Daniela Gerson addresses attendees at the 2018 Collaborative Journalism Summit during her keynote presentation about ethnic media.

Collaborative Journalism Summit: Mainstream media need to actively look for ways to partner with ethnic media

Daniela Gerson also emphasizes equitable collaborative efforts, investing in relationships during opening keynote session

After a quick round of wine, cheese and appetizers in the lobby of Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media building, the Collaborative Journalism Summit officially began with a keynote presentation and discussion about ethnic media.

After Keith Strudler, the director of the School of Communication and Media, and Stefanie Murray, the director of the Center for Cooperative Media, made introductory remarks, they welcomed opening keynote speaker Daniela Gerson, a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund and assistant professor at California State University Northridge.

Gerson’s talk was based on a series of research articles she and Carlos Rodriguez recently authored for the American Press Institute’s Strategy Studies: “How can mainstream and ethnic media team up to produce better journalism?” The series launched in October. A fourth installment is forthcoming.

What is ethnic media, and are we using the correct terminology?

Gerson began her talk by defining “ethnic media,” a term that, she emphasized, is “imperfect.” Other related terms include minority media, diaspora media or immigrant media, though none of these terms are universally accepted.

Each term contains assumptions that don’t translate perfectly, Gerson said: what constitutes a racial “minority” isn’t universal in all parts of the country (especially in racially diverse cities such as Los Angeles and New York); a “diaspora” literally means “to sow over,” which is associated with displacement and doesn’t fully describe all migrations; and “immigrant” media focuses on integration and the lives of new arrivals, which leaves out immigrants who have built and sustained communities over time.

In preparing the report for the American Press Institute, Gerson did settle on one definition.

Anthony Advingula, a longtime ethnic media editor who formerly worked for New America Media, speaks during a panel discussion after Daniela Gerson’s keynote about ethnic media collaborations at the 2018 Collaborative Journalism Summit.

“It’s media produced by and for immigrants, for ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities and indigenous groups,” Gerson said, citing Understanding Ethnic Media: Producers, Consumers, and Societies. “That’s in contrast to mainstream media, which is media produced by and for the mainstream society.”

What classifies as mainstream is specific to every community, and it changes over time. “I think what’s important in that definition is that “mainstream” shifts,” Gerson said. “And what’s considered “ethnic media” sometimes shifts, as well.”

Still, Gerson acknowledged that the term isn’t universally accepted. She shared a comment from an interview with Jorge Ramos, a Latino journalist who anchors the Fusion network’s Real America. Ramos was born in Mexico, and he immigrated to the U.S. on a student visa at age 24. “I feel strongly that I am a journalist who is part of the United States, and to identify me in another way marginalizes me,” Ramos said.

Examining the role ethnic media plays in communities

Gerson said her research has found that most ethnic media outlets fulfill multiple roles:

· Advocating for the communities they cover.

· Connecting members of a community together.

· Informing a community. “This is often called service journalism,” Gerson said. “It’s a particular role that ethnic media does very well.”

If you’re a mainstream outlet that is preparing to collaborate with an ethnic media outlet, Gerson said, then you should follow Jorge Ramos’s advice.

“Understand that these roles are different,” Ramos told Gerson’s team during their research. “People watch our news in order to survive in this country. We’re providing essential information. The civic and social orientation of our role is not often found in similar English programs.”

Mainstream news orgs need to actively seek out opportunities for collaboration with ethnic media

Gerson advised mainstream media outlets to seek out opportunities for collaboration with ethnic media. Yet it’s crucial to be honest in self-assessment; she emphasized considering:

· How many languages are spoken in your newsroom?

· How many languages are spoken in the communities you cover?

· Are you writing for or about these communities?

“Ethnic media outlets tend to be connected to their communities, and many of these communities are ones that are target of policies that make them reluctant to speak to mainstream media right now,” Gerson said.

She urged mainstream media outlets to invest in relationships with ethnic media, and to move beyond the “fixer” dynamic.

Bylines are often crucial for mutual respect. “We should connect with ethnic media to better cover your community, and to interpret,” she said. “Not just to do translations.”

Even the very first publication that Gerson determined qualified as ethnic media might have benefitted from considering these questions: the German-language newspaper Benjamin Franklin founded in 1732. Trouble was, Franklin wasn’t German. His paper was criticized for not knowing German culture well enough.

“Are you going in with sort of an anthropological approach, or are you actually thinking about the people who you’re connecting with?” she said.

Daniela Gerson hosts a panel discussion with ethnic media reporters and editors after her keynote presentation at the 2018 Collaborative Journalism Summit.

A look at the models of collaboration with ethnic media

In the American Press Institute report, Gerson outlined three types of collaborations:

· Two newsrooms team up to co-report. “How do you do that, where there is a benefit for both parties in the reporting, and where it’s not, for example, a mainstream media reporter going in and asking someone else for their contacts?” Gerson asked the audience.

