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Detroit Ethnic Media Prepare for Digital Transition

New America Media, News Report, Cristina Fernandez-Pereda Posted: Jan 19, 2009

Editor's Note: Briefings for ethnic media on the transition to digital television and its impact on their communities were organized by New America Media as part of a campaign funded by the Leadership Council for Civil Rights. The following is a report by NAM writer Cristina Fernandez-Pereda on a briefing in Detroit, Mich.

DETROIT -- New America Media and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights met with ethnic media in seven states this week to address the lack of information about the transition to digital television. (DTV). Despite the government funds to subsidize the converter boxes and President Obamas request to Congress to postpone the transition, more than one million Americans could wake up on Feb. 17 to a black TV screen.

NAM and LCCR organized these meetings as part of a national educational campaign, collaborating with local community organizations, as a resource for ethnic and underserved communities, who have had many unanswered questions about the transition.
DetroitDerek Blackmon, outreach director for NAACP Detroit Branch,
welcomes ethnic media to the event in Michigan's capital.

LCCR Deputy Director for Field Operations Erica Swanson described the dangers of misinformation surrounding the transition to digital television as a civil rights issue, at last Thursdays convening held at the Detroit NAACP branch.

It impacts people without cable: immigrants, low-income families, the elderly This is about access to local information they need, such as the weather or local news, Swanson said.

One of the reasons people in these communities might not know or have correct information about the transition to digital television is that the government has not invested in advertising in ethnic media outlets.

We need ethnic media to achieve an effective way of putting the message out there. The communities already have the information; the problem is that it is from different sources and they get confused, said Derek Blackmon, Outreach Director at the NAACP in Detroit.

Buying a new television set, subscribing to cable or getting a converter box are some of the options, but the latter is the cheapest one, local campaign coordinator Kendal Conerly told members of the ethnic media who attended the event in Detroit.

The U.S. government launched a $1.34 billion program to help consumers with analogue televisions pay for the converter boxes that will allow them to watch digital television after Feb. 17. However, this program has run out of money and applicants are now being put on a waiting list.

As coupons expire [after 90 days] others will be freed up, so we want to make sure people are on the waiting list, Swanson said.
Detroit 2Kendal Conerly, local campaign coordinator,
shows attendees how to install the DTV converter box.

Working with local churches, non-profit organizations or even outreach to young people more familiar with new technologies and the Internet are some of the next steps that ethnic media organizations plan to take.

I reached out to my daughter to tell her about the transition to digital TV and all she said was, I know, its all over the Internet, said Bassam Mourad, editor at the Alhadath Newspaper in Detroit.

Even though the FCC has set up a Web site and a phone number where anyone can call to get information about the transition, ethnic media are concerned that technology is not always the best ally for some in their communities.

I can write anything about the transition to digital television, but I always end up thinking about my grandma. And I know that, at the end of the day, she is not going to read a story telling her that she has to buy a box to watch television, said Catherine Kelley from the Michigan Citizen.

The difficulties of calling the customer service number to learn how to hook up the box, or even going online to download the coupon application, are some of the challenges organizations are trying to overcome.

To do this, they are working side by side with ethnic media.

While, the NAACP Detroit branch and ACCESS in Dearborn will be serving the greater Detroit area as assistance centers, where people with questions or concerns can come to either location for 1 on 1 support. ethnic newspapers plan to print a copy of the coupon application with their next issue.

Meanwhile, religious gatherings could become an effective channel to educate communities about how to install a converter box, just as Kendal Conerly demonstrated in front of the ethnic media reporters in Detroit.

In addition, These events also proved that some of the communities specific concerns are out of the federal governments reach. Cecilia Ijar, from the Latino Press, described how the Hispanic community largely accesses television through satellite dishes that reach channels back in their home countries. They are being told that they still need the converter boxes, but they will be able to watch the same channels after Feb. 17.

We have to fight the feeling that they have, that this is imposed on them, Blackmon said. Theres a lack of trust and we have to give them all the best information as soon as possible.

For more information on the transition to digital television, visit www.newamericamedia.org and click on the DTV icon or visit www.civilrights.org/dtv. Or contact the local assistance centers: NAACP Detroit branch: 8220 Second Ave, 313 871-2087 or ACCESS, 2651 Saulino Ct. Dearborn, MI 48120 313- 842-7010.

Photos: Cristina Fernandez-Pereda / New America Media

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