In 2015 the New York Times published a 7,000 word investigative piece titled ‘The Price of Nice Nails’, which detailed how badly manicurists at these nail salons in New York City were exploited. Naturally, coming from the NYT, it caused a stir, politicians took notice and things took a turn in the right direction. The journalists at NYT were commended for ‘breaking’ this shocking story to the world. But a journalist working at the New York City office of the Sing Tao Daily one of the largest Chinese-language publications glumly noted in a piece he wrote in another publication that he and other journalists at Sing Tao had been writing about this same issue for years but never did it gain any traction in the mainstream media and these stories were ignored. Korean-language publications had also written stories on the issue.
In North America, things that happen in ethnic communities tend to stay well-kept secrets until the outside media stumbles upon an issue and elevates it in the mainstream media.
I worked at a mainstream publication in India where many of my stories made a major impact, got read by the people who mattered and whatever I wrote about got massive attention, thanks to the reach of this national publication, had I written the same story in a small insignificant media outlet, my stories would’ve died at the end of the day.
When a story gets broken in a mainstream media outlet like the CBC, it takes on a life of its own. Journalists writing for ethnic media publications right here in Canada have often detected trends and written stories on major issues affecting their communities and nothing much comes out of it until a journalist at such a mainstream media outlet writes the same story and could potentially get a national award. The irony would be that oftentimes, the writer for the mainstream outlet will tap the local ethnic reporter for leads and background.
At the mainstream English-language publication I worked at in Mumbai, the reporters perused local language publications which often contained lurid and heavily exaggerated stories but often there was a kernel of truth to be found and these journalists took their leads from these small newspapers and went on to ‘break’ stories.
Here in Canada the mainstream news outlets have little or no respect for ethnic journalists or their publications. The term ethnic journalist itself suggests an inferior status compared to someone writing for a mainstream publication.
And this is inherently unfair. Oftentimes an ethnic journalist lacks the resources, time and money to tackle a complex story that requires some digging and has to rely too heavily on unnamed sources. One blessing is that because an ethnic journalist isn’t encumbered by much scrutiny, he or she can take liberties and write about issues that are difficult to be backed up and verified. A mainstream outlet would never end up publishing half of what is found in ethnic publications because they would struggle to find people willing to go on record and back up their claims with proof.
The tragedy is that so many scoops get ‘broken’ sometimes years after it was first reported in a local ethnic media outlet.
I am willing to bet most stories involving ethnic communities that appear in mainstream media outlets were first reported in a ethnic media outlet. If for example, the CBC or some other Canadian mainstream outlet were to write about exploitation of international students, it would cause ripples across the nation, but it would be old news for South Asians who’ve known about this for years.
An ideal solution would really be to form partnerships between ethnic media and mainstream media so the reporters could collaborate on great stories together and the media outlets could then jointly publish the story in different languages to reach more readers.