The stories and more than a dozen others like them are part of Voting Block, a unique, statewide collaboration between more than 20 ethnic, hyperlocal and mainstream news outlets. Each publication commits to writing voter profiles and hosting a “political potluck” where neighbors talk politics over a meal with their neighbors.
In a time when immigrant communities are in the political crosshairs and hate crimes are on the rise, collaborations between mainstream and ethnic publications can change the stories news outlets tell. These partnerships can build coverage of diverse communities and increase access to about a quarter of U.S. residents who turn to more than 3,000 ethnic media outlets for some of their news.
Often overlooked because of cultural and linguistic barriers, these ethnic outlets publish and broadcast in languages ranging from Amharic to Zapotec. They tend to be more connected to hard-to-reach and vulnerable communities of color than mainstream outlets.
These partnerships can be particularly effective when ethnic media reporters provide community access, while mainstream reporters contribute expertise, context and resources.
All stories produced in the Voting Block project are available for any of the partners to publish. That means they can reach immigrant communities that often do not turn to mainstream partners, as well as mainstream audiences that don’t often see nuanced portrayals of immigrants.
The ethnic publications in Voting Block tap into perspectives that often do not make it into mainstream news. In turn, they get funding to produce stories they probably wouldn’t do otherwise. And by bringing these diverse publications together, connections can be forged between reporters and editors that could lead to further alliances.
This article is the first of a series about how ethnic and mainstream media outlets can build effective collaborations. Though these collaborations are no substitute for diversifying staff and coverage at mainstream outlets, they can open up new avenues of storytelling, expand reach, and show the types of stories that are passing below editors’ radar.
We will focus primarily on ethnic media that is produced by and for immigrants, most of which is in languages other than English. However, many of the lessons about collaboration apply to other ethnic media targeting racial and ethnic minorities, such as black, Jewish or indigenous communities. Many lessons may also apply to partnerships with any identity-driven publication, including those focused on particular religions, ideologies, niche interests and industries.
This research, part of the American Press Institute’s series of Strategy Studies, builds on a prior report about nonprofit-commercial partnerships. We’ve done this one a bit differently — publishing our findings serially and compiling them into a final report.
This first section takes a look at the evolution of ethnic media in the United States and the various forms collaborations between ethnic and mainstream outlets can take. The next offers lessons from English-language publications that have a foreign-language sister publication, followed by a section on the lessons from organizations that facilitate ethnic media partnerships. The fourth and final section, published in July 2018, examines what these collaborations may look like as ethnic media — and communities themselves — change over time.
Though these collaborations are no substitute for diversifying staff and coverage at mainstream outlets, they can open up new avenues of storytelling, expand reach, and show the types of stories that are passing below editors’ radar.
Examples of ethnic and mainstream media collaboration
These partnerships can take many forms: Some simply involve reporters from different outlets teaming up, as WNYC and Telemundo did recently. They revealed that a felon who represented immigrants in court was selling bogus ID cards that could supposedly protect people from being deported. Tag-teaming aided the reporting and reached immigrants who could be affected by the scam.
Other times, an English-language news company creates its own foreign-language outlet. The weekly Spanish-language newspaper Al Día holds joint editorial meetings and co-reports stories with its mother newspaper The Dallas Morning News. The two work together on a community outreach project at local libraries targeting Latino parents.
Collaborative journalism is all the rage, but when it comes to actually working with the ethnic press, few mainstream media do it.
Other collaborations have experimented with digital reporting methods. ProPublica joined with Univision for the Electionland project, which asked people to use WhatsApp to report polling place problems and watch out for voter suppression during the 2016 presidential election.
There is a common theme among these partnerships between mainstream and ethnic media: They are rare. “Collaborative journalism is all the rage, but when it comes to actually working with the ethnic press, few mainstream media do it,” said Karen Pennar, editor of Voices of NY and co-director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
“I have seen so many good stories coming out of the Chinese community papers that would be compelling to a much wider audience,” Rong Xiaoqing of the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily newspaper wrote for Poynter.org on the need for more collaborations. “But most of them fail to get traction outside the Chinese community.”
Why aren’t ethnic-mainstream collaborations more common?
We undertake this research with the belief that there is room for more of these collaborations.
We know from personal experience how these partnerships can add new dimensions to reporting projects and extend their reach. We also know many of the reasons they are not undertaken more often.
Daniela Gerson, one of this study’s authors, has worked at daily newspapers in New York and Los Angeles, collaborating with reporters from Chinese, Polish, and Latino outlets. She was founding editor of Alhambra Source, a community media site that has worked with Chinese and Spanish-language publications.
Carlos Rodriguez, also a co-author of this study, has worked as a reporter and translator for the New York Daily News, El Diario/La Prensa, and Voices of NY, which curates and translates stories from the city’s ethnic media into English. One project he was part of, a Spanish-language weekly published by the Daily News, went under due to distribution and financial troubles.
Partnerships between any media outlets can be tricky; cultural and linguistic differences add another layer of complexity. Ethnic media outlets sometimes have a different understanding of their relationship to their communities, and tend to advocate for them. They generally lack resources. As a result, mainstream reporters often treat ethnic outlets with distrust or even disrespect.
There are interpersonal barriers as well: Journalists in mainstream and ethnic media are generally not in the same social networks, and they don’t typically attend the same conferences.
