Lessons in matchmaking: connecting community and ethnic media to local government
How a speed-dating event helped build relationships in New York City
By Daniela Gerson, Karen Pennar and Jehangir Khattak
It was Valentine’s Day, but this was not your typical speed-dating event.
Journalists and publishers from outlets that are too often invisible to those in power — among them Weekly Bangalee, Haitian Times, Indian Panorama, Allewa Alarabi, Queens Latino, and dozens more — entered the room. Waiting for them at tables were marketing and press reps for the New York City departments of health, education, human rights, children’s services, buildings and seven other city agencies. Then, in what became more musical chairs than traditional speed dating, the journalists and publishers migrated from one table to another, exchanging information with the city reps for about four minutes until a bell rang and they moved to the next available spot.
At the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism we host dozens of trainings and press conferences for local community and ethnic media every year. Last spring, after three city reps spoke on one of our panels, they were mobbed by publishers eager to share a few words with them and pitch their publications. That’s when New York co-director Karen Pennar realized we needed to create a matchmaking effort of sorts to connect community and ethnic outlets and their government agencies.
A few months later we announced a “speed-dating” event at which people could have meaningful one-on-one time with representatives from the city. The response was overwhelming: 45 outlets signed up.
We know that sustainability and access are critical issues facing the more than 200 community and ethnic media outlets in New York City, just as they are across the country. These outlets, many with newsrooms of five people or fewer, have been hit hard with the same fiscal challenges of local media nationally, but also with additional obstacles due to their often small scale, under-resourced communities, and globalization of news. At the same time, as smaller outlets, they often lack connections to city agencies.
By giving people a chance to network, we watched connections being forged –between the media outlets whose work is in the city’s myriad communities that speak more than 200 languages, and the government entities whose activities and messaging needs to reach deep into those communities. And we’re optimistic that lasting relationships will be formed. (We will check back in to see more about that later.)
Here is what we learned from this event about how other journalism schools, media and immigrant advocacy organizations, city agencies, and others could work with local community and ethnic media and city to create similar connections to their government agencies:
1. Find partners in city government.
The administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has an exceptional awareness of the importance of community and ethnic media, and is unique among cities we know of in that there is a job dedicated to maintaining these relationships. Jose Bayona, director of community and ethnic media at City Hall, was a thoughtful and effective partner, lining up the agencies and departments who attended. You may not have the resources we have in New York, but somewhere in your city government is likely a person who understands the value in connecting with community and ethnic media. If there is one, start with the municipal office of immigrant affairs, or with the press office. “They should have portfolios and one of the portfolios should be on community and ethnic media,” suggests Bayona. If there is no one in a position to coordinate an effort, you could try and reach out one by one: Any agency that is committed to reaching all diverse residents may be interested, from schools to hospitals.
2. Connect with your local community and ethnic media.
Jehangir Khattak, New York co-director of CCEM, has spent more than a decade cultivating relationships with local community and ethnic media. Establishing trust is critical, as well as having an understanding of the particular challenges small, locally oriented media outlets face on a day-to-day basis. Whether you’re a journalism school, local community foundation, advocacy organization or media group, a first step is to make sure you have connections with your community and ethnic media outlets. Review your local census data to know what the big communities are by place of birth and race and ethnicity. (Census Reporter is a great resource for helping with this data.) Connect with city government, advocacy organizations, and if you are in a small enough place just visiting local restaurants, parks and other community gathering points and asking people where they get their news is a start to surveying your local outlets. While establishing relationships requires a dedicated effort, these are first steps that can be taken in that direction.
3. Prepare all parties for the “speed dating.”
Bringing the different sides together was one thing. Making sure there was a meaningful match takes work. Jehangir informed the news outlets that they should come prepared with basic information to make the encounter effective: Their publication’s frequency, languages, demographic reach. We also encouraged them to bring their media kit, business card and discuss any story ideas as well. The event was not only about getting more advertising dollars from the city, but also about learning the work of different city agencies that may have a direct impact on their readers, and generating possible story ideas about that work.
At the same time, Jose Bayona, at the mayor’s office, made sure to prepare the agencies to engage, regardless of size of the outlet or community being served. “City government has to understand that the small communities get connected to these small outlets,” Bayona said. “Do not underestimate any of the small outlets. They reach a lot of the people.”
4. Test out different formats.
While having both marketing and spokespeople present was particularly effective for us, there are other options that work with this format. Public Narrative in Chicago runs quarterly speed-dating events to connect neighborhood thought leaders and organizations with journalists, to focus on issue reporting. In South Los Angeles, marking the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots, media outlets and community organizations were connected in a speed-dating format to test out solutions journalism approaches to local reporting.
Have you adopted a speed-dating approach in your community to connect under-represented media outlets and city agencies or local organizations? Please let us know of other examples.
Daniela Gerson is West Coast Director or the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Karen Pennar and Jehangir Khattak are the New York co-directors.