Going forward: How ethnic and mainstream media can collaborate in changing communities
The first thing a reporter needs to know about collaborating with an ethnic media journalist, said Univision host Jorge Ramos, is not to call him an ethnic media journalist.
To him, that term implies he’s an outsider and inferior to his colleagues at 650mainstream, English-language news outlets — which isn’t true. “I feel strongly that I am a journalist that is part of the United States, and to identify me in another way marginalizes me,” Ramos said.
The second thing to know is that media outlets serving immigrant communities, like Univision, typically have a different role than mainstream media.
“We don’t just report the facts, we also understand journalism as a public service,” Ramos said. He made national headlines in 2015 when Donald Trump kicked him out of a press conference when Trump was running for president. The incident cemented Ramos’ status not only as a leading Spanish-language journalist, but also as a defender of immigrants — which spurred some to criticize him for blurring the line between reporting and activism.
Ramos believes his job entails both.
“Our audience expects us to be a guide when it comes to issues such as immigration, health, and how, in general, to operate in American society,” Ramos said. “We give a voice to those who have none, and we defend our audience’s rights. The civic and social orientation of our role is not often found in similar English programs.”
This article, part of the American Press Institute’s Strategy Studies, is the fourth in a series about fostering collaborations between mainstream and ethnic media outlets. These collaborations can open up new avenues of storytelling, expand reach, and illuminate stories overlooked by mainstream publications.
In our first chapter, we discussed the different forms these collaborations can take and outlined some of the obstacles. In our second chapter, we looked at lessons from foreign-language publications owned by companies that also run larger, mainstream, English-language publications. In our third, we looked at lessons from organizations that facilitate such collaborations.
In this final chapter, we focus on strategies for effective collaborations and how they can evolve as ethnic media in this country change. In particular, we examine collaborations in which media outlets serve different audiences and play different roles, how to create true partnerships that go beyond a fixer relationship, and new models that connect with dynamic communities.
Our audience expects us to be a guide when it comes to issues such as immigration, health, and how, in general, to operate in American society.
Our audience expects us to be a guide when it comes to issues such as immigration, health, and how, in general, to operate in American society.”
But first, a note on the term “ethnic media.” We recognize Ramos is not alone in his dislike of the term. This series focuses on outlets that publish news stories for immigrant and minority communities — a sector that has tremendous diversity, from international powerhouses like Univision to tiny, agenda-driven publications. Some news outlets that fall under the umbrella of ethnic media are doing serious investigative reporting; others primarily distribute advertising and press releases.
We share Ramos’ concern that the term “ethnic media” suggests that these journalists are less American — even though minorities will soon be the majority in the U.S. and already are in many communities. But we consider “ethnic media” to be the most accurate term to describe this sector, especially when weighed against other terms: diaspora, minority, or immigrant media. “Diaspora,” for example, often refers to communities that suffered a forced displacement and dispersed to many places, which does not reflect many immigrant experiences. “Minority media” is an odd choice in many cities across the United States, where minorities are now the majority. And “immigrant” media refers only to a subset of the outlets that focus on recent arrivals and the integration process. Ethnic media is the most descriptive term we know of for the group of outlets that cover news directed to an audience of immigrant and ethnic communities.
How collaborations can help you report for communities, not just about them
Electionland, a nationwide collaboration in the fall of 2016, illustrated the different roles of ethnic and mainstream media. In the ProPublica-facilitated project, more than 1,000 journalists and technologists tracked voters’ concerns in real time and in different languages, using social media posts, call center records and text messages.
Most of the approximately 200 news outlets focused on challenges to the democratic process such as long lines, confusing ballots, equipment failures and voter intimidation.
But Univision discovered its audience was hungry for basic information about U.S. elections.
Rachel Glickhouse now works as a partner manager for ProPublica’s Documenting Hate project, but at the time she was a reporter at Univision. For the Electionland program, she fielded Spanish-language messages sent from Univision viewers. She noticed many were questions such as “How do I vote?” and “Where do I go to vote?” Her team responded, providing answers via Facebook Live and broadcast.
A “news-you-can-use” component is fundamental to ethnic media, in addition to coverage that explains larger issues. This approach is a key part of how these outlets serve their audiences. “People watch our news in order to survive in this country,” Ramos said. “We are providing essential information about how to live and not to die … how does one receive a scholarship, how does one get medical insurance, how to vote on the day of elections. And this is a different role.”
Mainstream outlets, which aim to connect with broad audiences, often overlook the needs of specific communities. They are also often concerned about straying into advocacy if they offer support or guidance. But the executive editor of New York’s El Diario La Prensa, Carmen Villavicencio, said providing this sort of information — tools to help people navigate an unfamiliar landscape — can help mainstream outlets connect with immigrant communities.