But the notable successes show these barriers can be overcome to produce journalism that is important for immigrant and other minority populations, as well as larger, English-speaking communities.
“The goal of collaborative journalism is about expanding the news lens, particularly now in a very diverse society,” said Sandy Close, director of New America Media, a national network of ethnic news outlets. “How do you as a reporter step inside a story, report on it from the inside out, so to speak, if you don’t have some knowledge of language, culture, experience?”
Nearly 20 years ago, Close helped facilitate one of her first collaborations, between The San Francisco Examiner and India West, a weekly newspaper and website in California with a weekly readership of more than 100,000.
The goal of collaborative journalism is about expanding the news lens, particularly now in a very diverse society.
The Examiner paired two of its reporters with one from India West on a story that took them from California to India, tracing the roots of two teen girls who had been kept as sex slaves by a well-known immigrant restaurateur in Berkeley. The India West reporter knew the Indian community in the East Bay, as well as the dialect they spoke. The stories were published in both publications and contributed to legislation imposing longer prison sentences for human trafficking.
Another time, Close recalled, a reporter with the Chinese-language publication Sing Tao Daily worked with a San Francisco Chronicle reporter on a series about traditional Chinese medicine. Those collaborations were like many that followed: the ethnic media reporter offered knowledge of language and the community; the mainstream reporter provided an outside perspective and sometimes additional investigative, data, and graphics resources.
Beyond that, Close said, “working together on stories creates common bonds of friendship, information sharing, and support among and between reporters.”
America’s long history with ethnic media includes Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln
Ethnic publications in America predate the United States. For generations, they have helped immigrants keep their feet in two worlds — helping recent arrivals stay connected to their native countries and easing the transition to a new society.
In 1732, Benjamin Franklin founded the first ethnic newspaper in North America, the German-language Philadelphische Zeitung. He correctly foresaw a demand; German publications dominated ethnic press throughout the 1800s, with more than 1,000 outlets.
With these first publications, trends emerged that continue to define ethnic media, as a 2014 exhibit at the Newseum highlighted:
Insider knowledge: Franklin’s initial effort failed after a few weeks. He was an outsider who could not master the German typeface. Since then, most ethnic media publications have been founded by immigrants, who have a better understanding of their community.
Diverse in format and politics: Some of the German publications were socialist, others right-wing. Some focused on news back home and others on local politics. There continues to be a wide range of editorial approaches, with varying political allegiances, within each segment of ethnic media.
Powerful vehicles to engage with immigrant communities: Long before John F. Kennedy advertised in Spanish-language media, Abraham Lincoln bought the weekly Illinois Staatsanzeiger in an effort to reach Germans. He hired the editor to campaign for him.
Since the initial German dominance, ethnic media has reflected the changing waves of immigrants to the United States. The first Spanish-language media outlet, El Misisipí, was founded in 1808 by intellectuals in New Orleans exiled from Spain. But Spanish-language media did not proliferate until the 1900s.
In 1965, immigration laws were liberalized, spurring a flood of newcomers. A large, diverse group of Hispanic news outlets were created to serve this new audience. Demand increased as the number of immigrants climbed in the following decades, peaking at about 43 million in 2015.
Ethnic media have followed immigrants throughout the U.S.
Today, ethnic media for immigrant communities are extraordinarily diverse. They include:
Multinational media companies such as Univision and the Chinese-language World Journal and Sing Tao Daily
Offshoots of mainstream media outlets such as Al Día, a sister publication of The Dallas Morning News; Hoy, a sister publication of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The San Diego Union-Tribune; and the Miami Herald’s El Nuevo Herald
Opinion-driven efforts that blur the line between publisher and reporter, such as Al-Akhbar, a Syrian publication in the Los Angeles suburbs
Ethnic media outlets in the U.S. are concentrated in cities with the largest immigrant populations, naturally. In New York, a recent study found 270 ethnic outlets in 36 languages. Thirty-one catered to Latinos, nine to Pakistanis, and three newspapers to the city’s relatively tiny Nepali community.
But new publications have followed immigrants to rural and suburban areas throughout the country. If a town has a church or shop catering to Vietnamese, Indonesian or Nigerian residents, odds are there is a publication catering to them, too. (And it’s probably sold at that store.)
Initially, ethnic media appeared to be insulated from the publishing crisis of the Great Recession. But in recent years, they’ve been hurt by stagnating or declining newspaper circulation and television viewership, just like larger, English-language outlets. Contributing to the declines are a decrease in new arrivals, particularly undocumented Mexican immigrants.
Aided by the internet, international media are increasingly encroaching on local ethnic media outlets.
New immigrants can easily stay connected with media back home, and they’re using new social networks focused on their needs. The Pew Research Center reported that Latino viewers are increasingly turning to foreign outlets that focus on Latin America, such as the Mexican-owned networks TV Azteca and Televisa.
The Los Angeles Times documented the growth of a “parallel Chinese-language internet” in the San Gabriel Valley that helps affluent, young Chinese immigrants navigate America and find jobs, restaurants, and information about LA. Both of these trends may result in fewer immigrants turning to traditional, local ethnic media in the years ahead.
Yet ethnic media remains a large sector of the news industry. One in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home. Many of them still turn to ethnic media to learn about crime in their communities, get help in a natural disaster, and to stay on top of national matters such as immigration policies.
