Journalism Education Embraces Ethnic Media

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by Christina Hernandez

As the Oregonian newspaper’s first race and ethnicity beat reporter, Angie Chuang turned to ethnic media outlets to help her stay abreast of community issues and identify sources she should get to know. So when she became an assistant journalism professor at American University in Washington, D.C., Chuang aimed to share the importance of ethnic media with her mostly White students

In her ‘Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting’ class, Chuang’s students follow the city’s newspapers, magazines and television and radio stations that cater to particular ethnic groups. They track important issues, such as immigration, to compare coverage in mainstream media with reporting in the ethnic outlets.

“We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t paying attention to ethnic media,” Chuang says. “It is part of who we are as a society and what we’re becoming as a city and a country.”

At colleges and universities across the country, the study of ethnic media is growing. Some schools, such as California State University, Northridge, sanction student-written ethnic publications. The University of Georgia and Louisiana State University, among others, host events for ethnic media reporters.

The expanding interest in ethnic media is, at least partly, a practical one. While many mainstream media outlets face declining revenues and readership, ethnic media is growing, according to a 2009 study by pollster Sergio Bendixen. His report showed that the number of U.S. adults consuming ethnic media grew from 51 million in 2005 to 57 million last year.

Aside from preparing young reporters for a changing journalism job market, proponents say, incorporating ethnic media into journalism classes and into institutions’ culture can expand students’ perspectives and change perceptions. Similarly, support for ethnic outlets through educational workshops and other opportunities can help maintain media diversity on campus — and off.

“Ethnic media is filling the gap of what mainstream media has not been able to cover,” says Odette Keeley, news anchor and executive producer at New America Media, a national collaboration and advocate of 2,000 ethnic news organizations. Keeley helps coordinate New America Media’s network of about 50 journalism school partners.

“These [journalism school and] ethnic media partnerships are truly giving college students a richer, more comprehensive and hands-on approach to their courses,” she says, “and giving them the unique opportunity to learn more directly about ethnic media news outlets in their neighborhoods and in their region.”

In Los Angeles, ethnic media outlets range from newspapers to radio stations. “Ethnic media has a strong presence,” says Dr. José Luis Benavides, chair of the journalism department at California State University, Northridge. “It’s not in the margins anymore.”

Since at least 2003, Northridge has paid attention to that shift. When one of Benavides’ students suggested creating a Latino-focused insert for the on-campus student newspaper, El Nuevo Sol was born. The publication served to expand coverage of Latino issues on campus while working in the mainstream publication’s newsroom.

For a few years, El Nuevo Sol was published three to four times each semester. When Northridge began offering a Spanish-language journalism minor, the publication expanded to include a multimedia component – and student work grew more ambitious. El Nuevo Sol has covered the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Latino community and the importance of immigrants to California’s economy, Benavides says.

The Spanish-language journalism minor has been so successful — with students interning for both English- and Spanish-language media outlets — Benavides says he plans to submit a proposal to turn it into a major. “There are many issues that are covered differently and are covered better by ethnic media,” he says. “It has a different kind of impact.”

For one thing, having reporters who speak Spanish and who come from Latino homes can help improve access to these undercovered communities.

Similarly, students in Chuang’s course at American University have worked for the ethnic outlets they studied. “I’ve had students profile an ethnic media outlet and then get an internship there and then get a job there,” Chuang says. “There might be growing opportunities where the mainstream media is shrinking.”

American daily newspapers have shed 13,500 newsroom jobs since 2007, according to the Association of Newspaper Editors. Minority representation in those newsrooms dropped 1.5 percent from 2008 to 13.26 percent in 2009, according to ASNE’s 2010 Census.

Reaching Out

At American University and other schools nationwide, the focus on ethnic media reaches outside the classroom. Each year, Chuang organizes an event to support Washington-area ethnic media. At the first event, three local school superintendents conducted an on-the-record discussion with ethnic media reporters.

In late 2008, the university hosted an ethnic media awards ceremony, recognizing more than a dozen journalists from media outlets in the region. A reporter for Zethiopia, a bilingual newspaper produced in Washington, D.C., that covers America’s Ethiopian community, and the Baltimore Jewish Times were among the award winners. “Almost everybody says ‘I’ve never received such recognition for what I do,’” Chuang says.

Other higher education institutions focus on educational opportunities geared toward ethnic media reporters. Last spring, ethnic media journalists from throughout Louisiana attended workshops sponsored by the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. Topics ranged from using social media as a communication tool to creating an advertising cooperative that could help the small ethnic media outlets garner bigger accounts, says Dr. Ralph Izard, the school’s interim dean.

“They felt a real strong need to communicate more with each other,” he says of the participants.

In November, LSU will sponsor a symposium in New Orleans to prepare an analysis of the role ethnic media plays in society. “Among the things we’re interested in is the impact of the ethnic media on the electoral process,” Izard says. The comprehensive report, to be compiled by the academics and journalists in attendance, will be distributed nationally.

The University of Georgia also provides support for ethnic publications. Because ethnic media reporters are “often not invited to the professional development activities of journalism schools,” the university in 2008 hosted a family weekend for ethnic journalists and their children, says Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

While the adults took part in journalism training sessions, their children took tours of the school’s libraries, athletic facilities and historic buildings, even stopping at the on-campus television station, Thomas says. Before the weekend was out, the young people met with undergraduate admissions counselors to discuss the path to college.

“Any academic journalist who wants to work with ethnic media organizations,” she says, “you really have to take down as many barriers as possible.”

As co-editor of the book The Authentic Voice, Arlene Morgan, associate dean of prizes and programs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, helped develop a teaching tool that includes case studies of race and ethnic reporting.

“Since it came out in 2006 there have been a lot of people who have adopted it,” she says. Despite successes, incorporating ethnic coverage into college journalism programs is “a pretty stubborn one to get resolved,” Morgan says.

Resources for ethnic media courses are limited, Morgan notes, especially on campuses in communities with less ethnic diversity.

“Students and teachers will rightly say, ‘We don’t have that in this community,’” she says. “How does one integrate all those perspectives into a curriculum when, in fact, the student is in a largely White environment and doesn’t see the need?”

But Morgan argues that the more students practice ethnic coverage, the more credible they’ll be in covering ethnic issues for mainstream media. She encouraged professors to remember that even predominantly White communities have diversity.

“There are so many ways to get to these stories if you’re curious enough,” she says. “You’ve got to train the teacher to not be afraid of it.”

Journalism professors, Morgan says, should integrate ethnic issues into every class.

“You’re looking for really good story ideas that the student can embrace as something they’re going to use when they get out of the classroom,” she says. “Every journalist needs to understand this.”

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