Opinion: Ethnic Media Asks ‘Where Is Our Fair Share?’

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (right) speaks with members of the community and ethnic media at City Hall, Dec. 11, 2014.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (right) speaks with members of the community and ethnic media at City Hall, Dec. 11, 2014. (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Melissa Mark-Viverito is not a stranger to tough questions from journalists for sure. As the Council Speaker, part of her job is to deal with professional journalists from mainstream media like The New York Times and the Daily News who won’t stop pushing until she gives them an answer. Still, the roundtable on Dec. 11 with ethnic media representatives might have been an eye opener for the speaker.

By holding the roundtable, she intended to get to know the ethnic media and to introduce her political views to them. But she may not have expected that the couple dozen or so ethnic media representatives, with their strongly accented English, were just as persistent when they asked her: “Where is our fair share?”

I, among the attendees, was glad to see it. Although there is still a long way to go for the ethnic media to be treated equally with the mainstream media, we are no longer the silent group. For our own rights, we spoke loudly and respectfully. It was the speaker who talked about the importance of the 3 million readers that make up the audience of the ethnic media, and it was she who talked about “distributing resources equally.” So it is natural that the attendees asked: “Where is our fair share?”

This scene awoke some old memories of mine. At the end of the 1990s, when the Chinese media still relied on translating news stories from the AP and The New York Times, I dared myself to work like a reporter from the mainstream media and to do original reporting on Chinese-related stories. The arrogant press persons at the City Council would hand out press releases to all the mainstream media reporters, and then reluctantly give me the last copy. Their furrowed brow suggested they couldn’t understand accented English. Their skeptical face looked as if they had no interest in learning the name of my newspaper.

Every day I had to challenge myself to ignore their faces and to work harder amid the neglect, disrespect and discrimination. Every day I had to tell myself to persist in this uphill battle because I didn’t want to be a second-class reporter who only writes recycled stories.

Those faces are rarely seen now. In addition to the efforts of ethnic media reporters, the change should also be attributed to the election of John Liu to the City Council in 2002. Under pressure from the first Asian council member, other council members and the press officers of the Council started to work with the Chinese media. Although a double standard still exists, a basic courtesy has been offered. The facial expression that says “I don’t understand your English” is no longer as explicit and ruthless.

Later-elected council members like Peter Koo and Margaret Chin helped to make minority council members the majority. Council staffs are more diverse as well. The bumpy road is starting to get smoother. On the day when Council member Mark-Viverito was elected as speaker, a reporter from our newspaper who was covering the event was pushed out of the Council chamber by a rude security guard who ignored her press badge, and she complained to Chin. Only a few minutes later, the security guard walked over to our reporter to apologize. Not many people paid attention. But I believe such a scene could not have possibly happened before Liu, Chin and Koo became council members.

In the recent years, topics at the roundtables between politicians and ethnic media representatives have focused on “how to find information on breaking news from the Police Department,” “how to bypass the bureaucracy at the Department of Education,” and “how to closely follow news from the mayor.” More reporters from ethnic media are working on the front line now. Reporters from the Chinese media are more aggressive than our colleagues.

In the last three or four years, candidates campaigning for public office have made visiting ethnic media outlets a “must” on their schedule. What they want are not only donations and ballots from the ethnic communities, but also to have people in the ethnic communities understand their political views. More importantly, they want ethnic media outlets to endorse them, because, behind an endorsement is growing power that no one can ignore any longer.

If you want our endorsement, if you know we have 3 million readers as an audience, if you vow to help us get equal access to city agencies, then shouldn’t you also allocate some advertising to us? If we cannot get a piece of the pie, “equal access to resources” is meaningless.

It is not a reporter’s job to ask for advertisements. But in the past 10 years, I have witnessed ethnic media reporters change from neglected, silent wallflowers into loudspeakers at the roundtables with politicians. Whether the roars heard at the latest meeting get any results or not, the image of ethnic reporters has begun to shine in City Hall.

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