Family Ties: What sister publications can teach us about collaborations between ethnic and mainstream media
Three years after Miami elected its first Latino mayor, the Miami Herald launched a Spanish-language insert in an effort to attract the influx of Cuban exiles. Executives imagined it would be a short-lived project to capture immigrant readers until they assimilated in a few years, according to a 1994 study in the Harvard Business Review.
That was more than four decades ago. The insert became El Nuevo Herald, an award-winning daily newspaper with more Twitter followers than its English-language counterpart. With a reach far beyond Miami, it is now among the top performers at The McClatchy Co., which operates 29 daily newspapers in 14 states.
El Nuevo Herald is a prime example of how an ethnic media outlet can benefit a mainstream media company by connecting it to a particular community and offering linguistic and cultural expertise.
This article, part of the American Press Institute’s Strategy Studies, is the second in a series about how to foster effective collaborations between mainstream and ethnic media outlets.
An ethnic media outlet can benefit a mainstream media company by connecting it to a particular community and offering linguistic and cultural expertise.
These collaborations can open up new avenues of storytelling, expand reach, and show what types of stories editors at mainstream publications are missing.
And yet they aren’t common, in part because the differences between mainstream and ethnic media further complicate the workings of an editorial partnership. Mainstream reporters, for instance, often distrust ethnic outlets, partly because they tend to advocate for their communities.
In our first post, we discussed the different forms these collaborations can take, outlined some of the obstacles, and gave an overview of the past and present of ethnic media in the United States.
In this chapter, we look at foreign-language publications owned by companies that also run larger, mainstream, English-language publications — the vast majority of which involve a Spanish-language publication. For this portion of our study, we interviewed more than a dozen editors and reporters who have worked on such ventures.
These arrangements offer lessons for publications that are interested in creating a foreign-language sister publication, as well as those that want to collaborate with an outside ethnic media outlet.
One of those lessons: Don’t do this just for the money.
While some companies have found that a local news publication that targets a particular ethnic community can add audience and advertisers, many have discovered translation and reporting is more expensive than they anticipated.
“If you’re launching an ethnic newspaper as part of your corporate offering simply because you want to make money, you’re making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons,” said Liza Gross, who has held positions as managing editor for the Miami Herald and publisher of Chicago’s Exito (which rebranded as Hoy in 2003). “If you want to inform and engage your community, increase the number of folks that your brand touches and make them part of your family, and as a result of that create new sources of revenue – because of course no margin, no mission – then that’s fine.”
If you’re launching an ethnic newspaper as part of your corporate offering simply because you want to make money, you’re making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons.
Such sister publications have been around for a long time. In the early 1900s, several New York magazines, including Hearst’s Pictorial Review, had Spanish-language counterparts. Ridder Publications, one of the two companies that started the Knight Ridder chain, began in the 1890s by buying the German-language newspaper New Yorker Staats-Zeitung. And in 1952, Generoso Pope Jr., owner of the Italian-language daily Il Progresso Italo-Americano, purchased a struggling English-language weekly that became the National Enquirer.
Over the past few decades, many newspapers in cities with large immigrant populations have launched or bought foreign-language news outlets, almost all in Spanish. Exito joined the Hoy network of Spanish-language dailies owned by the Tribune Co., which is now Tronc. In recent years most either folded or were turned into weeklies. The Washington Post owned the weekly El Tiempo Latino between 2003 and 2016, when it was sold.
Between 1999 and 2005, the Knight Ridder-owned San Jose Mercury News ran two free foreign-language publications, Nuevo Mundo in Spanish and Viet Mercury in Vietnamese, but the company sold one and closed the other because they weren’t profitable.
The New York Daily News created a daily bilingual version, El Daily News, in 1997. It lasted just seven months due to a labor dispute with the distribution company. The News tried again in 2004 with Hora Hispana, a Spanish-language weekly where Carlos Rodriguez, one of the authors of this report, was an editor.
Few, if any, have achieved the success of El Nuevo Herald.
Make sure the content and tone is geared to your audience
In 1998 Alberto Ibargüen, publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, decided to launch El Nuevo Herald as a standalone newspaper after realizing that the insert, which had been around since 1977, served an entirely different constituency.
At his favorite downtown Miami cafe, he observed people pay a quarter for El Nuevo Herald instead of 35 cents for the full paper. The cafe owner would pull out the section for the customer and keep the rest. Later, the owner returned the unsold copies of the Herald to the company and kept the quarter. This community valued the insert more than the paper it was part of.
Ibargüen, now president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, did not want a Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald. “There are differences in humor, there are differences in emphasis, in what kinds of stories were of interest,” he said. “I felt strongly that we needed to produce a newspaper in Spanish that was for a different community that happened to share the same geography.”
By spinning off El Nuevo Herald, he could also deal with a resentment among some subscribers of the larger newspaper. “English-language readers who could not read Spanish would complain that a quarter of what they had to pay for, they couldn’t use,” he recalled.
I felt strongly that we needed to produce a newspaper in Spanish that was for a different community that happened to share the same geography.
And he thought he could make more money. Some businesses that wanted to reach the Spanish-speaking community were skeptical about advertising in an insert of an English-language newspaper when there were other Spanish newspapers in the area. “Advertisers wanted to be able to go directly to their customers,” Ibargüen said.
