The impact of ethnic media — Too often overlooked

The World from PRI did a wonderful piece yesterday (11/7/11) on the role the Chinese-language media are playing in the San Francisco elections.

The Power of San Francisco’s Chinese Press

The newspapers referenced in the piece are mostly ones from Hong Kong or Taiwan, and only one has endorsed a candidate. But that does not mean the papers have little influence.

David Lee, head of the non-profit, nonpartisan Chinese American Voter Education Committee, says the strength of Chinese-language papers here cannot be underestimated.

“The Chinese community has a very strong history of newspaper readership,” he says. “And many of our senior citizens for instance, retirees, read upwards to three or four papers every day. So that they can get a full picture of what’s going on.”

I have argued for years that mainstream news organizations need to pay more attention to what is happening in the ethnic communities in their readership/viewer/listener areas. And that one of the easiest ways is to pay attention to what the newspapers geared to those communities are saying and doing.

Gaining access and the trust of the local immigrant communities is also a way to use local resources to get a local handle on international events. (See bean counters: Local! Local! Local! for international stories.)

The decline in the quality and quantity of international reporting by most U.S.  news organizations leaves everyone uninformed about key global  events that can (and often do) have a direct local impact.

The really sad part is that the local main stream media, but not adequately covering international events and the local immigrant communities are passing up hundreds if not thousands of new subscribers/listeners/viewers.

Just pay attention to the final part of The World story:

It’s hard to gauge the real influence of all the Chinese language papers. But there’s little question that they are being read. A lot.

Dan Chu, a real estate agent who moved to California from Hong Kong 30 years ago, lingers over a copy of Sing Tao at a Chinese bakery. He’s not satisfied by the San Francisco Chronicle’s small foreign news section.

“They’re very narrow,” says Chu. “Americans only talk about themselves. They don’t talk about other parts of the world. They don’t talk about Europe, they don’t talk about Asia.”

In contrast, with Sing Tao Daily, Chu says, “Look at all the pages, so many pages. You know I get to see the whole picture of the world.”

It seems that if local papers want to be relevant to tens of thousands of potential readers, not to mention voters, they might have to change their focus pretty soon.

Having read the Hong Kong and Taiwan papers while in those territories I can add that they do cover the world a whole lot better than most American newspapers.

There is a thirst for knowledge. But too many news organizations are feeding their audiences sugar drinks instead of something with nutritional value because that is what the marketeers have told them the public wants.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

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