By Dana Hollowell/Bridge Magazine
Michigan is home to a variety of ethnic media outlets: the Jewish News, the Latino Press, the Michigan Chronicle among them.
Dr. Hayg Oshagan, a professor at Wayne State University, looked at the outlets and had a vision:
What would happen if they were brought together?
So, in 2005, he met with editors from the News, Press and Chronicle — and the Korean Weekly and the Arab American News. These five papers have a combined circulation of more than 130,000, and a readership reach above 400,000. And while circulation declines have bedeviled the mainstream newspaper world — a 30 percent drop nationally between 1990 and 2010 — some of the these properties (Arab American News, Latino Press) are showing surprising resilience in their subscriber ranks.
Together, they are now New Michigan Media.
Oshagan’s goal was to make issues and concerns of ethnic and minority communities more visible to the surrounding community — to make minority communities more visible to one another and to promote their contributions to the region.
“Minority interests have been largely ignored by mainstream media,” said Oshagan. “The collaboration aims to change the existing narrative by bringing to light issues as a group — and making people see the economic, social, moral argument of immigration to this nation and region.”
Oshagan is not the only Michiganian thinking about immigration. However, Oshagan and the editors at each of the papers want to offer a new narrative, a new way to think about immigration.
“This country is made up of immigrants and the face of American is changing,” said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News. “It is not just a melting pot; it is more like a salad bowl with each person having their own characteristics mixing with others.”
And the newcomers inevitably will play a major role in their communities. Almost one-third of current population growth in the U.S. is due to immigration, the Census Bureau reports. Further, the bureau projects that almost all population growth by mid-century may be tied to the effects of immigration.
“We need to make sure that people understand the economic opportunities that come with immigrants,” said Arthur Horwitz, the publisher of The Jewish News, “who, by the very nature of leaving a place and coming to a new place are entrepreneurs, are risk-takers.”
Oshagan said NMM is on the forefront of this effort, in part, with stories focused on success.
The faces of entrepreneurship
Latina business owner Maria Marin-McInturf is one of the many entrepreneurs featured on NMM’s website. Born in Nicarauga, Marin-McInturf moved to the United States in 1984 with a goal and a dream: to work hard and become successful. With a passion for the environment and a desire to make a difference, she founded Unlimited Recycling.
Marin-McInturf, who started her business 13 years ago as a solo operation, now employs a staff of seven. She said immigrants bring to this country passion and a hard work ethic.
“We know that we have to work hard to succeed, said Marin-McInturf. “We are thankful for what we have, and do not take anything for granted. We work hard to learn the (English) language, the (American) culture, and to be who we are.”
Marin-McInturf’s story may never make the front page of the New York Times, but, through NMM, her story is heard.
Oshagan wanted NMM to not only make others aware of immigrants’ contributions, but make themselves aware of each other.
“A great deal of business comes from the minority community,” said Oshagan. “For instance, there are 15,000 Asian businesses in Michigan; there are 10,000 Latino businesses in Michigan; the Arab-American community brings in $600 million each year in tax revenue for the state.”
Siblani agrees and cites Dearborn as a model of immigrant success.
“Almost every city (in Michigan) has lost population except for Dearborn, which has increased,” said Siblani. The reason, he said, is because immigrants not only live there, but have revitalized it. The business district that once suffered from neglect is now vibrant with restaurants, offices and shops.
“Dearborn is hustling and bustling,” he said. “Today, you cannot find a place to rent. It is very expensive to rent there because of what immigrants have done. They have injected new blood into the area. There is a misperception that immigrants come in and take jobs. That is not true. They come and offer jobs.”
Publishers as advocates
In addition to featuring stories on entrepreneurial success, each NMM publisher is trying to be an advocate in their respective communities. Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Jewish News said, “Editors in ethnic minority media are like unelected mayors in their community. They are people who live and are known in their communities, and people turn to them in difficult situations.”
Elimelech Goldberg is a former rabbi in the Detroit area, a black belt in karate and the founder and executive director of Kids Kicking Cancer, a nonprofit committed to help children use martial arts therapy to help take control of pain. Goldberg said Horwitz is involved in so much of the community structure that at any given time, there is a non-stop line at his door.
“He has an open-door policy,” Goldberg noted. “Just the other day I was sitting with him in his office. He was helping our organization strategize on growing the business. He suggested a number of people to meet. He is a gentleman who knows how to get things done.”
In fact, publishers of the minority press are often looked to in order to solve community issues, such as discrimination and government bureaucracy. Siblani said Arab-American residents often contact him to help with immigration problems.
“I will either direct them to the right place,” said Siblani, “to an immigration attorney (for instance) or, I will write a letter for them to a congressman or senator. Sometimes I write directly to immigration myself.”
Elias Gutierrez, publisher of the Latino Press, is often called on to help clean up the mess left in immigration cases. He recalls one case in which a family was swindled out of $20,000 with a promise, by a so-called lawyer, to secure their immigration documents.
After paying the money the family worked to save, Gutierrez said, “immigration officers showed up to their homes and they were deported. The lawyer knew from the beginning that this would happen. They legally robbed them.”
Since issues of concern in the ethnic/immigrant communities can go unreported in the mainstream press, media that serve their individual communities have taken the lead. For instance, the Arab American community faces problems with profiling at airports, said Oshagan, an issue that is rarely reported in the press.
In the Latino community, underreported issues include complaints that range from supermarkets that sell spoiled meat with altered expiration dates, to scammers who prey on immigrants, said Gutierrez, who added, “That is why, as media, (the minority press) are the only ones to report or seek solutions to those involved.”
Dana Hollowell is the first holder of the Center for Michigan’s student fellowship. An award-winning journalist, she has experience in the broadcast and print media. Hollowell grew up in the Detroit metropolitan area.