Video: Armenian media thrives in Glendale, Burbank area
As a teenage news junkie growing up in Yerevan, Armine Amiryan longed to be just like her idol — CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
At 30, Amiryan is living out her dream as a television news anchor and reporter in Glendale.
Only she’s doing it in her native tongue.
Home to eight Armenian American television stations and no less than 10 Armenian American newspapers, the Jewel City and its environs are becoming an ever-more-central media hub for the diaspora.
USArmenia TV — where Amiryan, a Burbank resident, also serves as news director — is an example of a growing Armenian media produced in the United States, one that increasingly mirrors American tastes and ideas.
With around-the-clock sitcom, reality and broadcast news shows supported by advertising sales, the USArmenia model differs from many older Armenian American media outlets, many of which are closely tied to political parties or interest groups.
“We’re a classic Western TV format,” said station President Bagrat Sargsyan, whose family at one point owned the first Armenia-based company licensed to broadcast CNN and MTV. “The difference between USArmenia and any other channel is the language.”
With the acquisition of KIIO- Los Angeles Channel 10 earlier this year, USArmenia became the first Armenian-language station nationally to broadcast on an FCC-licensed terrestrial channel, Sargsyan said. Other local Armenian channels lease airtime from cable and satellite providers by hooking into fiber optic transmission lines maintained by Charter Communication’s Glendale offices.
In a nod to the importance of Glendale to its viewers locally and around the world, the company is moving from a rented building in Tarzana to its own office tower at 229 N. Central Ave., near the Glendale Galleria and the Americana at Brand. USArmenia purchased the building in May for $4 million, according to Los Angeles County assessor’s office records.
Amiryan, who trained at CNN as an international news fellow in 2006, said she hopes to expand news coverage to include more Glendale, Burbank and Los Angeles stories, perhaps with traffic and weather reports.
Currently, the station’s four half-hour weekday news segments rely heavily on reports filed in Armenia with a smaller number of U.S.-based stories. Many of Amiryan’s local stories — coverage of a Glendale forum on teen drug abuse, a DreamWorks press conference, a local water-rate increase and an interview with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), for example — are then shared with affiliates abroad.
“People in Glendale know what’s going on in Armenia and people in Armenia know what’s going on in Glendale,” she said.
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Until recently, immigration patterns were the dominant force carving California’s Armenian media landscape — especially newspapers, said Vahram Shemmassian, who heads the Armenian Studies Program at Cal State Northridge.
A generation after survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide arrived, a second wave of Armenian immigrants sought refuge in California during the 1970s as civil war raged in Lebanon. With the Iranian Revolution of 1979 came a third wave, followed by a fourth wave of Soviet-acculturated Armenians after the fall of communism.
New immigrants, Shemmassian said, “felt the need to be connected with their homeland, whatever the homeland was for them.”
And so “every time there was a wave of immigration, another media outlet formed,” said Greg Krikorian, a Glendale school board member and publisher of the English-language magazines Business Life and Senior Living.
“Each of those papers has a network, so [businesses and local political campaigns] have to advertise in at least four Armenian papers. Choose just one or two, it could work against you,” said Krikorian, who also works as a media and advertising consultant.
Among newspapers operating in the Glendale area, three identify themselves as affiliates of different, and opposing, Armenian political parties, and some cater to specific heritage groups. Still others — often publishing primarily in English — voice political opinions but do so independently, according to interviews with several Armenian American newspaper editors and publishers.
These days, Krikorian said, he is seeing media outlets develop under a new wave of immigrants: entrepreneurs like Sargsyan who steer clear of a particular intra-cultural niche.
Appo Jabarian, publisher of the English-language weekly USA Armenian Life, said he encountered some initial resistance to the notion of independent news reporting when he founded his first paper in 1978 while a student at Glendale Community College.
Jabarian and fellow English-language weekly publisher Harut Sassounian, owner of the California Courier, said they work to keep bias out of news reporting, reserving opinion for clearly labeled pieces.
Sassounian also writes a syndicated weekly political column that appears in USA Armenian Life as well as Asbarez, a newspaper affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. That paper publishes five Armenian-language editions and one English-language edition each week.
Ara Khachatourian, editor of Asbarez’s English-language content, said the paper makes a special effort to promote the activist and public-service initiatives of the party but also aspires to fairness in its news reporting. In addition, he said, it publishes opinion pieces like Sassounian’s that don’t always stick to the party line.
Shemmassian, the CSUN professor, cautioned against characterizing media funded by political groups as propaganda.
“These are not narrow-minded venues. It’s an open dialogue,” he said. “The whole American system [of press freedoms] allows Armenians to open up and say what they feel they need to say.”
‘Cultural Learnings of America’
American influences are also changing the substance of that dialogue, said Armenian American actor Ken Davitian.
During a 2007 interview at a local Armenian station, Davitian found himself the object of criticism for a nude scene, part of his breakout role as a documentary producer in the comedy “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
But others praised him for being the first actor to speak Armenian throughout a major Hollywood film.
Now, he said, film and television for Armenians is increasingly modeled after Hollywood productions and more likely to take on cultural taboos.
“I think [Armenian American media] are modernizing the diaspora,” Davitian said. “They’re doing their best to compete.”
But Armenian media also helps preserve cultural roots, Davitian said. He credits a pair of Armenian radio shows he listened to as a child in East Los Angeles during the 1960s with preventing him from losing the language.
One media executive, however, says broadcasters and publishers should go heavy on news and public affairs programming and light on entertainment.
Vrej Agajanian, president of the Armenian-language broadcaster AABC, said he emphasizes public service and discussion-based programming and “things that affect Armenian life here.”
As host of a daily talk show in Glendale for the past 14 years, Agajanian devotes nearly an hour of airtime each day to U.S. news analysis — a practice he feels is threatened by increasing commercialization of Armenian television.
“On American TV, news is entertainment,” he said. “They go through the motions. I’m trying to keep real news around.”
Follow Joe Piasecki on Twitter: @JoePiasecki.
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