Ever since I began working with immigrant journalists the term ‘ethnic media’ has left me feeling a little uncomfortable.
I don’t know who came up with this label for media that serves immigrant communities. While I understand what they were trying to get at, the name ‘ethnic media’ has always seemed a bit clumsy—and slightly pejorative. It’s a bit like the phrase ‘inner city,’ somehow an acceptable euphemism for urban neighborhoods that are generally poor, Black and Hispanic.
When you think about it, everyone—including mainstream media journalists—has an ethnicity. By that measure all media is ethnic. But it’s not. And so the term ‘ethnic media’ is an attempt to identify a certain sector of the media without any real agreement on what that sector consists of.
To some it’s not just media by and for immigrants, it also includes radio stations on Indian reservations and African American newspapers.
Often the term is used to differentiate immigrant media from so called mainstream media. But media giants Univision and Telemundo frequently get thrown into the ethnic media pot because they broadcast in Spanish. Never mind that the programs they provide are as mainstream as CNN, Fox and other English-language TV channels.
I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years who share my unease with the term ‘ethnic media,’ but nobody has come up with anything better. At least not until now. Sandy Close, the visionary executive director of New America Media recently suggested that we adopt the term diaspora media.
I admit, the word diaspora doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but it makes sense to use it here. Plus there is a quirky twist to this word that makes it perfect for re-framing the media formerly known as ethnic.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines diaspora as “a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time or in which their ancestors lived.” In other words, immigrants and refugees. But now here’s the catch: Diaspora with a capital “D” refers specifically to “the settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile.” Adopting Diaspora (with an upper case D) to describe today’s immigrant media will not work. However, spelled with a lower case “d,” diaspora is defined as any people who have been scattered from their homeland.
So here’s what I propose, let’s claim and re-frame this important media sector as d-Media. If Apple can sell an iPad, then we surely can use d-Media to identify what we do.
This re-branding is not just about shedding negative connotations. It also stakes a claim for immigrant media in the new digital landscape, and highlights the vital role played by immigrant journalists, publishers and broadcasters. Websites, blogs, cell phones and digital TV are among the methods increasingly being used to reach immigrant audiences. In the past week alone I heard about three new projects to to serve immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia with online radio stations and video channels.
Assisted by New America Media, the New York Community Media Alliance, and a number of universities across the country, more and more immigrant journalists are learning the tools of digital journalism and using new technologies to reach audience in immigrant communities.
Ethnic media is now d-Media—try it out, tweet it, ‘like’ it —embrace it.