By Kara Andrade
ONA Convention Online Staff
Photo by Dean Zulich
Mainstream media have lost their heart and ability to connect the community, said veteran ethnic media advocate Sandy Close whose speech received a standing ovation at the Online News Association Conference on Saturday.
“The key role of news is its communal function, the ability for it to connect us to the larger whole — that is the connective tissue I fear we’re losing,” said Close, director of Pacific News Service and the New America Media. “In a global society it’s no small challenge for traditional news organizations to be able to communicate communities.”
Close shared her more than 20 years experience of working with young people, in particular at the juvenile halls in California, where their desire to connect and to be heard inspired her to value the communal function of news.
“I never thought of myself as anything but a journalist until I began to work with kids,” Close said. “I thought of myself as writing and moving the news in a vertical axis, but I didn’t think of myself as engaging in a horizontal conversation that could knit those groups together.”
Close emphasized the importance of mainstream media’s collaboration with ethnic media outlets and urged them to become more inclusive and address the “hunger” of youth and ethnic communities’ need for visibility in the larger society.
The online community, Close believes, best presents an opportunity for bridging “segmentation” in modern American society.
“Online media is a tremendous window for giving people this sense of connection,” Close said. “What brought us to online media was the excitement that we could be better represented in a Web site and that we could include all of our stories by reaching out through layers,” Close said.
While Close acknowledged the limitations of ethnic media in their presentation of, what some perceive as one-sided confessional type of journalism with an inherent bias, their role is indispensable in balancing out the mainstream’s lack of representation of ethnic groups.
“Ethnic media’s limitations are also its power because more mainstream media is bringing ethnic media to the table,” said Close, who envisions an Associated Press of ethnic media and collaborations where ethnic media reporters can partner with mainstream media reporters in covering stories. “In this partnership a new journalism will emerge and sense of where we all fit in as a whole.”
For Barbara Iverson, a journalism professor at Columbia College in Chicago, Close’s speech was a call to connect her students with high school students and bring more diversity to their stories.
“I think the more perspective you have about other communities, the better,” Iverson said. “This type of media can inform all of your reporting, from the questions you ask to how you present the things you see.”