A half-dozen young men sit at the bar of Vivid Cafe late Thursday morning, smoking, drinking coffee and peering into their smartphones. Their banter with the woman behind the bar of this popular Bosnian hangout is flirtatious.
Two doors down, at the offices of the newspaper SabaH, copies of the latest edition have just arrived from the printer. The Bosnian-American newspaper focuses on national and international news. And it’s written in Bosnian.
It has a loyal readership among the older population who came here as refugees in the mid-’90s, like the weekly newspaper’s founder and publisher, Sukrija Dzidzovic. Members of the younger generation, like those sitting at the bar, have little interest in picking up a copy of SabaH. They were taught English growing up, and it’s the language they write and read. They toggle between English and Bosnian when they speak. Most of their parents and grandparents can speak English, but few can read or write it.
The older Bosnians still have a connection to their home country, and SabaH is an easy way for them to find out what is going on. Their offspring, however, are like other American kids. They were raised peering into screens — TV, computers and, most recently, phones. A few clicks and they can find out what is going on anywhere in the world.
“Ethnic publications have a real challenge because they are generational,” said Anna Crosslin, head of the International Institute of St. Louis. “They don’t have the constant influx to repopulate the readership.”
Dzidzovic, 54, said he has tried unsuccessfully to bring younger readers to SabaH. For about 10 editions earlier this year, he devoted up to four pages of the 48-page publication to stories written in English. They focused largely on entertainment, technology and business news, including features on young Bosnians who were promoted or landed a prominent job.
“Older Bosnians complained. They said: ‘Why are you taking up space in my paper with things I can’t read?'” Dzidzovic said. He didn’t hear a peep from the age group he was trying to reach. So he dropped the English articles.
“I’m testing. I’m always testing. Maybe I’ll test it again next year,” he said.
The newspaper is run out of a storefront on Gravois Avenue at Morganford Road near the Bevo Mill restaurant. This once-German neighborhood is filled with bars, restaurants and other businesses run by Bosnians.
SabaH, which means sunrise, is the largest U.S.-based Bosnian language newspaper distributed throughout the country. There used to be three St. Louis-based Bosnian newspapers, each with national distribution; SabaH is the only one remaining.
“Younger people are more future-oriented, not about the past,” said Murat Muratovic, who stopped publishing Dijaspora Bosnjacka in January 2010 after six years.
“We were a monthly newspaper. In today’s time, people like to get their news immediately,” Muratovic said. He still has a radio program on 770 AM, which airs Sunday evenings and features reports by phone from Sarajevo.
The St. Louis region has the largest Bosnian population in the U.S., estimated at 70,000. The State Department resettled thousands here between 1993 and 2001. Besides those refugees, the population includes Bosnians resettled elsewhere in the country who eventually moved here to be with family and friends, those who came here through the immigration process and those who were born here.
A newspaper written in Bosnian is not going to be enticing to a young adult who was raised in a U.S. school learning English, said James Wertsch, a professor of sociocultural anthropology at Washington University.
“This is an old story in America,” Wertsch said. “There were many German-language newspapers here in the early 20th century, and they’ve completely disappeared now. As long as there is not some kind of barrier to going back or they feel a need to protect the culture, there is the standard American process of running away from their cultural roots.”
Young people, regardless of their heritage, are shunning newspapers for other news sources.
In just a few seconds, they can be on the Internet and find out what is happening in almost any corner of the world.
That’s what the young men at Vivid Cafe do. Admir Hodzic is a sports fan, including soccer and the NBA. He avoids most news sites, especially those that emphasize politics.
“Most politics is B.S. It aggravates me,” said Hodzic, 25. “I’d rather read about sports than be in a bad mood all day.”
Jamal Bijedic said he does not have time to read newspapers. He can go online, look at headlines and click on what interests him. Bijedic, Hodzic and their friends said news on countries at war and on the economy here and abroad do get their attention. But they want the information immediately, and in English.
Dzidzovic said he knows that his newspaper, distributed from Seattle to Tampa, is becoming a dinosaur. He predicts he could be out of business in a decade. His circulation of about 30,000 has not diminished, he said, but advertising revenue has. He said he will not take the family operation online.
“There’s no money in it,” he said. Instead, he is including more community news. He followed a local soccer team to Detroit this year and took photos to publish in his paper. He spends seven months a year on the road, building relationships with the Bosnian communities throughout the country. Along the way, he takes photos. Lots of them.
“The most important is kids smiling,” he said. Families will buy several copies then send them to Bosnia for relatives there to enjoy, he said.
Dzidzovic runs the paper with the assistance of his wife, Mirsada, and their daughter, Ertana, 32. Younger daughter Arijana, 24, however, has no interest in the family business. She is a medical assistant.
“Me and my sister, we’re really different. We’re eight years apart,” said Arijana, who was 6 when her family moved to the U.S. “I’m more into the American culture.”