With the help of a new editor – Carlos Castañeda, who previously managed Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día – Ibargüen pushed for original content, with an emphasis on coverage that was usually reserved for the international pages. El Nuevo Herald adopted an irreverent, Latin American sense of humor. The Miami Herald, which back then was edited by Marty Baron (now at The Washington Post), “took a more sober view of the world,” Ibargüen said.
Hispanic journalists interviewed for this report stressed the need to separate English and Spanish publications not only in language, but in spirit. Many even grumbled of tensions stemming from unwanted intervention by their English-speaking editors – even those of Latino heritage – who did not understand the sensitivities of the Spanish-speaking immigrant.
Alejandro Maciel, editorial director of Hoy Los Angeles, recalled a wave of sister news ventures during the 1980s and 1990s in California.
“They always put in charge one journalist coming from their own team,” Maciel said. Even if they were Latino, Maciel said, they often did not understand the immigrant community that the publication targeted.
What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration
The experiences and cultural references of recently arrived immigrants and their children can differ vastly even if they still communicate with one another in the language of their home country. Headlines and humor are particularly tricky to translate. Defer these kinds of decisions to people close to the community.
Be mindful not just of language issues, but cultural and philosophical differences. The ethnic press is the product of these groups’ need to have their own voice, and ethnic journalists are often protective of their communities. For example, Maciel said a common misunderstanding of immigrants is that their children share the same point of view.
Conversely, don’t expect that all Latinos are interested in Spanish-language media. Use Census data to research what languages people speak at home in your community. If most people speak English at home, odds are they do not want to read in Spanish. The same goes for any other second- or third-generation immigrant community.
And don’t assume immigrants are most interested in stories about immigration. Editors from different outlets have found that readers are just as interested in as health, education and entertainment.
Value reporters equally and forge a collaborative culture
One common complaint ethnic media reporters have about working at mainstream companies is that they often get lower pay and fewer benefits than their English-language counterparts. As smaller operations with different goals, they often feel they are valued less.
Maciel said the environment in the Los Angeles Times’ building is better than previous newsrooms, which often felt “like little islands in the middle of an Anglo newspaper.” He has more resources, respect and access to decisionmakers, and the editorial teams recognize the importance of having a Spanish-language publication in the company. Digital tools have also made it easier to share images, and Hoy has rapidly increased the number of LA Times stories it translates.
The company, Maciel said, recognizes it must incorporate the Spanish-speaking audience. “In Los Angeles, there are rarely stories that don’t have a Latino involved in some way,” he said. “We can’t continue to be treated as the ‘minority’ journalists, when we’re almost part of the mainstream.”
Physically, however, Hoy is still something of an island. Its editorial staff is tiny compared with the LA Times. Hoy’s two local news reporters don’t work on the same floor of the newsroom as the Times’ metro reporters. Many Times reporters don’t know Maciel and aren’t familiar with Hoy.
We can’t continue to be treated as the ‘minority’ journalists, when we’re almost part of the mainstream.
The Dallas Morning News’ Spanish-language sister Al Día, on the other hand, puts reporters from both publications in the same newsroom.
“When you have the setup and the physical distribution, being embedded in the rest of the newsroom, informal relationships will happen,” said Alfredo Carbajal, Al Día’s managing editor and the board president of the American Society of News Editors. “People will share the disposition to work together: ‘Oh that’s fun, can I go with you?’; ‘Can you teach me how to do that?’ There’s a transfer of skills.”
That close working relationship starts at the top of the hierarchy. Carbajal reports to the editor of The Dallas Morning News. He is also part of the News’ editorial leadership, participating in meetings to to decide daily news priorities. One of the things he’s evaluated on, he said, is how much Al Día collaborates with the News.
“Of course I’m the editor of Al Día, but my brain is part of the collective brain trust of everything we do in The Dallas Morning News,” Carbajal said.
This team-building culture has helped spur several successful reporting collaborations. Before she recently left for a job at Univision Digital, former Al Día reporter Ana E. Azpurua frequently collaborated with the News’ immigration reporter, Dianne Solís. They developed long-form projects, shared databases, and brainstormed visualizations.
One of their joint efforts was an interactive special report on Central American migrant children. “When you work with an exceptional Spanish speaker, you know you are getting more texture and deeper reporting,” Solís, who speaks Spanish and reported from Mexico City, said of her Venezuelan colleague.
Azpurua, in turn, said working with a Dallas Morning News reporter helped her navigate a different editorial system. “She helped me pitch and develop it,” Azpurua said. “She became a champion for the stories, which was a huge help.”
As they reported, the two were mindful of their respective communities and publications, which did not always have the same interests. For a story about families separated by immigration policies, Azpurua wrote two ledes.
For the general audience, she focused on the challenges of not being able to spend the holidays with one’s family, writing, “It was like any family gathering in America.” Two days later, three of them were deported. For the Spanish-language audience, which was familiar with the challenges of being separated from family, she dove right into the family’s story.
“It helps when you report taking both the English and the Spanish audiences into account, and the questions each editor might have,” Azpurua said. “I would recommend working together from the start.”
The project about Central American migrant children was published in English on the News’ site and in Spanish on Al Día’s, despite some initial resistance from the company’s digital operation. “They were a little nervous with the promotion of the story,” recalled Al Día metro editor Juan Jaramillo, “because the previous year we did a lucha libre project that did not do well in Spanish even though they put a lot of effort in it.” The reason, he explained, was that it was only promoted with a hard-to-find “Read in Spanish” button in the English version.
