Monday, July 14, 2014

Debunking immigrant stereotypes in the Bronx, NY

You can never go wrong asking people to criticize the media.

Man-on-the street interviews: immigration.
As I began my workshops last week at BronxNet/Lehman College in New York City, I started by asking the participants, “What’s wrong with the media?” The responses were animated, and didn’t deviate much from the common themes of inaccuracy and distortion. Then I narrowed the question, directing it to specific coverage of immigrants. Again, the participants easily listed a dozen tired stereotypes of immigrants perpetuated by the media. 

These immigrant stereotypes, and the media narratives that fuel them, were the theme of my workshops last week at BronxNet. One two-day workshop was for students and young reporters, while two other shorter workshops were for public access TV producers and the general public.
I presented research that confirmed what the participants already knew—that immigrants are stereotyped in the media, that most of these stereotypes are negative, and that negative stereotypes in particular infect audiences. We specifically examined a study by Latino Decisions that discussed the corrosive stereotypes of Latinos and immigrants. (

Man on the street interviews: immigration.
Then, we discussed using a peace journalism model as a way for media to break out of these stale, distorted narratives about immigrants. While peace journalism was conceived as a way to model war and peace reporting, I’ve found it useful in many other arenas—crime coverage, development issues, politics, etc. Certainly, the peace journalism principles of accuracy, balance, giving a voice to the voiceless (immigrants), being proactive instead of reactive, eschewing us vs. them reporting, and humanizing all sides are useful as we seek to give a more three-dimensional quality to our reporting about immigrants and immigrant issues.

Serving the cause of offering counter-narratives to the usual reporting about immigrants, student reporters were sent out to produce several projects. The first was to collect man on the street interviews about the benefits that immigrants bring to communities like the Bronx. The second was a video package about an immigrant or about a social service agency serving immigrants. The students are still working on these, but I’ve promised them feedback once the stories are complete.
The students and access producers alike, I hope, learned to think about media, and particularly media coverage of immigrants, in a more analytical, critical manner, and to report thoroughly, thoughtfully, and constructively.

ALSO...BronxNet's OPEN TV program hosted me last week. We had a lively discussion about irresponsible partisan media, and about the alternative--peace journalism. To see the eight minute segment, click here:

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