About 40 percent of New York City’s residents were born abroad and speak a foreign language at home. To get news and information about their homeland and their local communities, many immigrant and ethnic communities depend upon New York’s estimated 350 radio, TV, print and Internet outlets that cater to them.
Each year, the best of the city’s ethnic and community media are honored with the Independent Press awards, better known as the Ippies.
Professional journalists from the city's ethnic and community media gathered in the main newsroom of the City University of New York’s School of Journalism recently for the awards ceremony. They came to honor a variety of stories that reflects the city’s multicultural landscape.
One Ippie award went to a Chinese newspaper that published a series about the continuing economic impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Chinatown, near Ground Zero.
A radio story that examined challenges faced by gay immigrant youth in their communities garnered another award.
A Harlem-based periodical was recognized for its investigation into the dearth of black students at elite New York City public high schools.
“The daily mainstream press for the most part doesn’t cover these neighborhood stories and these immigrant communities, and these media outlets do,” says Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor and publisher of the Haitian Times.
Pierre-Pierre, who also directs City University’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media, says lively grassroots reporting is good for the community and the city as a whole.
“Because [an] informed community is a strong and powerful community," he says. "We live in a democratic society… and as you get involved citizens, we are interconnected, our lives are intertwined.”
Education has traditionally been an immigrant gateway to the American Dream, but a winning editorial in YCTeen showed how walking that path can be tricky.
Marie Glancy is an editor at the paper, which is written by and for the city’s teens. She says that when a salesperson from one of the city’s for-profit colleges visited Marco Salazar’s high school class…
“… Marco realized a lot of his peers were very excited about the idea of being accepted to these colleges, not realizing that for-profit colleges will accept almost anybody and are more about making a profit than often about educating students… So Marco went home and did a lot of research and he found out a lot about a lot of lawsuits and complaints that have been lodged against some of the for-profit colleges. And he wrote this story sort of warning his peers about not getting involved in something like this.”
Some native New Yorkers, like the city’s immigrant affairs commissioner, Fatima Shama, read the ethnic press to maintain a link with their parents’ roots. Shama’s father is Palestinian and her mother is Brazilian.
“Until today my mom still reads three different Brazilian newspapers every week, and it matters to her," Shama says. "These are papers that are generated here. I read them with her - which is great. I can keep up my Portuguese.”
Some stories are datelined in the homeland. Reporters Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives of Haiti Liberte won an Ippie for their investigative series about sweatshops in Haiti. Ives says they followed up on leaked government documents revealing that in 2007, foreign contractors worked with U.S. embassy staff to oppose calls by sweatshop workers for a wage increase, from $1.75 to $5 per day.
“There was a push by the US embassy, working with contractors working for big labels like Levis, Haines, Fruit of the Loom, who fought that and said that $5 a day was too much of a wage to pay the Haitian workers, that they should only pay $3 dollars a day," Ives says. "And that is in fact what they ended up paying, at least for a year. It finally did go up to $5, but the US embassy fought that raise up to $5 tooth and nail.”
Life among the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was the focus of a winning video feature story by Nate Lavey of the Jewish Daily Forward. It examined the group’s custom of naming girls Chaya Mushka after the late wife of their Grand Rabbi.
“So you will walk into an all-girls school in Crown Heights and ask if there are any Chaya Mushkas in the class, and 50 percent of the class will raise their hands," Lavey says. "There are many different nicknames that they go by – Chaya, Mushkee, Mushkele, these sorts of things."
As long as New York continues to be a magnet for immigrants, there will be ethnic media there to keep them informed and entertained. However, as with the mainstream press, the Internet is becoming a key vehicle for conveying the message - a fact reflected by the many Internet-based Ippie awards this year.
Also, satellite television has made news from the homeland easier to come by. That in turn has shifted the focus of many ethnic media outlets to what is truly local and community based here in America.