This time, the Spanish version came out first and was promoted independently on Al Día’s website and on social media. “It was much more successful,” Jaramillo said.
However, he described those collaborations as a “double-edged sword” because they stretch his limited resources. “You always want your journalists to work on Dallas Morning News projects, but that means taking the journalist off his daily work — and this is a small team, so if one’s out, who’s going to cover his beat?” he said.
What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration
If you are at a mainstream, English-speaking outlet, try to partner with a journalist who is a native speaker — ideally one with similar experiences as the immigrant communities they cover. This will help you better understand and work with those communities.
Make sure ethnic-media journalists feel fully integrated in the process, everything from decisions on which stories to cover to how those stories are promoted. You need these reporters not just for their language skills — they aren’t just translators — but for their judgment based on their experience. One way of demonstrating this is a true collaboration is to share bylines and give appropriate credit.
Know whom you serve
Though they may sit at the same table, editors of sister publications don’t always publish the same stories or agree on tough judgment calls. It can be tricky to collaborate across disparate communities and respond to their different needs.
Gross joined Exito, a Spanish-language weekly published by the Chicago Tribune, in 1996. One of her first jobs was to mend a frayed relationship with the local Latino community after Mexicans felt insulted by a column written by Mike Royko, the Tribune’s star columnist.
“There were huge protests in front of the Chicago Tribune. And Exito, which had been launched a couple years before, lost most of its advertisers. It was a complete debacle,” said Gross, who is now director of practice change for the Solutions Journalism Network. “I made a lot of remedial work to regain the trust of the community, and tell them that Exito would cover them fairly, but so would the Chicago Tribune.”
Gross, like others interviewed for this report, said those problems stemmed from the lack of diversity in the newsroom, “a systemic curse on the media landscape.” One way she was able to deal with this problem was by getting a seat in the Tribune’s editorial meetings.
“We were also a bridge for the Chicago Tribune to understand the Latino community better,” Gross said. However, sometimes the two publications advocated for opposite agendas, such as English-only laws.
El Nuevo Herald has not shied away from making its own news decisions, most famously during the Elián González saga. The Miami Herald’s Pulitzer-winning account of the federal raid that took the Cuban boy from his Miami relatives in 2000 was sober and balanced. That could not have contrasted more with the screaming headline in its Spanish-language counterpart: “Qué verguenza!” — “Shame!”
And yet, El Nuevo Herald did not have its own editorial page until a few years ago.
What I see is more stories about immigration than before, with the editorial board weighing in on the issues.
“We decided that on issues that we agreed on, we would translate the Miami Herald’s editorial … and on issues that we disagreed on, we would take a different tack,” former editor Myriam Márquez said. For example, the two newspapers endorsed different candidates for governor and U.S. Senate in recent elections.
In some cases, a sister publication has nudged the mainstream outlet’s perspective. Jaramillo said when he first joined Al Día, the Spanish-language paper’s views frequently differed from those of The Dallas Morning News. “Our editorial position is much more in tune today with The Dallas Morning News,” he said. “What I see is more stories about immigration than before, with the editorial board weighing in on the issues.”
Jaramillo believes the relationship with Al Día has played a part in the News’ evolving views. The News is still a conservative paper, he said, “but I feel it’s getting more open” to diversity. For instance, the News’ editorial board supports DACA. “They know they need other readers, right? And obviously they need to express other voices.”
What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration
Compatibility, understanding and flexibility are paramount, as they are with any collaboration between two newsrooms. Try to bridge any differences, with the understanding that sometimes you will have to agree to disagree.
One common misunderstanding is that that a story involving a community belongs only to that community’s news outlet or section. As Gross put it, “Sometimes the editorial department of the Chicago Tribune did not understand that Latino stories were Chicago stories.”
Translate with accuracy and cultural sensitivity
For ethnic media outlets with limited resources, an obvious advantage of belonging to a mainstream company is having access to extensive content. The challenge is translation, and they’re constantly searching for ways to do it most effectively.
Digital tools and machine translation are speeding up the process. Maciel, of Hoy LA, said his paper is experimenting with a translation program called Déjà Vu that claims to be 80 percent more accurate than Google Translate. (The software costs about $490.)
“It’s helping, but you still need to make a lot of additions to the translations,” he said. And it can fall short with figurative language. “It can be the correct translation, but in Spanish it doesn’t mean anything. For example, if you translate, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs,’ that doesn’t mean anything in Spanish.”
Even with new tools, translation is a slow process that requires the human touch – especially if you are dealing with a Latino population with diverse regional dialects that have their own slang and euphemisms.
From 1994 until February 2017, The Wall Street Journal published a Spanish-language version for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market. It dealt with this challenge by developing its own glossary of the most common words across Latin America. “Even though we had Spanish editors, we did not give Spain a vote because the market was Latin America,” said the founding editor, Edward Schumacher-Matos.
It can be the correct translation, but in Spanish it doesn’t mean anything. For example, if you translate, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs,’ that doesn’t mean anything in Spanish.
Terms could be changed in regional editions to avoid, for instance, an innocuous expression in Argentina being used in Mexico, where it was offensive. “Our partners actually thought we would fail because of the language, not the content, ” Schumacher-Matos said.
