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What is the New York Community Media Alliance?

Approximately 25 percent of all American adults rely on ethnic media for their news – a total of about 51 million people. In New York City, this ethnic and community media sector  includes close to 350 weeklies and 26 foreign-language dailies, and reaches a readership of well over 3.5 million, 1.8 million of whom have little or no English-language skills, according to the Mayor's Office on Immigrant Affairs. Well over one-third of these publications are distributed nationally, extending the impact of their reporting beyond the confines of their neighborhood, city and state.
Founded in 2007, the New York Community Media Alliance (NYCMA) is a member-driven organization that promotes and advocates for the ethnic and community media sector in New York. Through a cluster of programs called the Grassroots Media Project (GMP), the NYCMA encourages informed public participation in communities not well-served by mainstream media, which include  low-income and working-class communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities where English is not the primary language. The GMP helps to strengthen the quality of editorial and business reporting, advocates on for access to information on behalf of immigrant and community journalists, and fosters coalition building within the ethnic and community media sector aimed at demanding transparency and accountability from local, state and federal governments. These programs help to pass on news and analyses from these often disenfranchised communities. They include:
1. The Ethnic and Community Press Fellowship—a 10 month program offering journalists training to strengthen their investigative reporting skills, networking opportunities with city and advocacy leaders for a more in-depth understanding of the issues, and assistance in expanding their pool of resources. `
2. “Voices That Must Be Heard”—a weekly online publication that culls articles from NYC’s ethnic and community press and translates them into English when appropriate, reaching 20,000 readers including mainstream journalists, advocacy groups, city and state agencies, and students.
3. The Independent Press Institute (IPI)—offers press briefings to ethnic and community journalists, and technical workshops to editors and marketing staff. 
4. The Ad Service—a program designed to draw advertisers to the network of ethnic and community newspapers, which are not always as well-known or accessible, to help the publications meet their bottom line.
5. The “IPPIES Awards”—the only journalism awards in NYC to honor reporting in this media sector, both in English and in languages other than English.
6. Many Voices, One City—an ethnic and community press directory for NYC and the metropolitan area.  
The NYCMA reaches people between the ages of 25 to 60. However, its main target audience includes groups of young adults, low-income people of color, and young academics perceived as future community leaders. The organization is working to contest a media environment that fails to acknowledge and perceive in a nuanced way the needs and concerns of the ethnically diverse communities and communities of color that continue to emerge and represent 60 percent of New York City’s residents. It holds itself accountable to the communities it serves by engaging in a constant process of self-evaluation;  members meet regularly to go over publications and make sure that their work continues to be aligned with their own original principles. The NYCMA is funded by some of the most prominent private foundations in the U.S. the Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates Foundations), and it actively uses Facebook.com and Twitter.com in order to raise awareness amongst people beyond the standard media outlets. 

Why is the Alliance Important?

The communities the NYCMA serves are the most disenfranchised sectors of the U.S. population: low-income and working-class communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities in which English is not the primary language.  The social problems discussed on a daily basis throughout the HIA program have a particularly devastating impact on these populations. Some of these problems include: the ever-increasing income gap, lack of widespread comprehensive health care services, lack of sustainable community development practices, lack of comprehensive immigration legislation, a national educational system that some would describe as apartheid, poverty and joblessness, and poorly integrated neighborhoods and schools. When such communities do not have the resources necessary to live dignified lives, such as job opportunities, adequate and affordable health care and housing, proper educational and media access, and/or social networks, it becomes more difficult to organize, mobilize, and/or encourage civic engagement in these communities. How, then, does the NYCMA address the interrelated social problems plaguing these communities?   

Integration

The ‘success’ of immigrant groups in terms of integration and their position in American society has been heavily influenced by government immigration and citizenship policies. The example of US immigration laws in the 1920s shows how, when compared to European immigrants who could legalize their status, settle and naturalize, Mexicans and other groups of color had more difficulty. Yale Professor of Latin American studies Alicia Camacho discussed how eugenics theories heavily influenced the way Mexicans were perceived (as having less intellectual capacity than ‘whites’ by virtue of their biological make-up), which impacted their ‘social desirability’ as an immigrant group. The nativist/eugenics discourse saw (and continues to see) these populations and new waves of immigrant populations as threats to a “distinctive Americanism.” 

It is the hope of NYCMA that through improved media access, some of these unfortunate misconceptions of immigration will be avoided. The spread of community news to more mainstream parts of society will ideally contribute to a more profound understanding of the difficulties facing immigrant communities. It is also hoped that an increased quality of community media will help to cultivate a more engaged immigrant population, which will naturally result in better integration.  Finally, enabling immigrant communities to access the media in their native languages will improve their Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) test performance in their first language, which will allow them to better learn a second and/or third language. Language proficiency is essential to integration, community empowerment, and informed ethnic and immigrant communities that are better able to effect change in their workplace, children’s schools, and in society at large.

