Helping Public Radio Reflect the Diversity of American Society

The Muslim Day Parade in New York City - Photo: Mohsin Zaheer

The Muslim Day Parade, September 26, 2010 in New York City. (Photo: Mohsin Zaheer)

When I became editor of Feet in 2 Worlds in 2010, I got a crash course in the precarious situation facing many immigrants in the U.S. One of Fi2W’s reporters, Annie Correal, was down on the Gulf Coast writing about immigrants who were doing the dirty work that nobody else wanted to do after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She produced a radio story about how U.S. authorities were harassing these workers about their immigration status even as they were cleaning up Gulf beaches.

The question of how to diversify (public radio) staffing, content, and audience, is one of the most pressing in our industry right now. Whenever I engage in this conversation, I always cite the Feet in 2 Worlds model of mentoring and creating a space for immigrant voices in the media.

Meanwhile, Valeria Fernandez was filing dispatches from Arizona — many of which engendered a hefty quotient of anti-immigrant vitriol on our website. She reported on SB 1070, the infamous Arizona law that allowed local police to arrest people they suspected of being undocumented. (The law ultimately was challenged in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and some of its most draconian measures were removed.) Valeria also covered the burgeoning youth movement calling for the DREAM Act long before it became a mainstream cause.

Check out Sarah’s favorite Fi2W stories:
“Amid Oil Spill Crisis, U.S. Authorities Search for Undocumented Immigrant Cleanup Workers”
“Undocumented Youth Risk Deportation in Push for Immigration Reform”
“Gay Immigrant Youth in New York Struggle With Homelessness”

But happily, undocumented immigration and subsequent deportation was not our sole beat. Feet in 2 Worlds’ coverage has always extended far beyond immigration law and policy. Many of my favorite pieces are about how immigrants navigate life in the United States, changing this country and being changed by it. Von Diaz’s stories about gay immigrant homeless youth in New York City painted a heartbreaking portrait of this population and their struggles. It was exciting to see Von’s reporting go viral, scooping The New Yorker and many other media outlets.

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Left to right – Sarah Kramer, Andrew White, Annie Correal and John Rudolph at the annual Ippies Awards.

And there were plenty of lighter, even fun topics. Aurora Almendral’s story about Maggi seasoning took a corporate food product and revealed how it has grown deep roots in a multitude of immigrant communities. This story is part our ongoing “Food in 2 Worlds” series, which has covered everything from that particular delicious, MSG-filled seasoning to migrant farm workers and Nigerian street food.

Feet in 2 Worlds is much more than an immigration news platform. It’s also a podcast, live event series, and above all a program to mentor and train immigrant reporters in radio journalism. Reporters like Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, who came to us from Nowy Dziennik/The Polish Daily, went on to produce a number of radio stories — including one particularly exceptional piece about Pakistani immigrants reviving the art of pigeon tending in New York City (with the help of Mohsin Zaheer).

More Fi2W favorites from Sarah:
“Park51 Controversy Leads to Political Engagement by Muslim New Yorkers”
“With an Eye on the Sky, Immigrants Revive Practice of Pigeon Tending in New York”
“The Adoration of the Maggi”

Mohsin, originally from Pakistan, became involved with Feet in 2 Worlds through our political reporting fellowship. He was strictly a print reporter when he arrived at our first meeting, but within a few months he was producing videos, tweeting up a storm, and speaking to Brian Lehrer on WNYC (New York Public Radio) about how the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy had encouraged Muslim New Yorkers to get politically engaged.

I now work full-time in public radio, and the question of how to diversify staffing, content, and audience, is one of the most pressing in our industry right now. Whenever I engage in this conversation, I always cite the Feet in 2 Worlds model of mentoring and creating a space for immigrant voices in the media.

Maggi

The omnipresent Maggi bottle. (Photo: Aurora Almendral)

The success of our reporters is self evident: Aurora Almendral, now a foreign correspondent in Manila, reports for NPR, PRI’s The World, BBC, and other outlets. Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska is a multimedia reporter with DNAInfo. Von Diaz is a producer with StoryCorps. Annie Correal works for the New York Times. And the list goes on.

That track record is Feet in 2 Worlds‘ special legacy. The immigrant journalists who have passed through our doors and honed new skills — which, in turn, have opened new doors for them — are our most valuable resource.

Yes, the stories on Feet in 2 Worlds are good. But it’s our people and our model that I want to toast, as we mark our 10-year anniversary.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

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