Insights from the world of ethnic media

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.

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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.

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(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?

More design thinking and the people formerly known as “the audience”

by Emily Goldblum @emilygoldblum

At one point during Clay Shirky’s TED talk he mentions, “What matters here isn’t technical capital, it’s social capital.”

Shirky then goes into a larger explanation about how more diverse voices can be heard, regarded and even answered today, thanks to the explosion of interactive digital media. He adds: “Now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we’re all in this together.”

This is what what we’re all here for. This is our movement (dramatic or semi-truth?). Instead of a one-way connection between the media and the public, people are able to talk back. The internet hasn’t stunted the growth of journalism, but extended it and given the opportunity for multiple touchpoints with our readers instead of one to many.

The article by Jay Rosen complemented Clay Shirky’s TED Talk extremely well. Rosen mentions that there is no longer a passive “audience. ”Instead of just being spoken to, people can speak back and to each other. This doesn’t mean they’ll always get a response in return, but if a large amount of people want a response, journalists often feel pressure to respond. Think about all of our communities and how we’re attempting to (if we haven’t already) boil down one issue/something worth protecting. We could be the trigger in setting off more of these “horizontal” conversations.

During class, we regrouped after going out and approaching New Jersey commuters in Penn Station. We had left last week’s class with a mission in mind: what could make commutes easier from or to New Jersey? When it came down to it , we uncovered some concerns any commuter in NYC can relate to. We observed people. They may have had headphones in or they were sprinting to the subways in order to get to work or go home. Most of those who stood waiting were engrossed in their phones. In general, people seemed flustered, frustrated and sometimes even defeated. We approached them anyway. This deserves some kudos.

We learned through the commuters that they were anxious about getting on the train. They just wanted to be wherever they needed to be.

Professor Jarvis spoke about Clever Commute, which has both free and paid services to make commutes easier. One free service within Clever Commute allows the user to find the track their train would be on. Although it’s in beta, this helps eliminate anxiety for those waiting for their track number to appear on the screen in Penn Station.

Erica told us about the NJTLight App, has a four star rating in the iPhone app store, with over 50 ratings. This app gives you the train schedule in a PDF format so you’ll be able to download it on your phone in case you don’t have service.  If you’re creating an app for the pitch next week, you can read some of the comments on the app’s reviews. This gives a good idea of what else communters might want to see, i.e. Jake Rockwel mentioned that he’d like to see a better alert system when delays occur;  “Renpek84” mentioned that he/she would really love to see buses and trains included.

After further discussion, we brought all of these ideas onto the whiteboard and switched into design thinking mode. What do these commuters need? How will whatever we create for them affect them and help them?Will it last? We spoke about reoccuring themes. Breaking into our groups with design thinking/innovation in mind, everyone chose one issue that they’d wanted to solve for commuters.

Working together, we worked to focus on that one specific problem, and once we got into the ideation phase, we brainstormed useful solutions. What could we do with all of these great ideas? What’s realistic?

We were able to then share our new ideas and get feedback in order to hone in on what it is we want to accomplish for Luis’ group was animated in their presentation, presenting a potential app that knew a lot about its potential users. It gave commuters the option to chat/complain/question what was happening with their train line. For example, the group presented a situation in which a train was delayed, and Julia opened up a chat feature so that she could ask others what was happening.

My group talked about possibly creating an add-on for’s website in which a stream would live on the right side of the screen. You’d be able to search for potential train delays by typing in your area, and also toggle back and forth between info you need going home vs. traveling to work.

I’m looking forward to hearing every group’s pitch next week, whether it be expanding on their original ideas or presenting something new.


Can you share a few tips on getting interviewees to open up, if any? I enjoyed hearing about this in class, whether it was opening up the conversation with compliments or getting straight to the point.

Building Empathy: Using Design Thinking to Understand Communities

by Carrie Brown @brizzyc 

“Your first challenge, if you choose to accept it: Learn the techniques of design thinking to better understand your communities’ needs and how you can develop products and services that will help them solve problems.”

This was how we launched our Community Engagement course in the Social Journalism program at CUNY. Our goal is to explore a number of different strategies from outside traditional journalism for listening to communities.

Design thinking originates with the d School at Stanford and is now widely practiced in a variety of different industries. I was lucky enough to learn about it at the Memphis Innovation Bootcamp and practice it at the Online News Association’s dCamp: Mobile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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We began with an in-class exercise that runs students through the basic steps (shown above) quickly, working with each other.

Design thinking involves prototyping aka art projects
Design thinking involves prototyping aka art projects
See how much fun they are having?!? (Okay, they *may* have just been humoring us)
See how much fun they are having?!? (Okay, they *may* have just been humoring us)

So, after finishing the exercise and reflecting on the process, it was time to put design thinking in action in the “real world.” The students next task:

A Real Design Challenge: Improving the Daily Commute*

  • How do you improve the daily commute?
  • What would make the perfect commute? If you couldn’t change the time spent commuting, what would make the experience better?
  • We know that many commuters learn about the news  by listening/reading on their way to school or work. How could we boost that number? How can we improve that experience for them?

*Shout-out to my wonderful former student at the University of Memphis, Burton Bridges, who came up with this idea.

Design thinking gurus preach that learning design thinking should always involve tackling a challenge that is “real.” This one most definitely is. Commuting in New York is something nearly everyone experiences, and there is often no shortage of, er, emotion around it, regardless of the mode of transportation one may use.  Even better, my co-prof Jeff Jarvis is in the early stages of talking to folks at and Waze to think about ways to serve the commuter community, so the ideas students come up with in the process will be useful in a very concrete way.

Step one in the design thinking process is empathy: Using careful observation and interviews, developing a personal understanding of your audience/users’ experiences. So this week, students headed to Penn Station and other New Jersey commuter hubs to talk to people. Can’t wait to hear about what they found.