Mostly Lost in Translation: Respect for Ethnic Papers

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Apr 5 15:06:40 UTC 2005

>>From the NYTimes,

April 5, 2005

Mostly Lost in Translation: Respect for Ethnic Papers

Near the back of a garment district bookstore and gallery, the paintings
on exhibit are blocked in part by newspaper pages taped to an overhang.
The pages are not on exhibit, but they will soon be seen by many as part
of the redesigned Nowy Dziennik, the Polish-language daily newspaper whose
offices occupy several floors in the same modest building. "We are trying
to make it more appealing to young people," said Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, a
reporter at the paper. "We have competition here, surprisingly. There are
three Polish daily papers in New York."

Many New Yorkers had no idea there was even one, much less three. For that
matter, who would have imagined that there are 26 ethnic daily newspapers
in New York that keep immigrants in touch with their homelands while
educating them on how to survive in their adopted one? Yet covering a city
that is right outside their doors can be harder than writing about the old
country for many of these papers, according to a recent survey of the
city's ethnic papers. The Independent Press Association-New York concluded
that reporters for the ethnic press felt that government agencies
routinely failed to provide them with useful information in a timely

Abby Scher, the press association's executive director, said that while
mainstream papers sometimes faced the same obstacles, the effect of such
delays were more keenly felt among the ethnic media. "I think that
sometimes officials do not see them as real newspapers," Ms.  Scher said.
"What makes it worse for the ethnic press is they are understaffed and do
not have deep pockets for lawsuits. They cannot follow up or have a lawyer
pursue their cases. They need to move on to another story and quickly."

The survey reflected not so much a condemnation of government as a glimpse
into a missed opportunity for civic education. These publications are
among the few places immigrant readers can turn to for information on
everything from driver's licenses and Social Security to education and
housing. According to the survey, reporters most often faulted City Hall,
the Police Department and the Department of Education as the city offices
least responsive to their queries.

"I think they do not read our paper, so they do not really care," said
Lotus Chau, the chief reporter at Sing Tao Daily. "Until they need your
help." Several reporters groused that the Department of Education sent
them English-language opinion pieces to translate for publication.
Meanwhile, a reporter's inquiry about a high school grading policy went
unanswered for months.

Ms. Chau said she was able to get around some of the roadblocks since she
had spent several years working for the City Council. She admits that some
of her reporters at first may not be as familiar with the workings of
government but says that they have had their share of scoops, too. "Maybe
we have accents," she said, "but that does not mean we do not have

Kelly Devers, a spokeswoman for the schools chancellor, did not
specifically address the question of expecting papers to translate some
documents, though she said her office valued the ethnic media and issued
releases and articles in Spanish, Chinese and Korean. Deputy Police
Commissioner Paul Browne, on the other hand, said that while the
department had been reaching out to the Spanish-language media, it needed
to improve its response to the other ethnic publications. "We recognize
there are some deficiencies," he said. "Frankly, the major dailies get
more attention. But even though the other papers may not come out daily or
have a much smaller circulation, we need to provide them with the same

He said his office planned to bring in editors to meet with his staff "so
they can build a more personal relationship" and was considering assigning
staff members to be responsible for certain neighborhoods. Local elected
officials, especially members of the City Council, were often seen as the
most accessible, which sometimes means they have to help out on issues not
directly related to their committees. City Councilman John C. Liu said his
office had often had to field calls from Chinese press reporters seeking
help on getting into news conferences.

Local issues have become more important for many of these publications,
which exploded in the 1990's, Ms. Scher said. Though some still operate as
the equivalent of the home country's free press in exile, others have
taken up the role of local survival guides. The result can be a juggling
act, too, as both advocate and chronicler.  Heather Hsieh, a reporter for
World Journal, a Chinese-language daily, said that although she and her
colleagues had advanced degrees from United States universities, she felt
that officials expected them to be only a liaison and little else.

"Being in my current position makes me not only a reporter, but also a
translator, interpreter and a community liaison," she said in an e-mail
message. "These roles are demanding and sometimes conflicting. It's not
easy to obtain the balance, but that's the reality." She recalls the
encouraging analogy once offered by a colleague. "Chinese immigrants are
like a group of people who crowd together to keep themselves warm," she
said. "Some brave ones with expertise go out to collect information and
come back to keep the fire burning."

Reaching out to younger readers is but one reflection of the changing role
at Nowy Dziennik, too. When the paper was first started in 1971, Poland
was still under Communist rule. "At that time, this was an opposition
paper," Ms. Kern-Jedrychowska said.  "In the 1980's, when the conflict
between the government and the opposition built up, some of the
journalists from Poland came to work here. Now, since Communism collapsed,
we do not have the same function." In recent years, the paper has included
more local news and has moved its metropolitan section closer to the

"Now we are more of a paper for the immigrant," Ms. Kern-Jedrychowska
said. "A lot of our readers do not speak English so they need answers to
basic questions on how to function in this new reality." That is why twice
a week, as the readers of Nowy Dziennik know, reporters take turns
answering the phones to field reader questions that are answered in a
later column. It is an immediate reminder of how closely a paper is held
by its readers. The conversations are anything but short.

"It's not just that they tell you the problem," Ms. Kern-Jedrychowska
said. "They like to talk. They release their frustrations. It's the social
aspect, too."

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