationalmagazine.com/ (online archives)