SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — In 1969, historian Franz Schurmann and journalist Orville Schell founded Pacific News Service to provide an alternative news source about U.S. military actions abroad. Four decades later, a descendant of that project continues the mission of supplementing the American mainstream press with news it wouldn’t get otherwise–but this initiative seeks to inform by crossing linguistic, rather than geographic, borders.
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New America Media is a nonprofit news wire that facilitates both the translation and trading of news stories between various ethnic outlets and youth publications, and the translation and syndication of those news stories to the mainstream press. The project began in 1996, when Pacific News Service launched New California Media to address the needs of the state’s foreign-language newspapers. Because of language barriers, local news organizations could be living and working right next to each other, reporting on the same stories, but unable to access each other’s news.
Sandy Close, who has been with PNS since the 1970s and who is now executive director of NAM, says the need for this project was obvious, and the need was growing all the time. “At least forty percent of people living in the state spoke other languages [than English] at home,” she says. “What these papers really wanted was an AP–they wanted an exchange, the ability to know what was going on in each other’s communities. They wanted to be able to transcend the language and culture silos that isolated them.”
By 2005, New California Media had expanded its scope and migrated online; it was now New America Media, with a national scope. It grew into a trade organization of sorts, as well: the group developed a directory of over 3,000 ethnic news outlets in the country (first in print, and now online), and started to organize conventions and panel discussions in order for editors to connect with each other.
Today, the New America website provides a mix of original reporting and analysis by reporters and editors in the NAM newsroom, aggregation of news stories from NAM’s network of youth press and over 700 ethnic newspapers, and supplementary resources like surveys and polls. News articles from the network are searchable by ethnicity or by topic, and all are translated into English by NAM staff. NAM’s partnerships with journalism schools and investigative networks have yielded stories with big impact; a wide-reaching project with the Investigative Reporters Workshop put a human face on foreclosure in California. The home page also features more frequent, shorter scoops on issues like racial discrimination in election policy or the effects of the economic recession on older Hispanics.
NAM also offers training and editorial and technical support to minority and youth organizations that want to launch their own web presences–the hyperlocal news portals LABeez.com, NoLABeez.com, and SanJoseBeez.com are all NAM-organized efforts that share in NAM content, to name a few. Youth Outlook is a site that trains and publishes young journalists, which has produced some excellent video projects as well as original writing.
From the beginning, says Close, the goal was to have New America Media support itself through syndicating the network’s stories–content in the NAM network is free for all ethnic news outlets, but NAM charges a fee for mainstream outlets to reprint it–but in recent years, this has only accounted for about 20 to 25 percent of the organization’s revenue. The rest of its funding comes from foundation grants and (usually government-funded) public awareness marketing campaigns. The Center for Disease Control might pay NAM to organize news briefings about a new vaccine being offered, for instance, because it can quickly and effectively spread a message throughout all of the ethnic media in a geographic region.
Close says that the biggest impact the NAM network can have is in helping different populations understand each other, and to let that understanding build a stronger feeling of community. “It’s such a fascinating topography of the new America, to look at where the concentrations of the particular media groups are,” she says. “You want to know what Bosnians are thinking? You need the Bosnian media of St. Louis. You want to know what the Kurds are thinking? You should look in Nashville, where the Kurdish media is concentrated. You want to know what the Nigerians are thinking? Go to Houston, and read the Nigerian media.”
She adds that it has always been the job of the mainstream media to hold a mirror to our culture; as such, it should reflect both who we are, and who we are becoming. Reading and distributing news from the country’s various subcultures, she says, “is the best way of understanding what it means for America to become a global society.”
New America Media Data
Name: New America Media
City: San Francisco