Media coverage of one of America’s largest Chinese communities usually revolves around food, but some Asian-American journalists want to change that.
Assisted by grants from the McCormick and Ford foundations, the Asian-American Journalists Association launched in April OurChinatown.org, a nonprofit hyperlocal news site presenting news and information on New York City’s Chinatown. The enclave on the city’s Lower East Side has 100,000 residents, two-thirds of whom are Chinese.
“Only when there is a direct impact to the ‘mainstream’ do these communities get coverage, and that means crime or holiday festivities or quaint ethnic rituals,” said Jeff Yang, OurChinatown’s marketing and outreach director. “Food Is very well covered. A survey showed one thing people felt was getting adequate coverage of Chinatown was food.”
Yang said the community, which includes recent immigrants as well as American-born Chinese, faces typical and specific challenges, but receives shallow coverage from existing mainstream outlets to help locals understand the issues.
“Only when there is a direct impact to the ‘mainstream’ do these communities get coverage, and that means crime or holiday festivities or quaint ethnic rituals”
Since Chinatown’s first permanent immigrant arrived in 1858, according to AAJA, the community in recent history has dealt with the SARS health scare, 9-11, and a weak national economy that has adversely affected tourism, one of its economic engine.
“Because New York is the site of the oldest and largest Chinatowns on the east coast, we thought it was a real opportunity to address this particular neighborhood,” Yang said. “One that is so dynamic while at the same time being a real hub of Chinese people in the US.”
OurChinatown.org, one of three “demonstration” projects of AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program, is published daily in English with a weekly news digest in Chinese on a WordPress platform hosted on AAJA’s servers. The outlet is partnering with other ethnic media outlets in the area and is available on different platforms.
The site is run by three principals and five writer-editors, all of whom bring journalism experience and will receive a stipend for their work. The Leadership Program received a $200,000 grant for the three demonstration projects over two years. (The other projects are in Detroit and Chicago and are different in scope.)
“The idea of all three is to look at the media consumption habits in the Asian American community and to engage them in emerging technology platforms,” said Mae Cheng, AAJA Journalism Innovation pilots coordinator. “We specifically picked New York’s Chinatown for this project because of its vibrancy but also because it has historically been under-covered by the mainstream media.”
The organization, sponsors and other stakeholders will evaluate the site’s progress and sustainability options in August..