January 21, 2010

Medill students, the Census and immigrant communities

Now these guys get it! These kids delivered -- for me -- the journalism equivalent of a Reese's Cup: two great tastes in one wonderful package.

I don't know how long I have argued that the immigrant communities are important elements of any community reporting.

And how long have I argued that the Census Bureau is a wonderful treasure-trove of story ideas? A long long time!

Six Stories About the Census: How Medill students and local ethnic papers came together to find a common immigrant experience

These students looked at different ethnic communities and how they view and react to the decennial census.
From the six papers:
Jessica Abels, Raphaelle Neyton, and Shasha Zou in al Moustaqbil ("The Future"): "When Arab Americans fill out their census forms in just a few months, they won't find an Arab category listed next to Asian, Black or African American, or White. 'Arab is not considered a race, so there's no racial category,' explains Louise Cainkar, a board member of the Arab American Action Network. 'They have to check the white box, and a lot of people feel that their experience is not the white experience, so that's unfair.'"

Kate Endeley and Clara Lingle in the Korea Central Daily News: "Han and Kim cite many reasons why Koreans who are not U.S. citizens opt out of participating: they are undocumented and therefore fear the legal repercussions; they struggle with English (the 2000 census forms did not come in a Korean version); they find the participation process too tedious or they are unaware of the census itself."

Zoe Jennings in Pinoy: "Many Filipinos may not understand the importance of the count because in the Philippines, there is no census equivalent and they had never been counted. In providing the government with their name and family information, Clarito says, many Filipinos fear that the government is keeping tabs on them, or at the very least, will demand they perform jury duty or another civic duty."

Jessica Allen in the India Tribune: "Kamaria said many people don't know why the census matters, and that in general it needs to be better explained. Even she expressed uncertainty about how the census would affect illegal immigrants who choose to fill out the forms and whether illegal immigrants or students are even supposed to fill it out."

Matthew Bellassai and Alex Hollander in Extra: "Although the Census is separate from the rest of the government, people tend to associate the two. 'It's all "the government" as far as anyone's concerned,' Espinoza said. '"The government wants to charge me more taxes, the government wants to get me arrested for immigration purposes." There's no distinction there,' he said. Many people in the community tend to agree."

Arianna Hermosillo and Nadine Shabeeb in the Polish Daily News: "Another barrier to filling out the census form is that people may not even recognize it when it arrives in the mail, according to Zajaczowska. 'We will have to teach them that the Census 2010 means "Spis Powszechny,"' Zajaczowska said. This literally translates to 'common list' which is what the census is called in Poland."
While the theme of this exercise did not look at what can be done with Census Bureau data, the very fact that these students looked at the Census and the ethnic communities tells me they have a lot more on the ball than many of their more jaded and less imaginative journalism cronies.

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