Civic Engagement 

Studies on the political participation of immigrants in the US show that there are significant differences between immigrant groups depending on their background, economic situation, and size of ethnic group. With the recent presidential election as well as the upcoming US Census, the NYCMA has been involved in the movement to engage ethnic minorities in the electoral process. The success of community media is very clear in these contexts. In relation to the Census, NYCMA uses its connections and resources to inform and engage minorities and illegal immigrants about the process, the importance of being counted in order to obtain services, and the legal rights that they have even if they are undocumented (i.e. labor rights). 

Informed Participation                                                                                       

Through the work of NYCMA,  the most disenfranchised populations are able to gain full access to information directly related to their needs. In addition to articles, radio, TV shows, and magazines that inform the communities, NYCMA also organizes press conferences about labor rights, immigrants’ rights, the Census, and electoral processes. Through these press conferences, communities have the opportunity to engage politicians, policymakers, activists, and journalists in critical dialogues about issues which directly impact their realities. They gain information about services available to them, such as those provided by the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Moreover, these communities have access to analyses of current affairs which NYCMA members have conducted. For instance, in the last few decades, Latino undocumented migrants have experienced growing criminalization as a result of enhanced border controls and the rising numbers of deportations. Spreading awareness of immigrants’ rights and available services helps prevent and/or mitigate future discrimination and socio-political exclusion.

International Dialogue

Often, newly arrived immigrant groups rely on media from their native countries. The NYCMA allows immigrant communities to have access to this media in addition to community- based media operating in a more American context. In this way, immigrants can begin to see themselves as belonging to transnational communities with solidarities that extend between their new home and their native countries. In addition, the symbiotic relationship developed between publications from their native countries, and ethnic and community publications in the US, serves to identify the needs of ethnic and migrant communities here as they relate to the needs of those who could potentially emigrate to the US. This, in turn, can help to incite a much-needed dialogue about the importance of developing comprehensive foreign policy in Latin America and other parts of the world. 

Thinking Globally: Proposals

Denmark

In Denmark, we have a growing community of non-ethnic Danes. Until now, only one of those linguistic groups has acquired an independent media outlet: the Turkish newspaper Haber, which is published in collaboration with the Danish newspaper Politiken, serves the Turkish community. The vision put forth by NYCMA is therefore very relevant to the Danish context. The problem, however, is that there really are no ethnically-based community media outlets besides Haber. It will therefore be necessary to adjust the business model used in the US to the realities of the Danish media sector. 
To implement some of NYCMA’s ideas, it will probably be necessary to collaborate with the mainstream media. Providing mainstream journalists with training about minority issues – either in an independent setting or through their official training – would seem to be the most credible way of implementing a more balanced media, which will take minority issues into greater consideration. Hopefully, that could lead to an alliance within the media sector of people committed to minority issues. If this resulted in a more serious coverage of minorities and the difficulties they face, it could help address some of the other problems in Danish society. Currently, most stories concerning minorities take a negative angle, fueling an already hostile environment for immigrants. If this bias were eliminated, it might facilitate integration and interethnic understanding in Denmark. Another useful approach would be to educate minority groups that might otherwise be excluded from official journalistic training programs, due to their lack of educational attainment and proficiency in the Danish language. If ethnic minority groups were better represented within the media, this would probably be reflected in better coverage of minority issues.       

Germany

Migration has always been a part of Germany’s demographic shift towards a more heterogeneous society. This has led to the establishment of several ethnic and linguistic minorities within the country. However, according to field research conducted by Rainer Geißler (Massenmedien und Integration ethnischer Minderheiten in Deutschland), the mass media outlets in Germany fail to fully address the issues of minorities within the country. The Governmental Press Institute (Presse- und Informationsamts der Bundesregierung) found that the majority of the two million people of Turkish origin living in Germany make equal use of German and Turkish publications.
Other studies have shown that publically financed programs broadcasting in languages other than German were not sustainable, and vanished in the 1990s. In the meantime, independent media outlets have supplanted the government’s task of addressing minorities. Currently, there are over 50 independent newspapers published in languages other than German; for example, Hürriyet (Turkish), Akropolis (Greek) and Corriere d’Italia (Italian). Their overall quality is estimated to be comparable to the average local newspaper.
In comparison to the United States, there are fewer first-generation immigrants, and fewer people with no knowledge or insufficient knowledge of the native language (German). The ethnic composition of residential areas and their relative degree of empowerment in the political system also differs immensely from the US, and cannot be truly compared. The main problem in Germany seems to be what Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Meier-Braun.calls ‘ethnomarketing’. Immigrants are partly perceived as a threat, while average citizens regularly overestimate their numbers.
Adapting the idea of NYCMA’s “Voices That Must Be Heard” program for Germany would not only allow the broader public access to a more critical and diverse set of perspectives on important events, but contribute to a deeper understanding of the issues facing minorities in Germany as well as a more positive attitude regarding those minorities, neither of which is encouraged by mass media.
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