Ethnic Media Take On Race Challenge
New Poll Highlights Media's Role in Covering Race Relations
December 12, 2007
By Sandip Roy, New America Media, News Report
Editor's Note: The first-ever multilingual poll of black, Hispanic and Asian Americans is a call to action for the ethnic media leaders who sponsored it. While respondents believe that ethnic media are "irresponsible" when it comes to covering race relations, they also describe ethnic media as a vital intermediary for strengthening inter-group communication. NAM Editor Sandip Roy interviewed some of the poll's media sponsors about how they view their shifting role in covering race relations in America.
SAN FRANCISCO -- When Tae Sook Jeong, editor-in-chief of The Korea Times, attended a town hall meeting in San Francisco after a local Asian weekly published a column called "Why I Hate Blacks," he realized it wasn't enough to say sorry.
"We need to know what's being whispered in our own backyards," says Jeong. "We need a get-to-know-each-other campaign." The first national poll of race relations among Asian Americans, African Americans and Hispanics from New America Media is a "starting point" in that campaign, says Jeong.
The Korea Times, along with eight other major ethnic newspapers, signed on as a co-sponsor of the poll because ethnic media are increasingly becoming aware that it's not enough just to cover their own communities.
"This is an extraordinary piece of information that can hopefully help our three communities to have a better understanding of each other," said Pedro Rojas, La Opinión's executive editor.
"Wherever you live and work in the states today, and especially for us in California, learning from communities near us and around us is vital to growing," says Anh Do, vice president of Nguoi Viet Daily News in Westminster, Calif., one of the oldest Vietnamese newspapers in the country and a sponsor of the survey.
"We have to understand what's going on in the real world," agrees Maria Mejia, editor of El Mensajero, a Spanish-language weekly in San Francisco published by ImpreMedia media group, another of the co-sponsors. "People say this is a Latino paper, and that's an African American paper, but we are all part of the same society."
But when it comes to covering that society, ethnic media editors and publishers find themselves navigating through a minefield. When Tim Lau, chief executive officer of the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily, hears stories about crimes in Oakland's Chinatown or San Francisco's Visitacion Valley he worries about how to cover the issue. "There is a perception that the crimes are committed by African Americans," says Lau. "We want victims to report the crimes. But we don't want to add to the stereotypes."
"But it's important to find out if they are real or just anecdotal," says Gail Berkley, editor at the Sun Reporter which serves the African-American community in the San Francisco Bay Area. "Without knowing the facts you cannot have a dialogue."
The New America Media poll found deep racial tensions and suspicions among the main ethnic groups even though there was also widespread optimism about the future of a multi-racial America.
The lack of dialogue between the different ethnic communities worries ethnic media leaders. The poll found that about 70 percent of each ethnic group believed that the media had a responsibility to bring communities together. Kai Ping Liu, deputy city editor of Chinese-language World Journal, worries that the media do not do enough. "It's partly a manpower issue," says Liu. "But we should cover other communities more. It's not just their stories. I would like to learn from them."
Liu says he would like to see more stories about declining African American and Latino enrollment in the University of California system even as numbers of Asian students continue to rise. "We have to learn to share public resources fairly," says Liu who worries about the negative stereotypes many Asians have towards African Americans even as they "enjoy the achievements of the civil rights movement."
But AsianWeek's editor Ted Fang says amidst the tensions and stereotypes, he sees some good news. AsianWeek just held a town hall meeting in San Francisco's Fillmore District, a historically black neighborhood that now houses Japantown. "We brought the African-American and Japanese-American communities together to talk about the future of the area," says Fang. Now Yoshi's Jazz Club, which brings together jazz masters and sushi, has just opened in San Francisco.
Fang had his own taste of the tensions when AsianWeek was in the middle of a firestorm over the "Why I Hate Blacks" column. Now the newspaper is reviewing a novel by one of its former editors about Asian men who develop relationships with black women. "It's about more than political statements," says Fang. "This is about love relationships."
The Sun Reporter's Berkley says she is not surprised with the racial stereotypes found by the poll. But she is heartened that more than 60 percent of each group believes that relations between ethnic groups will get better in the next 10 years.
"That's a hopeful sign," says Berkley. "It's a little surprising because you mostly read about stereotypes and segregated neighborhoods. Perhaps this is where the media can play a role in bringing about a more hopeful future."
The Korea Times is already embarking on that endeavor, says Korea Times' Tae Sook Jeong. The paper is planning a series every other week in 2008, called "Getting Together – Let's Bring Down the Walls."
"I wanted to start this summer," says Jeong. "But I have been waiting for this poll."
The other partners of the poll included Philippine News and Asian Journal.