Editor's Note: Jehangir Khattak, Communications Manager of New York Community Media Alliance (NYCMA), wrote this article as part of a partnership between NYCMA, the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism and New America Media, in a media policy reporting fellowship sponsored by The Media Consortium.
NEW YORK CITY—When AT&T started capping customer’s Internet usage on May 2, one person paying closer attention than she might have before was Aleksandra Slabisz, a journalist at the New York-based Polish Daily/Nowy Dziennik.
AT&T’s decision to charge extra fees to customers who use more gigabytes per month over certain capped limits means that many of Slabisz’s Polish-language readers--and countless other ethnic and community news consumers--will get hit in the pocketbook with little warning for new overage fees of $10 for every additional 50GB of data. That may not sound like much, but the fees can mount and hit lower-income people hard.
AT&T will offer its subscribers an initial two grace periods so they won’t actually be charged more until the third month after going over the cap, but the additional cost will catch many unaware soon enough. That’s why ethnic and community news outlets need to begin reporting on media policy developments, such as these new fees—and translating their complexities and impacts in terms anyone can understand.
Learning how to humanize the widening stream of complex media policy issues for ethnic and community audiences will be critical to closing the digital divide between media haves and have-nots, according to journalists and media-reform advocates, who attended the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston last month.
Slabisz is among numerous ethnic media journalists exploring how to cut through the jargon and complicated tech-talk for their audiences. Community voices will be lost in vital media debates unless readers in all languages learn about issues, such as Net neutrality (keeping Internet access open as possible without gatekeepers controlling cost or content), broadband access or crucial decisions being made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
“I think the participation in the Boston conference further encouraged me to dig in the topic,” Slabisz said. “I think I have a better understanding of many problems, not to mention that media policy issues are important for our community.”
The Boston conference, which drew thousands of media professionals and advocates nationwide, was organized by Free Press, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media.
Free Press made special efforts to bring the ethnic and community media into the national debate by facilitating participation of ethnic media journalists from across the nation and including several conference sessions on diverse media policy issues. Especially significant for Slabisz and others attending the conference was its "Information Exchange Forum for Ethnic Media and Media Advocates."
Attended by more than 50 journalists and advocates, the Information Exchange addressed steps ethnic and community media can take to increase coverage of media policy issues and how to improve the quality of current reporting. They also examined the role of media policy advocates in crafting the best course for effective messaging on these issues and what steps they should take.
The information exchange was developed with Free Press by the New York Community Media Alliance and G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, which develops national reporting projects to support more ethnic journalists, women and youth.
“I plan to write more stories on media policy issues,” said Jessica Xu, a senior reporter at theWorld Journal, New York’s biggest Chinese daily. She said the event convinced her that journalists from ethnic and community media need more training, resources and access to experts for writing well-framed stories grounded in the communities.
Xu stated, “We need to learn how to explain these technical terms to normal people. They care about how much money it costs and what functions it has. We need to translate these terms into plain English, and that’s the biggest challenge for reporters.”
“I have no idea what media policy means to me and to my readers,” Mohsin Zaheer, editor ofSada-e-Pakistan, told participants. He noted communities face language barriers—on top of such confusing jargon as “net neutrality” and “digital divide.”
At the exchange session, John Rudolph, executive producer of the radio show Feet in Two Worlds, advised, “If you approach media policy as a policy story, every body’s eyes glaze over. I think we have to humanize it.”
Ivan Roman, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, observed that ethnic community reporters need to break policy stories for their readers into fragments focusing on personal or local effects of an issue.
Freelancer Victor Merina, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and correspondent for the Native American news website Reznet, said, “I think there is a real opportunity for advocates, when there is a national story, to actually localize it for the community.” He also suggested that the reporters think about stories in multiple layers, the political, human and economic story.
Joshua Brietbart, senior field analyst for the Open Technology Initiative at New American Foundation and formerly the policy director at People’s Production House, noted, “People think it’s amazing that advocates can follow policy.”
But, alluding to an article in Sada-e-Pakistan about unusual ways New York’s Pakistani community is finding to close their digital divide, Brietbart continued, “I think it’s amazing that Mohsin Zaheer can go to Coney Island and find the tax attorney who has the Internet connection an entire community uses. There are so many pieces to the [media] ecosystem, and they are all critical to getting the story out.”
Joe Torres of Free Press encouraged participants to learn complicated media issues through continuous coverage: “Over time it’s going to start making sense. It just takes time; it’s not an easy issue at all.”