The first radio that ever entered his village was playing in his house and as everyone gathered to listen to the “speaking box,” 14-year-old Kishor Panthi was inspired to become a journalist.
“Ever since I remember, I wanted to be on the radio, and on television, and have my name printed on newspapers,” said Panthi, 30, one of Nepal’s foremost journalists, who now lives in New York.
The fashionable and always smiling Panthi is the editor-in-chief of the free Nepali-language weekly newspaper Khasokhas, based in Jackson Heights, Queens. Khasokhas has a circulation of around 10,000 copies weekly in New York, Maryland, California, and other states. The online version, khasokhas.com, offers daily updates.
The paper serves the small and relatively new Nepalese community in New York City, whose numbers nearly tripled from about 2,000 in 2000 to 5,700 in 2010, according to the Department of City Planning. Political instability following Nepal’s bloody civil war from 1996 to 2006 spurred recent immigration to the U.S. from that country.
Khasokhas has devoted many pages to immigration issues, such as the entrance of undocumented Nepalese from Mexico. The publication also reports on how the Nepalese have contributed to the U.S. economy, and their presence in the American military, politics and culture.
Some of the most significant stories Khasokas has covered are about Nepalese participating in American elections, cases of underage sexual abuse in the Nepalese community and news of a Nepalese store clerk shot dead in a gas station near Atlanta, Ga. last year.
The paper has a full-time staff of four, including Panthi, and there are a few staffers in Nepal who do some of the online work. Panthi says it is more economical to hire people back home, and it also gives them an opportunity to work at an international level.
Panthi, who is single, says he often works 20 hours a day and as many as seven days a week, which makes him, he concedes, virtually married to his profession: “She is my everything and I am giving her all my time. In a way, I am already in a relationship.”
“I do not know how to do anything else,” Panthi said at the paper’s office in Jackson Heights, Queens. His desk is full of old issues of the newspaper, and the walls are covered with posters of Hindu gods. “If I tried some other profession, I would have to start from scratch.”
Born in Gulmi, a fertile region in western Nepal, he wrote his first radio play at 14. A motivational drama about helping leprosy victims, it was broadcast on national radio, Radio Nepal.
Soon after that, he started writing for the national newspapers Mulyankan and Janadesh as a contributing writer.
“I worked towards [journalism] as early as I could, and my family were always supportive, even though they tried to get me to study science after high school, which didn’t last for too long,” said Panthi.
He alternated between going to school and writing until he got his master’s degree in political science, and then started working full time as reporter and editor for several newspapers.
In 1996, as the country plunged into civil war because of a guerrilla insurgency by Nepal’s Maoist party, Panthi wrote many investigative reports from remote mountain villages only accessible after long treks.
He even got to interview the insurgency leader, Prachanda, who later went on to become Nepal’s prime minister. Impressed by the articles of the skinny 20-year-old, Prachanda encouraged him to continue writing. The government, however, grew suspicious of the articles.
“My detailed reports on the Maoist Party raised questions that I was highly supportive of them and I was part of their team,” said Panthi. “I was told the government was keeping an eye on me but I had nothing to hide, I was simply doing my job.”
Panthi went on to become a television news anchor and reporter for Nepali television channels Sagarmatha TV and ABC TV.
In April 2010, he was chosen as the first Nepalese journalist to be authorized by the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Press Center to practice journalism here as a representative of ABC TV. Ready to explore new places, he settled in New York and launched the weekly show “Talk of the Town,” a half-hour program that first aired on ABC TV in 2008 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
For 14 months he also collaborated and produced shows in Nepalese for White Himal, a budding New York-based online TV channel. He teamed up with the station to launch the newspaper White Himal Patrika, but when he quit the channel because of professional differences, he kept the publication going and renamed it Khasokhas.
“He is a very hardworking person, his way of writing is phenomenal. Investigative journalism is his specialty,” said Surya Thapa, who worked with Panthi at White Himal TV. “I have known him for the last 12 years and I’ve always been impressed with his work. It is not an easy job trying to establish a Nepalese news organization in the U.S. and he has done a very fine job so far, and I am certain he will do better as time progresses.”
Panthi is currently writing a book about Nepali immigrants in America, and he says he wants to include “the good, bad and ugly side” of them.
“The book’s title is still undecided, but it will unveil what kind of measures Nepalese people take to stay in this country: From fake marriage to fabricated asylum stories,” said Panthi. “It will also include a lot of genuine and inspirational stories of people and families who have migrated here.”