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Many Voices, One Vision

Hayg Oshagan, Wayne State University

(from left) Bill Imada, IW Group, Angie Chuang, American University,
and Kenny Irby, Poynter Institute

Sergio Bendixen, Bendixen & Associates

Sallie Hughes, University of Miami

Breaux Symposium Recap

The Influence of Ethnic Media on Politics and Participation

By Carol Nunnelley

(Baton Rouge, La., Nov. 5, 2010) - There are Twitter feeds geared to Spanish speakers.  Are these ethnic media?

Angie Chuang, assistant professor of journalism at American University’s School of Communication, tossed that question to fellow panelists this week at The 2010 Breaux Symposium in New Orleans and urged them to start thinking more about the online world.  The gathering of journalists, scholars and researchers explored the topic, “The Influence of Ethnic Media on Politics and Participation.”

They examined the ethnic media’s traditions of advocacy, entrepreneurship and community relevance that are important to preserve.  They looked at ethnic media’s current successes in reaching growing audiences and problems in generating income and having their voices heard by political powers.   They imagined how ethnic media may thrive in a future of successful corporate-owned, foreign-language television stations and an internet with hundreds of Twitter, Facebook and other connections.

This year’s Breaux Symposium, held Nov. 1 and 2, was the program’s tenth.  All have focused on important journalism issues that receive too little attention. The symposiums are sponsored by the Manship School of Mass Communication’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at Louisiana State University. This year, New America Media, the McCormick Foundation and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism were partners.

Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen and Associates and a pioneer in multi-language polling, believes that ethnic audiences have no trouble identifying ethnic media even in information forms that stretch from Twitter to Univision.  They are something they read or watch that seem “oriented to their interests,” he said.

Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, believes ethnic media’s distinction of creating a sense of “we” with audiences should position them well in the new information world.  “‘We’ in the world of blogs is a very important influence,” she said.

The risk, Close said, is that a lack of resources will hinder ethnic media in dealing with new technology and reporting missions.

Jon Funabiki, a professor of journalism at San Francisco State University who is developing a center focused on emerging opportunities for community and ethnic media, said he fears that the power of ethnic media might be overtaken by social media, which also are built around communities of common interest.

Félix Gutiérrez, a professor at the University of Southern California, curator of a recent exhibit on Latino Journalism in the U.S. and a Breaux moderator, saw this bottom line: “In a multicultural society, people pay attention to media that pay attention to them.”

The Breaux Symposium discussion was wide-ranging.  Among other topics and comments:

On ethnic media and political power:

Bendixen urged ethnic media to be less conservative in seeking political power.  ‘’I think the ethnic media can have significant influence in American politics, and not only in the U.S. but in the world.  (But) political power is not a given. You have to grab it.”  An example of information from ethnic media that was ignored by political leaders to their detriment was a New America Media poll on the economic stimulus package.  Conducted in September 2009, it showed few Americans of any ethnicity perceived an increase in their paychecks.     

Federico Subervi, journalism professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, contended ethnic media’s claim on both economic and political power relies on continued relevance to the people they hope to reach.
Bill Imada, chairman and CEO of the communications firm IW Group, suggested that ethnic media “are great at being relevant to audiences.  They are not great at being relevant to mass marketers and political power. …Maybe the messenger is wrong.”  He said ethnic media may need to recruit people from the outside to carry their messages, messengers who will be more readily listened to.

Funabiki concluded that ethnic media are not yet playing a major role in national political affairs, although they sometimes are doing so in local affairs.  “There is a real strong cultural resistance to that influence,” he concluded. ”I’m not sure how much ethnic media can change that.”

But Gutiérrez saw power in cooperation among diverse ethnic media. “Ethnic media are campfires in the global village.  Coming together, they can generate greater heat on certain issues.”

On what civic life and journalism would lack if ethnic media traditions are lost:

“Ethnic audiences are sophisticated, cosmopolitan people.  They are less parochial,” Close said. “In a global era, (the nation) has a great resource in immigrant communities that are naturally more skeptical.”

“Coming from a corporate point of view, my clients rely a lot on black radio,” Imada of IW group said.  “If black media were to disappear tomorrow, we would lose a very important litmus test."

Smaller, focused ethnic media offer advertisers, including government, a legitimate advertising audience, suggested Sallie Hughes, associate professor of journalism at the University of Miami. “If 100,000 people speak Creole, (we) need to reach them somehow.”

Tom Arviso, CEO and publisher of the Navajo Times Publishing Company in Window Rock, Ariz., said both ethnic communities and the broader nation would lose important accounts of America’s people. “We are true storytellers, dispelling myths,” he said.

Kenny Irby, a senior faculty member of The Poynter Institute, said:  “The black press grew out of the fight for justice.  It also helped people learn the language and culture.  It’s all about advocacy.” He added, “It was not only telling about discrimination. It was teaching (African-Americans) to vote.”

The role of ethnic media never changes, suggested Hayg Oshagan, an associate professor in the communications department at Detroit’s Wayne State University.  It addresses both the distinctiveness and the assimilation of ethnic communities, he said. 

John Maxwell Hamilton, LSU executive vice chancellor and provost and a moderator, suggested ideas for continuing work after the symposium:  Exploring how ethnic media can play a larger role in original reporting, defining media literacy to include knowledge of ethnic media, and finding a financial model that will support advocacy journalism.     

A full report of the symposium proceedings will be available in 2011.  To receive a copy, please contact Heather Herman, hheathm@lsu.edu. The report also will be posted on the Reilly Center’s website, www.lsu.edu/reillycenter and the Forum on Media Diversity website, www.mediadiversityforum.lsu.edu.   

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Related article:

Dec. 14, 2010
The future of ethnic media

by Angie Chuang

Source: Poynter

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