News in Many Languages
American Today, News Report, Sally Acharya Posted: May 08, 2008
They broadcast around the world from a converted garage, edit glossy magazines from a suburban basement, and come home from long days as coffee servers or computer technicians to publish newspapers read in Kathmandu and Addis Ababa and thousands of homes around Washington, D.C.
Immigration is at historic highs, and one in three Americans now describe themselves as a “minority.” Along with that growth has come a surge of newspapers, Web sites, and television and radio shows for immigrants and members of minority communities.
AU’s School of Communication is taking the lead in creating a connection between ethnic media leaders and the superintendents of area schools that serve an increasingly diverse population. On Wednesday, members of the ethnic media will meet at AU with Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and superintendents from Prince George’s and Arlington counties.
The event is an outgrowth of Angie Chuang’s class, Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting. Chuang comes to AU straight from the newsroom of Portland’s Oregonian, where she developed a race and ethnicity beat, and worked earlier for the Los Angeles Times, where she learned that “when you’re at the LA Times, every story is on race.”
To Chuang, knowing the ethnic media market is a way to be a better reporter. After all, it’s often said that the trend of the future is community-based reporting, which means that journalists will need to know their community better than they could from a chair at the city council meeting or a desk in the newsroom. And increasingly, the community they’re working to reach is a mix of languages, cultures, and races.
Chuang’s class identified more than 70 outlets in more than a dozen languages and profiled 20 of them. Some of the profiles will be included on the Web site of New American Media (NAM), founded by Pacific News Service as an advocacy organization for ethnic media. NAM is cohosting the event with SOC and local school chiefs.
Lisa Tanger’s assignment took her to a ranch house in Vienna, Va., the headquarters of Rang-a-Rang TV. On a wall of monitors arrayed in a small addition to the home of Davar Veiseh, satirical images of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others in the government rolled continuously. A television studio was set up in the garage.
As Tanger took notes, the phone rang. It was a call from Iran, Veiseh said. The caller wanted to air a grievance about the hospital system. The station is picked up in Iran by homes with larger-than-usual satellite dishes, said Veiseh, who also told Tanger that police are on the lookout for those tell-tale dishes.
“There’s no way for me to confirm this from the U.S.,” Tanger said, “but I did speak to a satellite expert, and he said it sounds reasonable. If you’re watching a TV station that uses this dish, you’re basically announcing yourself as a critic of the government.”
The journalism graduate student did further digging by speaking with other local Iranians about the station. “They knew of it, but you could tell there was some hesitation to speak about it,” she said. “When I say ‘satire,’ the word is used very liberally. These are almost blasphemous images of government leaders. It’s really raw.”
There’s a very different feel at another northern Virginia home, which serves as the offices of Zeba magazine. That’s where Katherine Gypson went to chat with a husband-and-wife publishing team as they juggled the needs of their seven-month-old baby with the publication pressures of the glossy lifestyle magazine.
Aimed at Afghan Americans who are negotiating two cultures, Zeba steers clear of politics and religion, preferring to run features on an Afghan designer and other success stories, advice columns that address topics such as living with in-laws, and stories on Afghan Americans working to help the country that many left decades ago. Each issue is translated into Dari, which is printed on the flip side of the glossy, colorful magazine.
While Zeba is a recent magazine, launched two years ago with a party at the Afghan embassy, the Washington Informer has served the District’s African American community since 1964.
Senior Norma Porter found it in the basement of a row house in Southeast Washington, D.C., on a block with Chinese carryouts, convenience stores, and storefront churches. The newspaper, she wrote in her profile, “is heavily entrenched in the community it covers; there are no huge glass windows, security guards, or sign-in sheets in the office. Instead, the door to the Informer is wide open, with the screen door unlocked. The sign on the door reads ‘Yes, We’re open and Black-owned’ in red, black, and green lettering.”
Chuang wants her students to be comfortable walking through the doors that may seem to separate ethnic and minority groups. She made clear to the students that it’s not necessary to be a member of a racial or ethnic community to cover that community. Being a member of the community isn’t even an automatic advantage; in fact, it can bring its own challenges.
As a reporter, Chuang once wrote a feature about the differences between the old Chinatown and the new immigrant enclaves in the suburbs. “It was a great trend story. But the old Chinatown business people were infuriated by the story,” she says. They had expected her, as a second generation Chinese American, to produce a public relations piece that highlighted only the good news.
“They hold me to a different standard, and you have to navigate that,” she says. “There are different advantages and disadvantages. You just have to be aware of what you bring to the table.”
“This assignment really opened my eyes as a future journalist,” Porter said. “I’m interested in writing stories that bridge the cultural gap and help bring us closer together by focusing on what links us together as human beings. This class has equipped me with the journalistic tools to do just that.”
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