Going back and forth between languages can become a game of telephone. When Carbajal knows a reporter is doing interviews in Spanish for The Dallas Morning News, he will ask for original quotes so they are not translated to English and then mistranslated back.
And sometimes you need to adapt your translated content to your audience’s sensitivities. For example, Maciel recalled English-language stories that explained what the Virgen de Guadalupe is. In Spanish, “when you explain it, everyone laughs. It’s like explaining who is Santa Claus,” he said. “We already know.”
That’s a clear-cut example, but other calls are more subjective and could create tensions among reporters and editors when they see their stories translated. It’s critical to have clear policies on linguistic and cultural translation policies.
What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration
When translating, make sure your word choice is suitable for the main community you are serving (for example, Puerto Rican, Mexican or Colombian). When in doubt, seek a more universal, non-controversial term.
It’s wise to create a glossary so you can build institutional knowledge. If that seems like a massive undertaking, create a shared file for words to watch out for and ask editors to add terms when they come across them during editing.
Explore strategies to reach new audiences, locally and abroad
Digital news easily crosses borders, leading some publications to translate some articles not just for immigrant audiences in their own communities, but for international readers. Some Spanish-language publications in the U.S. are seeing significant digital growth in countries across Latin America.
That’s one of the reasons for El Nuevo Herald’s formidable online and social media presence. Former executive editor and vice president Myriam Márquez said when she took the job in 2013, the Spanish-language newspaper already had more Twitter followers than its English-language counterpart.
But she believes the turning point came when McClatchy brought in the analytics tool Chartbeat. “That’s when we started to see daily, in the moment, reactions to the stories,” she said, and they worked to build upon what was working.
By focusing on issues and formats that readers preferred (from stories about Venezuela to local corruption, entertainment, and video content), El Nuevo Herald grew local digital traffic by 28 percent in 2016. The paper also created AccesoMiami, a website geared to what company leaders discovered was big part of its digital audience: businesspeople and high-end travelers from Latin America and Spain seeking to invest in South Florida or relocate there.
El Nuevo Herald has also developed its own collaborations with other media, including Univision, local radio stations, and even an international partnership in which it shares a reporter in the Herald building with an independent Cuban news website called 14ymedio.
What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration
Ethnic outlets in the U.S. — whether they’re sister publications of larger companies or not — can develop an audience in the home country of the immigrant community they are serving, expanding their reach and opening possibilities for other kinds of partnerships. This part of the business could see increased growth given the ease of digital, cross-border travel.
Lessons from groups that facilitate ethnic media partnerships
Valeria Fernández has illuminated immigrant life in the Southwest through stories published in outlets such as CNN International, The Guardian, and PRI’s The World. For this work she won $100,000 as one of the first two recipients of the American Mosaic Journalism Prize for independent journalism.
Yet, Fernández once doubted her readership would ever expand beyond a small audience of Spanish speakers in Arizona. She immigrated from Uruguay and started her career as a reporter at La Voz Arizona, a Gannett-owned Spanish-language weekly.
“The Latino media, the Filipino media, they’re covering the stories first, but sometimes it just stays there,” said Fernández, who is now director of Cronkite Noticias at Arizona State University, a multiplatform outlet at which students report in Spanish.
Two organizations that nurture ethnic media reporters have helped Fernández cross over to English-language legacy media. Feet in 2 Worlds and New America Media provided her with skills to make the leap to mainstream media; translated her stories to a larger, English-speaking audience; and connected her to ethnic media reporters from other backgrounds.
There is a place for the stories of this community beyond this loop of reporting for ourselves.
“They literally trained me how to write effectively in English, and they also provided me the freedom and the platform for all of the stories. They saw value [in] the stories that were going on in the grassroots level in the community, and they were hungry for them,” Fernández said.
“It just made me understand the significance of getting this information out there,” she said. “There is a place for the stories of this community beyond this loop of reporting for ourselves.”
This article, one of the American Press Institute’s Strategy Studies, is the third in a series about fostering effective collaborations between mainstream and ethnic media outlets. These collaborations can open up new avenues of storytelling, expand reach, and illuminate stories that editors at mainstream publications miss.
In our first post, we discussed the different forms these collaborations can take and outlined some of the obstacles. In our second, we looked at foreign-language publications owned by companies that also run larger, mainstream, English-language publications.
In this post, we delve into the lessons newsrooms can learn from organizations that support collaborations. These facilitators have the trust of ethnic and mainstream publications, and they can assist them with translation, training, and cultural and stylistic adaptation of stories.
While a few organizations connect ethnic media and mainstream news outlets around the U.S., many communities lack the access or means to bring in a facilitator. Some elements of successful collaborations, however, can be applied to any newsroom: how to understand the ethnic media landscape, how to establish mutually beneficial relationships with publications, and how to recognize a good story if it isn’t written in AP style — or even in proper English grammar.
“Lots of journalism organizations sincerely do want to serve growing populations,” said John Rudolph, executive producer and cofounder of Feet in 2 Worlds. “They want to expand their audience, they want to be more comprehensive in their coverage, and they don’t know how to do it.”
How facilitators connect ethnic media reporters to the mainstream press
Feet in 2 Worlds has served as a bridge and talent pipeline between ethnic and mainstream media for almost 15 years.
