Photo credit: Department of Transportation, Diversity Workshop

Center for Cooperative Media launches project to translate COVID-19 stories between English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean

New content exchange aims to share, amplify stories about how the coronavirus is affecting communities of color

Oni Advincula
Apr 30 · 4 min read

When Jersey City Councilman Michael Yun, a longtime and prominent civic leader, died last month from COVID-19 complications, the Korean community mourned his demise and flooded social media with messages of condolence, according to The Korea Daily-New Jersey.

And in late March, when the death toll in the U.S. kept rising, The Weekly Bangla Patrika reported that at least 100 Bangladeshi immigrants succumbed to the novel coronavirus.

These are just two examples of important news stories related to COVID-19 that most New Jersey residents likely never saw. Because they are published in-language, the stories tend to get siloed in their communities. And, similarly, there are important stories in English related to the coronavirus that never get distributed to the ethnic and immigrant communities.

That’s why, as part of its program to support COVID-19-related news and information across the state, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University is launching a new content exchange project with media partners in New Jersey. This program will provide translation of stories into English that were originally written or broadcast in Spanish, Korean and Chinese, and vice versa, with statewide news stories originally produced in English being translated to Spanish, Korean and Chinese.

We tested the program in March with a focus on Spanish translation and are excited to expand it beginning this month, thanks to support from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Lost and found in translation

Historically, due to language barriers in immigrant communities and the lack of nuanced and informed reporting from their languages and perspectives, many immigrants are excluded from participating fully in the creation of public opinion.

Not having first-hand information about an outbreak, not knowing what resources and venues are available to them so they have a voice in the school or political decision-making process, or not knowing what their rights are and what recourse they have to lodge complaints impedes their involvement in a larger New Jersey society.

By translating stories chosen from both the mainstream and ethnic media, the Center aims to become a trusted connection point between immigrant and ethnic news outlets in the state and mainstream journalists, city and state government and advocacy groups.

The translated stories will be posted in the Center’s daily COVID-19 newsletter, and will be available for NJ News Commons news partners to republish or rebroadcast with proper attribution.

How stories get selected and distributed

All selected stories for translation will have already been published online or in print by the Center’s media partners. Currently, NJ Spotlight will be the main news source for English-language stories and, for now, Reporte Hispano, Sing Tao Daily and The Korea Daily for in-language stories.

The stories that are written in English will be selected by the Center based on geographical focus, timeliness, importance and cultural nuances. For example, a news story that largely concerns the Latino immigrants in Elizabeth, N.J., may be translated into Spanish. Or, a story about the Asian community in Palisades, N.J., may be translated into Korean, because there is a large concentration of the Korean population in that area.

Each week the translators will check for stories from various publications in Spanish, Chinese and Korean. The translators will pick between three and five stories and send them — along with a short description of what each story is about — to the Center’s coordinator, who will then decide on which stories need to be translated.

For stories that have been translated from English to in-language, they will be distributed to publications in New Jersey that are in Spanish, Chinese or Korean. All translated stories, with permission from the Center’s news partners, are free for re-publication. Stories that have been translated to English can be republished by NJ News Commons members.

Who translates the stories

The project will have four designated translators — Jong won Lee for Korean, Rong Xiaoqing for Chinese, and Kleibeel Marcano and Mariela Santos Muñiz for Spanish — who are all also journalists. They will translate stories from English to in-language and vice versa.

Lee works as an editor and reporter for The Korea Daily-New Jersey and New York; Xiaoqing, a veteran reporter, works for both the mainstream press and Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily in New Jersey/New York; Santos is a Puerto Rico-based freelance journalist who does work related to collaborative journalism for the Center; and Kleibeel Marcano works as editor and publisher of Reporte Hispano, the biggest Spanish-language publication in New Jersey.

With this translated content exchange project, the Center hopes to create a better echo chamber for all of the state’s communities’ concerns, accessible by immigrants and people of color, and by mainstream press and policymakers — a bridge for during and after the coronavirus crisis.

Oni Advincula is the ethnic media program coordinator at the Center for Cooperartive Media. Contact him at oni.advincula@gmail.com or advinculaa@montclair.edu.

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

Center for Cooperative Media

An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair…

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