A successful example: A joint investigation by WNYC and Telemundo in May 2017, which co-reported a story about bogus ID cards. “Tag-teaming aided the reporting and reached immigrants who could be affected by the scam, as well as policy makers who could crack down on future scams,” Gerson said. “It meant that they were better-sourced, from a WNYC perspective, and from the Telemundo perspective, WNYC was able to add some context. […] It actually reached a larger audience: both those who were impacted, and those who could make change.”

· A smaller newsroom works with a larger outlet within the same company. “We often found they weren’t working together. There were islands within the same newspaper,” Gerson said.

A successful example: “Bridging the Divide”, a community outreach project that involved Facebook and targeting Latino parents via social media, by Al Día, a Spanish-language sister publication of The Dallas Morning News.

· A newsroom works with an outside organization that facilitates collaborations.

A successful example: “Valley Fever,” a series reported by a collaborative launched by the University of Southern California’s Center for Health Journalism. Other partners include the Bakersfield Californian, Radio Bilingüe in Fresno, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana, Hanford Sentinel, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, La Estrella de Tucsón and CenterforHealthJournalism.org.

“Are you writing for or about these communities?” Gerson asked the audience. “It’s often hard to do both. But a collaboration can help you connect to both audiences.”

Click here to see Daniela Gerson’s slides from her keynote presentation.

Watch her presentation below; you’ll need to scrub through to the 23:51 mark, which is where her keynote picks up.


A conversation on the benefits, challenges and opportunities of collaboration between mainstream and ethnic media outlets

After her keynote talk, Gerson hosted a panel that featured:

· Anthony Advincula, a New York City-based journalist and former national media outreach coordinator for New America Media, a network of more than 3,000 ethnic news organizations. New America Media closed in November 2017.

· Rong Xiaoqing, a reporter for Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese language newspaper in New York.

· Karen Frillmann (@kfrillmann), executive producer of the narrative podcast unit at WNYC.

· Orhan Akkurt (@orhanakkurt), a freelance journalist and volunteer for Zaman Amerika, a Turkish newspaper which closed in July 2016 due to financial instability.

Gerson opened the panel by asking how mainstream media might try to develop relationships with ethnic media in a way that is truly collaborative, not “extractive.”

“Often, ethnic media is treated on the sidelines in this kind of relationship,” Xiaoqing said. She added that her work as a reporter for Sing Tao Daily demands quick turnarounds, which can make collaboration difficult. Equal and reciprocal partnerships take time, she emphasized.

“They treated us like competitors, but at the same time, they wanted our help,” Xiaoqing said, recalling a “big-name newspaper” that she declined to name. “They were trying to get information from us, but they just guarded their own sources. … So the whole thing just collapsed.”

Frillman gave a more positive example: Feet in Two Worlds, a project that has worked with more than 150 immigrant journalists since its founding in 2004. It was co-founded by John Rudolph, who pitched a collaboration to Frillman. One of the first stories, in 2005, was reported by Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, who was then with the Polish Daily News. That piece covered pharmacies in Brooklyn, which functioned as social centers.

Kern-Jedrychowska later reported a story on Polish union workers — many undocumented — who were struggling with health effects from their work performing asbestos clean-up near Ground Zero. “It shed a light on these workers,” Frillman said. “We sort of grew into that work with her. We started with something that was easier, and then moved” forward into investigative work, Frillman said.

Identifying participants is the most important part of a collaboration, Advincula said. As a participant in Voting Block, a collaborative set up in anticipation of the New Jersey gubernatorial elections, Advincula coordinated five ethnic media collaborators. Every partner has an impact, he said.

“We have to look at it as not just something that’s relevant to the audiences that they serve, but also relevant to the general market, in the larger community,” Advincula said.

He also discussed how many stories done by ethnic media benefit from often-overlooked nuance and cultural details, such as where an interview is taking place, or what a source is eating.

“If I write for a Filipino publication, I ‘Filipinize’ it,” he said. Using the same story idea for a mainstream publication requires more background information, he explained.

Advincula didn’t hire translators for the Voting Block project. Instead, he asked the ethnic media reporters to write their stories first “in their own language,” not English.

“It’s powerful when you have that command for that language,” he said. Then, Advincula asked them also to translate their words themselves. “If you hire a translator, in my experience, some of the nuances are missed,” he explained.

Akkurt is now a volunteer for Zaman Amerika. “We were the biggest newspaper in Turkey, but right now, we’ve shut down everything. So it’s sad,” Akkurt said. The outlet’s Twitter account was blocked in Turkey, he added.

Akkurt also reflected on his own participation in the Voting Block collaboration. As part of the project, he met with the local Turkish community in New Jersey several times over dinner, discussing politics and the local elections. Akkurt said that since he has spent most of his career as a journalist writing in Turkish, Voting Block posed a unique opportunity.

“We have the chance to write in English, and to see how it comes out in an English website,” he said. “So we reach more audience.”


Author Jeanette Beebe is a freelance journalist.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.