It started in 2005 when Rudolph pitched to New York public radio station WNYC a documentary about how immigrant New Yorkers’ lives had changed after 9/11. The late Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Angela’s Ashes,” agreed to be the host. Reporters from the local Polish, Haitian and Indian press were paired with producers who trained them in radio reporting.
Karen Frillmann, executive producer for narrative news at WNYC, said the one-hour show was transformative. She first joined the station in 1979 and returned in 2003. She admitted the editorial team had failed to reflect the diversity of the city.
“WNYC knew that we were missing lots of really rich stories that were taking place in New York City, and for a long time the excuse was, ‘Oh well, we can’t find qualified people,’” Frillmann said. “Feet in 2 Worlds became this bridge.”
After the documentary aired, WNYC hired one of the reporters, Arun Venugopal, who had reported on the gay South Asian scene. Venugopal had been at the weekly India Abroad; he is now a host and reporter at WNYC covering race and immigration.
“If it hadn’t been for Feet in 2 Worlds,” Venugopal said, “there’s a chance I wouldn’t have found a job in the mainstream.” Other reporters who have received Feet in Two Worlds mentorship and training include Annie Correal (now at The New York Times), Catalina Jaramillo (a part-time reporter at PlanPhilly) and Martina Guzmán (a contributor to PRI).
These experiences can be enriching for ethnic media reporters even if they aren’t spurred to leave for the mainstream press. Rong Xiaoqing, a reporter for Sing Tao Daily, said working with Feet in 2 Worlds, New America Media and CUNY’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media has helped keep her at Sing Tao. Through these projects, her stories reach broader audiences, and her writing benefits from deeper editing than at her newspaper.
“I do feel that I am doing what I want,” Xiaoqing said, because she gets to report deeply on Chinese-American issues for Sing Tao, freelance for English-language media and participate in collaborations with these groups. But she acknowledged that these collaborations are not for everyone: “It’s not like everybody would be enthusiastic about doing this, because it takes more time.”
Feet in 2 Worlds went on to become a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, where it trained ethnic media reporters to produce stories for public radio and other news outlets. Rudolph said they are taking steps to open a second branch in Detroit as early as the summer of 2018.
He believes more communities could benefit from Feet in 2 Worlds’ formula of training talented reporters in ethnic media and placing them in partnerships with mainstream outlets. In particular, he sees potential in cities like Los Angeles, Houston and Miami — places, he said, with “big immigrant communities, lots of ethnic media, academic institutions and mainstream media that have the potential to serve those communities in a much better way.”
Find ways to serve different audiences
After working with a number of editors and collaborative organizations, Fernández developed an approach in which she uses the same ingredients but a different style for each audience.
She cited her coverage of immigration as an example. “When you’re writing for an immigrant community, it’s informational, it’s like consumer reporting,” she said. Stories for American readers, on the other hand, have more “background information to understand how policies work, but it doesn’t apply to their lives.”
During USC’s Center for Health Journalism fellowship, each reporter and editor is asked the same question: “Are you reporting for a community or about it?” In writing stories with two angles, Fernández effectively reports both for and about these communities. But very few reporters can do that on their own.
Chapter 4 of this series, soon to be published, will go deeper on how ethnic media provides service journalism.
Act as interpreters, not just translators
Zaman Amerika, a Turkish-language newspaper in New Jersey, published an unusual story in August 2017 that gained an unusual amount of local traction.
“Immigrant, Muslim and voting Republican in New Jersey,” by Orhan Akkurt, profiled a Turkish immigrant and lifelong Democratic voter who decided to support a Republican nominee in the 2017 governor’s race because he preferred a woman governor. The English version of the story was published by NJ Spotlight and picked up by Philly.com.
The story was part of a collaboration, Voting Block NJ, that brought together more than a dozen mainstream and ethnic media outlets.
It’s not just about the English language, the structure, but more so the nuances of the story, culturally.
For Akkurt, the collaboration was a welcome opportunity. He has struggled to keep Zaman Amerika alive since the Turkish government took over its mother company, which publishes the country’s largest newspaper. His paper typically covers issues that affect people throughout the U.S., but this partnership enabled him to dive into a local election. And it helped his stories reach a wide audience beyond Turkish readers.
“I knew someone was going to edit my articles, publish in other websites, and I have a chance to reach more than our regular website,” Akkurt said. “I have a chance to reach an American audience.”
Akkurt translated his story to English. Then Anthony Advincula, who was editor and national media director of New America Media, guided him and the other ethnic media reporters through something of a cultural translation.
“It’s not just about the English language, the structure, but more so the nuances of the story, culturally,” Advincula said. Akkurt, for example, “did not mention how many Turkish Americans are in the New York City area, and if you are a general reader, not coming from the Turkish community, you want to know that.”
Voting Block NJ was coordinated by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, the Center for Investigative Reporting in the Bay Area, and New America Media. Other partners included The African Sun Times, the Spanish-language Reporte Hispano and Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily.
The sort of cultural translation Advincula described is familiar to Xiaoqing through her work for Voting Block and other collaborations. When writing in Chinese about bubble tea, she said, a reporter wouldn’t explain, “bubble tea, which originally is from Taiwan, with the bubbles made from some kind of sticky rice.” That would be like breaking down the ingredients in a milkshake. But that sort of description is often needed in mainstream media.
Xiaoqing, who has been published in the New York Daily News and City Limits and serves as a translator for Voices of NY, said there also are differences of style. Chinese stories are often longer than English-language stories and are structured differently.
