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Ethnic Media's Coming-Out Party Occurs Against Stark Backdrop

Poynter Online, News Report, Joe Grimm Posted: Nov 20, 2008

In a week when mainstream media continued to contract, ethnic media had a coming-out party in Detroit as a new directory and Web hub were unveiled at a conference at Wayne State University on Friday.

In the second such undertaking in the U.S., New Michigan Media has assembled a list of more than 140 outlets.

New Michigan Media is modeled after New America Media, founded in California by Sandy Close, who flew in on a red-eye to speak at the conference. New Michigan Media is directed by Hayg Oshagan of Wayne State University's Department of Communication. It follows Close's vision to identify, unite and support ethnic journalism in print, broadcast and digital. That sector is large and varied.

Michigan print publishers alone at the conference -- African American, Arab, Chaldean, Muslim, Latino, Korean, Chinese, German, Italian, Polish and more -- have a combined circulation exceeding 200,000, more than The Detroit News. And then there is radio, TV, magazines and Web.

Representatives at the conference were varied:

* The German-language N.A. Wochen-Post, founded in Detroit in 1854, which now has readers in all 50 states.
* The (Ecorse, Mich.) Telegram, founded in 1944, which Gina C. Wilson bought just a couple of years ago after she quit engineering. She has expanded to adjacent communities and is now looking to distribute the African-American newspaper in Canada.
* Tack Yong-Kim, who publishes two Korean weeklies so he can target better within that market and drop ad rates on one paper if a disruptor comes in.
* A Chinese-language paper that covers the auto industry and is printed in Detroit and China. It is so new it was not in the ethnic media directory yet.
* Two Lithuanian radio programs.

The first goal for New Michigan Media, which is funded by the McCormick Foundation, was to catalog all the ethnic media in the state -- the second state after California to do so. That was accomplished with the release of an ethnic media directory of 138 outlets, assembled with a lot of legwork by Oshagan's associate, Anne Marie Tyszka. That will grow; the Web site already has a few more listings than the paper copy.

Signs of growth in ethnic media contrasted with Michigan's shrinking newspaper and auto sectors.

That day, 29 miles up Woodward Avenue, which runs past the conference room, three copy editors lost their jobs at the Journal Register's Oakland Press. The company had announced earlier in the week that it will close some dailies and weeklies in Connecticut. Its Michigan acquisitions helped tip it into trouble, and they could be in jeopardy, too. And earlier in the week, Advance Publications announced it is downsizing eight Michigan dailies.

A couple of the speakers had ties to the troubled auto business. A featured speaker, Miriam Muly, left a job as executive director of diversity growth markets at General Motors to found The 85% Niche consultancy.

She spoke of untapped consumer markets, especially among minority groups and women who control billions of dollars in consumer spending. One issue that arose in the conference was that some of these media serve minority audiences while some serve other ethnic groups, which means they don't all have access to the same kind of advertising dollars. One publisher asked how these publications could overcome those differences.

While ethnic media reflect the innovation, entrepreneurship and community that mainstream media are looking for, they are also bedeviled by the chase for advertising dollars.

"I'm a journalist. I never expected to have to get advertising," Close said. Yet "I actually like it. I love it." She advised ethnic media -- which she called an advocacy group because they work with their communities and speak for them -- to work as a group and seek their share of advertising for the 2010 census, insurers and others trying to reach ethnic markets.

She told them to go after businesses like their own. "Without you, the small businesses would have a very difficult time advertising," she said. "Advertising in the ethnic media is what grows the small-business base."

She suggested they make a dollars-and-cents case to go after government advertising. "You can't govern without communicating, and mainstream media is shrinking. We're it," she said.

While ethnic media have community connections that big media do not, they are behind on the Web. Part of the launch was a tour through the New Michigan Media Web site, www.newmichiganmedia.com.

The site has stories in several languages as well as audio and video. While it carries no advertising yet, the idea is that members will post and maintain news from their own outlets and then share in advertising revenue brought in by the site.

"It is up to you to turn this potential into something that is real," project director Oshagan said.

Joe Grimm writes Poynter's "Ask the Recruiter" column, is a visiting editor at Michigan State University�s School of Journalism and is an editor with the Native American news site Reznet.

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