“If the Anglo newspapers’ goal is to reach our community, it has to be by informing them about services, and that’s where I think ethnic media are the ideal bridge,” Villavicencio said.
In fact, Villavicencio urges mainstream publications to think about partnering with community organizations as well as ethnic media. “It is important to be in contact with community organizations,” she said, “because at the end of the day, they are the ones who are addressing the people’s concerns, and we somehow channel this service information.”
If the Anglo newspapers’ goal is to reach our community, it has to be by informing them about services, and that’s where I think ethnic media are the ideal bridge.”
El Diario La Prensa is the nation’s oldest Spanish-language paper; its slogan is “The Champion of the Hispanics.” The paper’s mission, Villavicencio said, “goes well beyond going out every day and having a website with breaking news.”
El Diario teams up with local nonprofits, such as the New York Immigration Coalition, Catholic Charities, Make The Road and the Hispanic Federation, to educate audiences. They host forums, which are broadcast on Facebook Live, on how to get legal help with immigration, domestic violence or fraud. The New York Daily News has partnered with El Diario on one of these efforts, an annual immigration legal aid event called Citizenship Now! El Diario also has an ongoing relationship with a nonprofit, English-language news outlet called City Limits, in which they share content and co-report stories about community issues such as the rezoning of Hispanic neighborhoods.
Putting this into practice
When teaming up with an ethnic media outlet, it’s important to realize they often have a different purpose, and they speak directly to their readers about issues that impact their lives. Partnering with an outlet can encourage you to focus on how an issue directly affects individuals. Even if each outlet produces different stories, a partnership can enrich the mainstream outlet’s approach and provide additional context or resources to the ethnic media outlet.
For a true collaboration, don’t approach ethnic reporters as ‘fixers’
Mainstream reporters have called Sarah Gustavus, a producer at New Mexico PBS and a longtime reporter on Native American communities, in tears when a story they pitched about a Native community is turning out harder than expected. Her advice: Find a way to partner with a Native reporter as an equal so the mainstream reporter isn’t practicing parachute journalism.
In early 2018 Gustavus completed a series with Antonia Gonzales of National Native News called “Health and Wellness: the Indigenous way.” Gonzales, who is a member of the Navajo Nation, is the anchor and producer of National Native News, which airs on more than 100 tribal and public radio stations across the United States and Canada. Gustavus is not Native, but she worked at Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, a nonprofit, Native-governed and operated media center located in Anchorage, Alaska.
Our goal was always to convey that the stories weren’t just looking in on Native life but were also for Native people.”
Both were tired of journalists coming to Native American reservations to report on local problems: youth suicide rates, stark poverty, alcohol and drug dependency issues. “There’s definitely parachute reporting on a number of stories. If there’s a tragedy, a shooting or something, reporters rush to the scene,” Gonzales said. “A lot of reports highlight the gloom and doom.”
Gustavus and Gonzales knew Native Americans were tired of this, too, which made it challenging for journalists to report on these communities. “Many leaders in Native communities are hesitant to talk to journalists because of negative experiences in the past,” they wrote in an analysis of the project for a fellowship they received from USC’s Center for Health Journalism. “We dedicated significant time, including in-person meetings and phone calls, to answering questions and talking about our project. Talking about past reporting on health issues in Native communities became an important part of our reporting process.”
They traveled across Arizona, California and New Mexico to explore efforts to bring back traditional Native practices, such as a school’s innovative way to get filtered water to more people in the Navajo Nation and tribal seed banks. “Our goal was always to convey that the stories weren’t just looking in on Native life but were also for Native people,” they wrote.
Their editing process helped reinforce the series’ dual audiences. Gustavus wrote for television, Gonzales for radio, and they edited each other. “This helped us ensure that both radio and television stories were by and for Native and non-Native people and did not fall into the trap we have observed,” Gustavus wrote, “where stories seem to be looking in from the outside and the Native audience is ignored.”
They made sure to avoid tropes about Native community reporting. “When I’m an editor working with non-Native people covering Native communities, people are constantly putting prayers and drumming at the beginning,” Gustavus said. “Come on, every story does not need that.” A reporter who is familiar with the community knows which nuances bring an event to life and which are clichés.
Both believe this type of collaboration resulted in better journalism. It also took commitment and hard work. “It’s more than just saying, ‘Who do I need to talk to? Who are your contacts?’” Gonzales said.
They made sure to have buy-in of their respective management teams, who gave them time to work on the project and coordinated rollout on their respective programs. “To really do that co-reporting, we’re walking side-by-side as reporter and producer,” Gonzales said. “If there was some kind of disagreement, we would talk through it just like we would any other newsroom. To really have a co-working relationship — that’s a true collaboration.”
Putting this into practice
To create an effective collaboration that respects the role of ethnic media reporters and results in meaningful journalism, go in with an understanding that co-reporting likely will take extra time. Consider the audiences each partner serves. Hash out roles at the outset, mindful that ethnic media provide much more than access to a community.
