IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ethnic media find new angle on Katrina

With passion and pride, ethnic news organizations are sending reporters, photographers and TV crews to cover the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Yoon Sung Cho, managing editor of the Korea Times, a Korean-language newspaper based in Los Angeles.Nick Ut / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

"Black general takes charge in New Orleans." "Undocumented won't be allowed to receive help from FEMA." "1,700 Koreans in New Orleans yet to be located."

With passion and pride, ethnic news organizations in the United States are sending reporters, photographers and TV crews to the disaster area and covering the Hurricane Katrina story from angles not seen in many of the nation's major metropolitan newspapers.

At times, the ethnic media have been more opinionated and outspoken, and in many cases have taken a more activist approach than mainstream news organizations and tried to help members of their ethnic groups who have suffered from the storm.

For example, they have been reuniting families and finding housing for refugees, said Daffodil Altan, associate editor of New California Media, a nationwide association of more than 700 ethnic media groups.

Cover and interact
"I'd have to say the tendency to both really cover and interact with their communities seems to be one of the biggest differences," Altan said.

The NCM estimates that ethnic media reach 51 million people in the United States. For many of them, the ethnic media are their only source of information.

The Korea Times, based in Los Angeles, is dedicating much of its coverage to motivating Korean-Americans to help their own.

"There are so many Koreans who had been living in the New Orleans area ... and they lost their houses and businesses and had to evacuate from where they had been living, so Koreans have their own stories, and we're focusing on the Korean victims," managing editor Yoon Cho said.

But reporter Euyhun Yi added: "We are also trying to help African Americans."

Koreans and blacks were antagonists in the 1992 riots that followed the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. Now the Times is using the disaster to show they can work together. In one story, the Times cited a Korean shopkeeper in New Orleans who was trusted with $12,000 of his black neighbors' money as they all fled the storm. He later tracked them down and returned the cash.

"I am so thankful to have been trusted in that way by my neighbors," the Korean told The Times.

Radio Saigon in Houston, the city where about half of Louisiana's Vietnamese population of 30,000 has taken refuge, spends two hours a day on hard news, and devotes much of the rest of the time to helping fellow Vietnamese-Americans.

"Having been a refugee myself years ago, I know exactly what it's like to be a refugee and I know what needs to be done to help them," said the station's chief executive, Thuy Vu. "Some of us really have to relive the nightmare of being refugees all over again. It's very hard to be professionally journalistic about it. I believe sometimes a journalist has to put down their camera and their pens to help people."

offering options
La Opinion, a Los Angeles-based newspaper with 500,000 readers, sent a reporter and photographer to cover the storm's effect on Hispanics living on the Gulf Coast.

"We get the big-picture stories from the wire services, but what we needed was the Latino community, more than 200,000 Latinos in Louisiana," said executive editor Pedro Rojas.

One major story in La Opinion noted that illegal immigrants will not get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Rather than criticize the Bush administration, the story offered options for those seeking assistance. "We included a box with what they can do and telephone numbers where they can call," Rojas said.

In the black media, the coverage has promoted racial pride _ for example, with headlines like the one in The Afro-American Newspaper about the black military commander in New Orleans, Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore _ and explored what some have branded racism in the mainstream media.

"A lot of the cable channels seemed obsessed with the looting. They'd say the blacks are looting, and the whites found some bread. Those kinds of things really strike a chord with African-Americans," said George E. Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and

The black media, he said, have focused not on the looting and the violence, but on the future of New Orleans' black population.

"The mainstream media is so predictable, it's so fill-in-the-blank kind of journalism as opposed to black journalism," Curry said. "We're far more concerned about their plight rather than whether we're going to have National Guard troops bringing in guns. Here you have a city that's two-thirds black and half are below the poverty line. What's going to happen to these people?"