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Karen Pennar, Co-Director of the J-School's Center for Community and Ethnic Media testifies at a Jan. 27 New York City Council hearing about ways the city can support these outlets. (Photo by Gustavo Martínez)

Karen Pennar, Co-Director of the J-School’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media testifies at a Jan. 27 New York City Council hearing about ways the city can support these outlets. (Photo by Gustavo Martínez Contreras)


Karen Pennar, co-director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, testified on Jan. 27 at a New York City Council hearing on what the City can do to support ethnic media. The hearing was called by Committee on Immigration chair Carlos Menchaca because of concerns about the viability of El Diario, the 103-year-old Spanish-language daily.

Pennar endorsed an announcement made just an hour before the meeting began, in which the mayor and speaker of the City Council pledged to extend the city’s outreach to ethnic media outlets with more information, messaging and ad placements. In her remarks, Pennar reported the results of a recent CCEM survey of top editors of ethnic media in which they asked the city to improve its outreach and advertise more in the ethnic press.

The Center, whose other co-director is Jehangir Khattak, works to support and promote the ethnic media in the New York metropolitan area – with more than 300 outlets in the tri-state area – through Newsmaker events, trainings, and the annual Ippies awards honoring this media sector. The Center’s flagship website Voice of NY publishes the best work from this sector.

The Center’s 2013 report, “Getting the Word out (Or Not): How and Where NYC Advertises,” drew widespread attention to the fact that ethnic media were neglected by the city in its ad campaign. The report was authored by Sarah Bartlett, Dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, who was at the time director of the school’s Urban Reporting program.

Here is the text of Pennar’s testimony:

Good morning. My name is Karen Pennar and I am Editor of Voices of NY and Co-director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Thank you Mr. Menchaca and your colleagues for this opportunity to address the Committee on Immigration of the New York City Council. The subject of this hearing [how the City can support ethnic media to ensure that immigrant communities receive information on local matters] is an important one and we are pleased and honored to be a part of this conversation.

Now, I’m aware that we heard a very important piece of news this morning from the city. The mayor and city council speaker agreed to enhance and to build up outreach to the ethnic media and to look to make more advertising placements in the ethnic media. This is a really positive development. At the center we’ve been pushing for this for a long time. And I can only applaud everyone involved in making it happen. My remarks were going to press on these issues and on what needs to be done.

Before I comment on the subject of this hearing, I would like to provide a little background on the Center for Community and Ethnic Media. Our center was established at the CUNY J School in 2012, when the school agreed to assume some of the projects of a predecessor organization, the New York Community Media Alliance.

The Center’s mission is to promote and represent the work of community and ethnic media outlets in the NY metropolitan area. Our flagship website Voices of NY curates the best work from this media sector, translating when necessary. The Center conducts numerous trainings and workshops for ethnic press, as well as special Newsmaker events with city officials and agency directors. The Center sponsors an annual awards ceremony known as the Ippies, which celebrates the best work of the community and ethnic media. Finally, the Center conducts outreach and publishes research to track the pulse of this sector.

I have been editor of Voices of NY for two years and co-director of the Center for nearly a year. I would like to note that I have been assisted in my preparation of these remarks by the Center’s other co-director, Jehangir Khattak, who has many years of experience in working with the reporters, editors and publishers of New York’s diverse ethnic media.

As you well know, nearly 40% of New York City’s residents are foreign born, and 1.8 million of them speak little or no English. Nearly half of the residents report speaking a language other than English at home.

It is perhaps unsurprising that a large media sector has developed to meet the needs of these ethnic communities. More than 90 newspapers, and many more magazines, websites, radio and television broadcasters serve the ethnic and immigrant communities of New York, in more than 35 languages. These publications range from venerable ones with a century-old legacy, such as El Diario La Prensa, to relative newcomers such as Khasokhas and White Himal TV, which serve the burgeoning Nepalese community. It should be noted that many of these media outlets, while headquartered in New York City, have a regional and national audience.

The management and structure of these media vary – from mom-and-pop style operations to foreign-owned entities.

While El Diario’s recent layoffs have drawn attention, many ethnic media outlets have been facing severe financial challenges for a long time. In recent weeks we at the Center have heard stories about reporting positions going unfilled for months, and about revenues being squeezed as ad buyers postpone payments. Just this month, the daily Nowy Dziennik, which has served the Polish speaking community in the New York metropolitan area for 45 years, shifted to weekly publication.

In order to provide the committee with some useful and possibly actionable information, the Center reached out to some top editors at a sampling of ethnic media outlets over the past few days.

In a survey, we asked: What would be the single most important thing the City could do to help support ethnic media? Here are some replies:

  • “The city should appoint an ethnic media czar to work with ethnic media”
  • “The city should translate press releases for the ethnic media”
  • “The city should buy more ads in ethnic media”

These answers represent the three key areas in which, we believe, the City could make some greater effort to support ethnic media.

The first area pertains to outreach. While council members know their constituents well and work closely with them, City Hall and City agencies and departments could probably do a better job of maintaining connections with individual ethnic communities via the ethnic press. More than 70% of our respondents felt that the Mayor’s office and city agencies don’t do enough outreach with ethnic media.

Fifty five percent of our respondents said they had only “sometimes” been invited to City Hall briefings, and 33% said they had never been.

A more concerted effort to establish regular lines of communication would be a win-win for both sides: The city could promote messaging of various campaigns and efforts such as THRIVE NYC via the ethnic media, while the ethnic media in turn would gain greater access to city representatives. Over time, such relationships cannot help but promote civic engagement.

The second way in which the City could support ethnic media would be to provide easy access to news and information. Translation of every press release that every city agency puts out into all the languages represented in the ethnic media would be a daunting, not to mention expensive task; already the city is making a herculean effort through various agencies to ensure language access.

But what if the city produced a short daily digest of news from City Hall and city agencies and translated that into several languages, and made that available as a daily news feed for the ethnic media? Media of all kinds are always content-hungry, and a ready-made daily digest would be welcomed by the ethnic media.

Finally, ethnic media have been banging the drum, and rightly so, for more ad placements from city agencies and departments. A research study produced by the Center in 2013 found that more than 80% of the city’s ad buys were going to mainstream publications such as the New York Times, The Daily News, and The New York Post. Some ethnic media representatives report to us that they have seen an improvement since then, but many still feel shut out, and they are eager for a change in direction.

Ramping up the placement of advertising by city agencies and departments in ethnic media would go a long way toward supporting such media – and, as with the previous suggestions, help promote messaging, an understanding of the city’s activities, and civic engagement by immigrants over the long term.

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs has a history of serving and meeting the needs of the city’s immigrant and ethnic communities. But because the number of immigrants, the number of countries from which they arrive, and the number of languages which they speak are so great in New York City, attentiveness to immigrants and ethnic communities needs to cut across all agencies and departments, and to become second nature.

The Center urges the City to do more to promote connections with the ethnic media, and with today’s announcement it looks like that will be happening. Thank you.