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CUNY’s Immigrant and Ethnic Press Connection: J-School's Community Media Center

With its nexus of high-powered publishers, broadcasters and advertising agencies, New York is often known as the “media capital of the world.” But New York City is also home to a parallel media universe made up of hundreds of ethnic and community publications that reach into nearly every neighborhood in the metropolis.

These community-based newspapers and websites often receive little recognition or support – and that’s something that CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism aims to change, as it prepares to launch the its New York Community and Ethnic Media Center.

UNDER THE RADAR

“Mainstream media gets lots of attention, [but] these people are under the radar,” says Professor Sarah Bartlett, director of the Journalism School’s Urban Reporting Program. “We want to keep the playing field level.”

New York City has the largest ethnic press in the country. Its roughly 400 publications include 54 in Spanish, 7 in Chinese, and about a dozen in Bengali. Operating in a city in which 36% of residents are foreign-born and nearly half speak a language other than English at home, the ethnic press is able to develop a close bond with its readers that larger counterparts cannot match.

The Community and Ethnic Media Center will assist publications like these, which face similar technological and economic challenges to their larger mainstream counterparts, as journalism finds its way in an uncertain future. A major focus of CUNY’s Journalism School is finding the forms through which good journalism can have a sustainable future, and ethnic and community-based publications may be able to play an important role.

“We want to be the place for innovation for ethnic media,” says Project Director Garry Pierre-Pierre, a Pulitzer winning reporter formerly at the New York Times who founded the Brooklyn-based Haitian Times in 1999.

The Haitian Times circulates in central Brooklyn and southeast Queens. Its print run has dropped from a peak of 15,000 to 5,000, but it has built a growing online readership in other areas – South Florida, Boston, San Francisco – that are home to large numbers of Haitian immigrants.

The Center will help such publications navigate today’s changing media landscape. “I live and breathe this,” says Pierre-Pierre. “I know how to avoid dead ends so we can get down to the things that work.”

Blackandbrownnews.com, which covers stories and perspectives of interest to the black and Latino communities, could be an example of ethnic media’s future, and the role that the Community and Ethnic Media Center might play. Based on the internet since its inception in 2006, BBN has broken news stories that were later picked up by larger publications like The New York Times. BBN’s website was overdue for a redesign, but it lacked the resources to make this happen.

Now, with support from a Journalism School student, BBN is looking forward to the launch of a new website this fall. Its founder and managing editor, Sharon Toomer, who has previously been a CNN producer and communications coordinator for the PSC, has attended J-School training on sustainability models, multimedia production and social media strategies. “We entered 2011 not sure how we could continue,” she told Clarion. “Now we see endless possibilities for how BBN can better serve NYC.”

Bartlett says she expects funding to be in place to formally open the Center in 2012. Meanwhile, the Journalism School is moving rapidly to assemble various parts of the project.

VOICES

This summer it acquired Voices That Must Be Heard (since renamed Voices of New York), a weekly electronic newsletter established by the New York Community Media Alliance (NYCMA), which aggregates and translates work from the city’s ethnic and community papers. Voices will become a 24/7 website and the Journalism School will provide its members with training in production of videos, podcasts, and photo slideshows for the web.

Other projects in the works include recruiting more translators in a wider range of languages; providing advice on market research; launching an internet radio station; and helping publications deliver content via mobile phones.

Fifteen percent of CUNY Journalism School students intern with community and ethnic papers, and 40% of its graduates are people of color and/or first generation immigrants. “The newsrooms in this city will become more diverse,” says Pierre-Pierre, and the Community and Ethnic Media Center will play a role in that process.

Using New York City as a laboratory, the Center will experiment with how to help community and ethnic media strengthen and grow. Pierre-Pierre and Bartlett hope eventually to replicate the Center’s successes in other cities. For now, much work remains to be done here in New York.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” says Bartlett, “but it’s going to take time.”