by Betsy Laikin (@betsybagel)
Last class we heard from two journalists, Rong Xiaoqing, a reporter for over 10 years at the Sing Tao Daily, and Tomasz Deptula, managing editor of Nowy Dziennikthe, the Polish Daily News. Both journalists were awarded the first ever Ethnic Press Fellowships from the Independent Press Association in 2003, and have dedicated their careers to the communities they serve. Their informative and insightful presentations revealed a fascinating glimpse into the world of ethnic media in New York.
Community histories and population projections
Founded in 1971 by former soldiers who emigrated from Poland to America after WW II, the Polish Daily News is now based in New York. Deptula said Polish immigration to America started in the 18th century, and peaked in the late ’70s to the early ’80s, while Poland was under Communist rule. In 2004, their admission into the EU halted almost all immigration to the United States as Poles began working legally in European countries closer to home.
Deptula expressed his concern about the survival of his independent paper, and of the two other local Polish language papers in the city, as his readership is aging and shrinking. His tight budget allows for only eight staff members, which makes it difficult to do in-depth reporting, but the Polish Daily News does cover important topics like employment, housing, homelessness and other needs of the community.
(Photo of Nowy Dziennikthe by Rachel Glickhouse)
When asked how he measures success, Deptula poignantly said: “Our success is when we are not needed any more,” referring to the future when descendants of Polish immigrants will be self-sufficient and more integrated into the community.
Rong Xiaoqing began by talking about the history of Chinese immigration to New York, when the offspring of railroad workers started arriving to New York’s Chinatown in the 1880s. Meanwhile, Chinese immigration to the U.S. was restricted, first by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and then by strict quotas that remained until 1965. This resulted in rampant human smuggling and ID forgery; many Chinese immigrants entered the U.S. by feigning familial relations with phony papers, and were known as “paper sons”
The poorer populations that settled along Broadway became known as the “silent” generation, not wanting to provoke any attention. In the 1980s, Chinese immigrants arrived from the Fujam province, creating a language divide, as they spoke Mandarin instead of Cantonese, the language of earlier Chinese immigrants.
This population is increasing well beyond Chinatown; nine neighborhoods are now at least 25 percent Chinese. From the 90s and continuing to this day, educated, wealthy and tech-savvy immigrants with no memories of the “poor” China known to earlier generations, are now arriving in droves. Chinese nationals account for more than 80 percent of EB-5 visas, which are obtained through investing $500,000 into the U.S. economy. It is important to determine future population shifts within your community in order to plan for the future.
Conflicts inside and outside the community
The Chinese community is finally finding its voice in the public sphere. In 2013, after the “killing everyone in China” skit aired on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Chinese Americans spearheaded protests, which resulted in a public apology by Kimmel and ABC.
Chinese visibility was noted most recently when thousands voiced their support for NYPD officer Peter Liang after his indictment. Xiaoqing said she “had never seen so many Chinese Americans protesting before.”
However, diversity, such as geographical, political, language or class, can produce conflicts of interest within the community. Xiaoqing said that New York City Council member Margaret Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, supported the indictment of Peter Liang. A prominent Chinese American soon up for reelection, Chin was criticized by some of her Chinese constituents. When a prominent member takes a different stance than their community, compromises will need to be forged.
Survival of the fittest
As one of five daily Chinese papers in New York, Xiaoqing acknowledged that her paper faced stiff competition. When asked about the possible transition into an online publication, she said fewer people would buy the print edition if it was free online. However, she is aware that competing papers are starting to build an online presence.
Deptula expressed his concern about the survival of his independent paper, and of the two other local Polish language papers in the city, as his readership is aging and shrinking. It will be up to millennials from these communities to determine how ethnic media will evolve.
(From L to R, Professor Jeff Jarvis, Tomazs Deptula, and Rong Xiaoqing)
Community sensitivities and taboos
The front pages of both The Polish Daily and the Sing Tao Daily feature news from abroad, signifying the ties their communities have to their home countries. When asked about sensitive issues that arise, Rong Xiaoqing said for her community, it is losing “face” by bringing shame to yourself and your family. For her award-winning investigative report on the mental health of Asian students at Stuyvesant High School, she remarked on the difficulty of finding anyone who would speak about this taboo topic.
Deptula explained that Poles, often very passionate about history, are sensitive about the misconception that “Polish death camps” existed during WW II, as the camps were established and run by German Nazis. In 2012, while in Poland, President Obama upset Poles and Polish-Americans when he used this phrase during a WW II medal ceremony. Xiaoqing then reminded us of a recent incident regarding a pocket watch in Taipei. To avoid a similar fiasco, one must know what makes a community tick.
Spilling the “beats”
Regarding our continuing debate of the relationship of social journalism to advocacy, and how it muddles the traditional definition of journalism, Xiaoqing said she was a staunch follower of journalistic principles, and remained objective throughout her reporting career. But occasionally an issue comes along that makes it more difficult to stay neutral. For example, in 2013, The New York Times first reported that John Liu, the only Chinese candidate to be a serious contender in the mayoral election, was connected to a campaign finance scandal, leading to the ruination of his campaign. Although the Sing Tao Daily News covered this story extensively after it broke, she did find it hard to imagine being the first to report on Liu.
Song of the week: “Chinatown, My Chinatown”
Select from the questions below that best relate to your community:
- If you discover information that could have damaging repercussions for those you serve, and might decrease this community’s trust in you, would you report it? If so, how would you handle it?
- Have you identified any powerful events or movements that occurred in your community, that brought forth increased visibility, justice or social change?
- Have you identified the most sensitive issues in your community? How will this influence your work?
- Rong Xiaoqing spoke of how affirmative action has lowered the acceptance rate of Chinese students to top universities. However, it has helped Asians from countries like Burma and Laos. She posed questions that arise in her community, such as “do you take care of the entire community, or just the majority? Does everyone advance together, or should some benefit before others?” Are there any examples of inequalities within your communities? How are they handled?
- Is the population of your community expanding, shrinking or stagnant? How will this impact your future work, and how will you innovate to accommodate for this?
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