Polymath journalist makes headlines in Kalemyo

There’s no shortage of choice in Yangon’s journal and newspaper market. Vendors’ stands busy with colourful displays of publications are everywhere in the commercial capital, but news-hungry readers in Yangon are unlikely to be encouraged to buy a publication at the urging of its owner.

By Mratt Kyaw Thu

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Exactly that is happening in the far west of Sagaing Region, near the border with Chin State, where Ko Nyein Thu Min, 28, is the chief executive officer, reporter, financial officer, marketing head and distribution manager of his weekly paper, The Mauriya Times.

“I’m everything at my newspaper,” Ko Nyein Thu Min told Frontier in an interview at his home at Sakhangyi village, on the Myanmar-India Friendship Road about eight miles from Kalemyo, the administrative centre of Sagaing Region’s Kalay District.

His backpack is his head office. He calls it his “portable office” and his newsroom can be anywhere, including teashops and the chat room of Facebook. The Mauryia Times has a circulation of 300 and is distributed in Kalemyo, Kalewa and Mingin townships. Ko Nyein Thu Min focuses on vendors around Kalemyo because his most loyal customers live there.

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Chin account for about half of the population of Kalemyo, but many of them can speak and read Myanmar. The Mauriya Times is published in Myanmar and targets the township’s Burmese community and Chin who can read Myanmar.

Ko Nyein Thu Min said the Chin people around Kalemyo are eager for news about Myanmar and the wider world.

“They are seeing the world better and wider than before,” he said. “I publish news about Chin people and Burmese people half and half, which is a challenge. If my paper publishes more Chin news than Burmese news, Burmese readers won’t buy it anymore, and if there’s too much Burmese news, there will be fewer Chin buyers.”

Ko Nyein Thu Min sells the paper to customers for K100 a copy and to vendors, on commission, for K80. The market advantage of The Mauriya Times is its focus on regional news, in which readers are more interested than national news.

Ko Nyein Thu Min is proud of the standard of journalism in his paper and says it is one reason why he is confident that it will be a success. “I guarantee the journalism standard of my newspaper compared with church-based newspapers, propaganda papers and language-based newspapers,” he said.

Ko Nyein Thu Min’s journalism career began in Yangon after he completed a history-major degree at Kalay University. He spent a year as a junior reporter at Yangon Times weekly journal, followed by a year at 7Day News and another year at Myanmar Post Global. The idea to start his own newspaper came after he attended classes held by the Yangon Journalism School at Kalay.

Of the two weekly newspapers produced in Sagaing Region, The Mauriya Times is the only independent publication. The other is the state-run Chindwin Times.

The ability of many Chin to read Myanmar means there’s a competitive print media market in Kalemyo. It includes two vernacular publications, the Chin Voice journal and Meifar journal. Another is the Matupi Times, produced by a civil society group in the southern Chin State town of the same name. Also available is one of Chin State’s best-known papers, the bi-monthly Khonumthung News journal, which has its own reporters but relies heavily on outside sources, including translations from national dailies.

Ko Nyein Thu Min believes that writing news himself and covering topics that directly affect Kalemyo will give him an edge over competition.

Late last month, he received permission from the government to publish The Mauriya Times, after producing his fourth issue. “Now I’ve got a new newsroom with a new layout designer.” Two monthly advertising contracts worth K30,000 each, are helping to ease financial pressure.

Launching the paper had incurred losses. “I have only my motorbike,” Ko Nyein Thu Min said, adding that he had sold his father’s motorbike, his mobile phone and his gold ring to cover costs. “But now I think that I’ll recover my loss. I will not give up!”

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