Collaborations must evolve along with media and platforms
A perennial challenge for ethnic media outlets that serve immigrant communities is how to sustain an audience as the flow of newcomers ebbs and younger generations turn to the mainstream press. There’s a reason the German-, Swedish- and Italian-language newspapers that were ubiquitous in American cities a century ago withered.
Sing Tao reporter Rong Xiaoqing likens her role to a teacher who periodically brings in a new class of students. Her readers start with little knowledge of their new home and eventually graduate, moving on from the Chinese-language press.
“I feel we are like boatmen. We bring new immigrants from one side of the river to the other,” Xiaoqing said. “We provide them all the information they need to set their foot in the U.S. Once they learn English, know how to navigate the system and are assimilated, they go on to read English-language newspapers. So we basically are working to help our readers to leave us rather than to keep them.”
This challenge is made more acute for modern-day ethnic news outlets in the U.S. Immigration from some places is decreasing, social media provide local information, news outlets from home countries compete for their audience, and the internet undercuts their advertising revenue.
I feel we are like boatmen. We bring new immigrants from one side of the river to the other and provide them all the information they need to set their foot in the U.S.”
Yet new outlets continue to pop up, and people are developing new ways for immigrant and ethnic minority communities to connect with each other and receive news and information.
Many of these upstarts don’t fit into the traditional confines of newspapers or broadcast outlets. In the past decade, a wave of ethnically focused blogs and podcasts, mostly created by first-generation Americans, have emerged. Among them: Angry Asian Man, Latino Rebels and Good Muslim, Bad Muslim.
AudioNow was created to connect diaspora communities via a cell-phone based radio streaming service. It’s now owned by ZenoLive, a cell-phone radio platform. The network reaches 10 million immigrants across the United States with outlets such as Radio des Maliens d’Amerique, Punjabi Radio USA and Media d’Afrique. The company focuses on smaller communities that want a low-cost broadcast option. “It’s growing throughout the world,” Baruch Herzfeld, the founder and president of Zeno Media, said. “We do very well with Haitians, Africans, Punjabi people.”
Given the dynamic nature of ethnic media, collaboration with those outlets must evolve too.
In 2014, Chinese court interpreter Walter Yu wrote a column at Alhambra Source, a community news site serving immigrant-heavy suburbs of Los Angeles. He argued that if media outlets, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies wanted to reach recent Chinese immigrants, they should look for them on the digital platforms they already use—namely the Weibo microblogging service. There were many Chinese-language media outlets in the area, but he didn’t believe they were using social platforms as effectively as they could. And so he urged organizations to publish directly to the platforms.
The Alhambra police chief read his column, and soon Alhambra Source facilitated a collaboration. Yu fielded residents’ questions and reports of criminal activity via Weibo. Alhambra Source then worked with the police chief to respond, editing and translating his explanations into Chinese and Spanish.
More than a dozen members of the Chinese-language press corps—both foreign correspondents based in LA and reporters for ethnic media—showed up to the press conference to cover the launch of the first U.S. police department to use the Chinese microblogging site.
The Weibo account quickly grew to 40,000 followers. Many were local, but it also reached Chinese immigrants across the country and even police officers in China who wanted to connect with U.S. police departments. Questions and answers from the police were published in Spanish, Chinese and English on the news site.
It’s worth noting that neither Yu nor the police chief are journalists. But as many ethnic media outlets struggle to keep up with the shifting digital communications practices of their communities, it’s wise to look outside journalism for potential collaborators. This can open the door into communities that may not be reached otherwise, especially if there is no active ethnic media in your community or they lack a social media presence.
These platforms, like all media, are rapidly evolving. In spring 2018, four years after the collaboration, Yu said Weibo was no longer the best platform to engage with the Chinese community. Instead he recommended the messaging and social media app WeChat. “There are dozens, if not hundreds of local groups” on WeChat, Yu said, focused on everything from pregnant mothers to foreign students. “Many of the local politicians even participate or manage the groups.”
As many ethnic media outlets struggle to keep up with the shifting digital communications practices of their communities, it’s wise to look outside journalism for potential collaborators.”
In Oakland, journalist Madeleine Bair observed a scarcity of local, Spanish-language news coverage. So she’s building an audience-first approach centered around collaboration called El Tímpano. Adapting the Listening Post model, she started with research to identify key community information sources, leadership and means of communication.
She learned that housing was one of the most critical issues in Oakland, so she worked with a local artist to create a community microphone. Her team took it around town and asked people about their concerns and problems with housing. More than 100 people stepped up to the mic and shared their experiences. She partnered with a San Francisco-based bilingual Spanish-language newspaper, El Tecolote, and the public radio station KALW to publish the stories.
