What constitutes and A1 story? Working at a historically black paper, the Amsterdam News, I have come to learn that the answer to that question can vary greatly depending on community and location. Even the way a story is approached can vary greatly among ethnic and mainstream media.
The black press was first created in 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Brown Russwurm started the first African-American periodical, called Freedom’s Journal, as a way to counter the racist and negative association between black people and the mainstream press. There is now a historically black paper in every large city in the nation. Many other ethnic groups, like the National Association of Hispanic Publications, have followed in the steps of the black press, creating publications targeting and representing their own communities.
“I think the model for ethnic papers started out [as], and definitely still is, the news that others refuse,” said Josh Barker a reporter at the New York Amsterdam News. “We are an outlet for things that happen in the community; use us. There are a lot of sources and ideas that the mainstream media leaves out.”
Our own SPJ Code of Ethics says, “The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.” One of the best ways to do just this is to seek out other points of view, to find the unheard voices in a story. As a society that seeks to connect journalists, one of the best things we can do is look at our peers’ works. It’s no secret that large publications look to the smaller ones for stories; in the same way, journalists can use ethnic and minority publications, and in doing so improve the reach of their own stories. For reports in mainstream media, these papers can offer an important glimpse into communities that you are thinking about covering, but beyond that these papers can serve as feeders for larger, more general publications.
1. READ THE ETHNIC NEWSPAPERS IN YOUR COVERAGE AREA
There are many big news stories broken in minority papers that become national headline news. Being aware of what the black community in Atlanta or the Hispanic community in Texas is most concerned with can lead you to stories affecting the entire state or even the nation. It’s always easy to find a shooting or an arrest within a community that you are not a part of, but finding a success story is where an ethnic paper, well-connected to its community, can help you find something new. Most black papers have a community profile that can be a source of good things happening in an ethnic community: the Amsterdam News has Black New Yorker, and The Carolina Chronicle has a community page.
2. LOOK FOR CONNECTIONS
Some stories are more important to one group than another. Many go across the board and are covered by all papers. Every newspaper in the country covered the November elections, but each had a different story to tell because each community was concerned with a different aspect of the races. In New York, that meant that El Diario, the leading Spanish publication, talked about stances on immigration, while at the Amsterdam News I was focused more on education and law enforcement issues. Being able to report on the concerns of targeted groups can help you get a larger picture.
3. LOOK FOR ANOTHER OPINION
The editorial or opinion page of a paper can offer you a host of new ideas outside your life experience. Filled with the writings of professionals and go-to experts within an ethnic community, that page can also hand you a unique list of sources to contact.
4. MAKE CONNECTIONS
Looking on from a distance is easy, but the ethnic press can also introduce you to a whole community you were never a part of. By attending events publicized in these papers, you can make your own connections and create a link with a minority group that goes beyond an outsider’s perspective.
In a recent meeting, the SPJ Diversity Committee talked about recognizing not only ethnic diversity of all kinds, but diversity within creed and sexual orientation as well. Other minority publications can serve you as a journalist in the same way that the ethnic press does. For example, the LGBT community has many good sources within its various news and media outlets.
Amity Paye is an editorial assistant at the New York Amsterdam News and a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee.
Tagged under: diversity