The Center for Cooperative Media, which published a study on different models of collaborative journalism in 2017, has found teaming up with ethnic media poses particular challenges.
Stefanie Murray, director of the center, said some English-language partners in Voting Block were initially concerned about publishing ethnic media stories because they typically aren’t written in the same structure and they don’t follow AP style.
After Advincula worked with ethnic media journalists, Murray said, the English-language stories “came out much more like what the editors would expect.”
New America Media, and Advincula in particular, provided a crucial bridge for the project, Murray said. “They had built relationships with ethnic newsrooms here and had the capacity to handle translation and content-sharing for collaborative projects.”
Finding facilitators after New America Media
For 45 years, New America Media supported the ethnic press by organizing collaborations, fellowship programs and briefings on reporting topics. It closed in November 2017 due to funding problems.
No single organization now acts as a national convener for ethnic media. Murray said that will hinder collaborations between ethnic and mainstream outlets.
“It’s going to be important for organizations like ours to reach out and include ethnic media newsrooms in our networks so we can be sure they’re involved from the start in future collaborative projects,” Murray said. “It’s something we really should be doing anyway, and not necessarily relying on a singular association like NAM to do that heavy lifting and relationship-building for us.”
Former Executive Director Sandy Close continues the organization’s mission on a limited basis with Ethnic Media Services, briefing ethnic media reporters on issues such as immigration policy, Census reform and stormwater retention.
It’s going to be important for organizations like ours to reach out and include ethnic media newsrooms in our networks.
Some big cities have their own initiatives. The City University of New York runs the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, which provides training and research on the sector, publishes translations of ethnic media stories on Voices of NY, and administers the Ippies journalism awards for ethnic and community reporting.
In Chicago, Public Narrative is renewing and expanding its work with the city’s 200-plus ethnic and community media outlets. For years, the nonprofit organization has nurtured collaborations among independent outlets, including periodic “speed-dating” programs that bring together experts to explain issues.
For the past eight years, the publishers of five of the biggest ethnic media news outlets in the Detroit metropolitan area — representing Korean, black, Arab, Jewish, and Latino communities — have met monthly with professor Hayg Oshagan of Wayne State University to discuss issues, share stories and leverage their common interests. The initiative, New Michigan Media, has collaborated with local mainstream outlets and recently updated a directory of 125 ethnic media outlets in the state.
The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, known as BINJ, has an ongoing partnership with Spanish-language outlets such as El Planeta, and it regularly promotes the work of local ethnic journalists.
But most smaller cities and towns lack an organization that supports these collaborations. If your news outlet cannot find someone to help you work with ethnic media, you can take this on yourself.
Trying out your own collaborations
Angilee Shah, a senior editor at PRI’s Global Nation, which covers immigration in the U.S., has found it more effective to work directly with media outlets and ethnic media reporters rather than going through an interlocutor. She advised finding strong partners and building relationships so you can “reach a true collaboration that is not extractive or patriarchal — which means you want partners you can work with, or respect.”
The important question is whether there is a mutually beneficial way ‘in which you and your ethnic media collaborator can inform each other’s work.’
Michelle Levander, director of the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California, said mainstream journalists who report for influential outlets often do not know how to reach the communities they cover. One of the best ways to overcome that is to pair them with ethnic media reporters, both informally and in partnerships. “We advertise for every fellowship that we give priorities for ethnic and mainstream collaborations,” Levander said. “We feel that the two types of media are in silos and rarely interact.”
Levander and other facilitators say you should keep a few things in mind if you want to strike out on a collaboration on your own:
Diversify your networks: Levander has found that reporters often don’t know one another, even if they report in the same geographic area. “You may be at the same press conference for years and not contact each other,” she said. If you aren’t aware of one another, you aren’t going to collaborate. Informal relationships often lead to professional ones.
Realize collaborations can take many forms, as long as both sides benefit: A partnership does not necessarily mean both outlets run the same story. And, Levander said, “you can share bylines or not share bylines.” The important question, she said, is whether there is a mutually beneficial way “in which you and your ethnic media collaborator can inform each other’s work.”
Recognize your interests probably won’t be the same: As we researched these issues, ethnic media reporters often raised two complaints: Too often they’re brought in after the planning process, and the stories typically are geared toward the needs of mainstream outlets rather than their own. Good facilitators make sure everybody is at the table from the beginning. “You need to take a step back and recognize what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” said Oshagan of New Michigan Media. “We may not want the same training that you think is appropriate for us. The ethnic media do many different things than the mainstream.”
Be ready to be teacher and student. Facilitators often help each side of a partnership realize what they can offer and what they need. That exchange of skills was demonstrated by Surging Seas, a multimedia project that New America Media facilitated about the impact of rising sea levels in California. The series was a mix of data-driven and hyperlocal reporting involving six Bay Area ethnic and community media outlets, IRE, Climate Central and Stamen Design. The ethnic media reporters got valuable training in data journalism, and other reporters benefitted from on-the-ground knowledge.
Involve leadership in collaborations: To make a collaboration work, the head of each news outlet must buy into it. They should be working their own connections, getting acquainted with their counterparts at other media outlets, and setting up meetings on their own. “It’s a news leadership question,” Levander said. “There’s enough reasons in today’s news economy to have a collaboration and not fall back on those competitive models.”
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