Putting this into practice
News and information sources and platforms are constantly evolving, and not all ethnic media outlets have adapted as fast as their communities. Ask a range of community leaders and residents which social media services and emerging platforms people are using. Find someone to be a guide for you on that platform — ideally someone involved with a media outlet, but if not, someone who is using it well. Discuss how you can work together in a mutually beneficial way.
How to find an ethnic media collaborator and decide which model will work for you
Ready to get started? If you work in a mainstream newsroom, you need to understand the needs of your community and find out who’s serving them now. Work on the answers to these questions.
Who lives in your community? Look to Census data. Census Reporter, created for journalists, enables easy access to many of these figures. Review data sets such as “race and ethnicity” or “foreign-born population” to learn the nationality of different immigrant groups. Use “language other than English spoken at home” to get a sense of what languages are important in your area. For example, you might have a large Latino population in your community, but that does not mean they prefer media in Spanish.
The American Press Institute explains how to find this data in a resource guide on reporting on immigration. (Check these two sections: “How has the number of foreign-born in my state or metro area changed over the past five years?” and “Where did the foreign-born population in my state or metro area come from?”) The Migration Policy Institute provides state-level breakdowns on immigrants. Local demographers can also be helpful.
Which outlets reach those communities? Talk with government officials, community organizers and consulates to find out which media outlets serve these communities. Some local governments such as Seattle track ethnic media outlets. And in some areas, organizations aggregate and curate ethnic media. They’re often affiliated with universities, such as Voices of NY and New Michigan Media. Visit restaurants and churches to look for publications being handed out or sold.
What do you do if there aren’t ethnic media outlets in your area? There may be an opportunity to collaborate with nonprofit organizations or religious groups in a way that will connect you to ethnic or minority populations. Look to social media communities (Facebook groups to WeChat, for instance) or people creating their own platforms. Is there a local youth or college media program? Is there a parallel internet that serves the needs of an immigrant group in their native language?
Ethnic-mainstream collaborations can take many forms depending on the expertise and needs of the partners, the story and the community. Here’s a short guide to the different methods, advantages, and challenges of collaboration.
Reporting jointly and publishing independently
Benefits for ethnic media outlet: Broader perspective from working with a mainstream outlet, new relationships with other media.
Benefits for mainstream outlet: Context and sourcing, translation help, nuance. A relatively low-bar relationship for the reporter that can create lasting relationships.
Potential pitfalls: Make sure the collaboration is mutually beneficial, not a fixer relationship.
Examples: DigBoston investigated this story about a Latina who ran for office in Boston and was pushed out of the nominations by the Election Department. DigBoston followed up on leads shared with the Spanish-language weekly El Planeta, which sought help because of a lack of resources. This collaboration has since been followed by other joint projects.
Reporting jointly on a story; shared stories, distribution and bylines
Benefits for ethnic media outlet: Greater audience distribution and awareness, which also can enhance the reporter’s profile.
Benefits for mainstream outlet: Greater audience distribution and awareness of story, which could lead to more sources.
Potential pitfalls: When translating, you may need to make adjustments to adapt the content for different audiences. (See “Act as interpreters, not just translators” in chapter three.)
Examples: Slate and Univision’s podcast El Gabfest is produced jointly every week, offering a Spanish-language perspective on government and immigration issues.
Sister publications in the same company teaming up
Benefits for ethnic media outlet: Ethnic media outlets can benefit from the resources, name recognition, distribution channels and financial backing of a big media company.
Benefits for mainstream outlet: Established media outlets can expand their brand in new demographics, increase access and sourcing to better report about specific communities, and open new markets. In many cases, these relationships serve as a talent farm for reporters who move to the main outlet and diversify the newsroom.
Potential pitfalls: These sister publications have often been treated like marketing products that can be pulled on a whim, or “islands” in the middle of an indifferent Anglo newsroom. Building mutual trust and a true collaborative mindset takes work and commitment.
Examples: Al Dia and The Dallas Morning News hold joint morning meetings, sometimes co-report and host community outreach projects together. El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald are run more like independent operations. (See chapter two, “Family Ties: What sister publications can teach us about collaborations between ethnic and mainstream media.”)
Working with an outside organization that facilitates collaborations
Benefits for ethnic media outlet: This is often how ethnic media reporters first get to experience journalism at a mainstream level, while enjoying the tutoring of an outside organization. For the media outlet it means increased name recognition.
Benefits for mainstream outlet: Mainstream media outlets with bigger resources get access to rich community and hyperlocal sourcing, which is monitored by an experienced organization that takes care of some of the hard work, from translation to editing.
Potential pitfalls: One-off projects that do not lead to long-term collaborations or more engagement between mainstream and ethnic media.
Examples: Center for Cooperative Media’s Voting Block project