immigration

Power Not Panic: Information & Fear Among Oakland’s Latino Immigrant Community by Madeleine Bair

Originally published on Medium

When Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced impending ICE raids in Northern California last month, she landed in the national spotlight over the question of whether she abetted criminals by tipping them off to law enforcement plans.

But here in Oakland, the controversy over her decision centered around one issue: panic. Did the announcement cause more of it among the city’s immigrants? How can it be avoided? When Mayor Schaaf spoke to the press, she addressed the concern directly: “No quiero crear pánico” (”I don’t want to cause panic”) she said, explaining that sowing fear in immigrant communities is one of ICE’s tactics. “Es importante que todos se preparan” (“it is important that everyone prepare themselves”).

Graphic  shared by immigrant advocates  to fight ICE with “power, not panic.”

Graphic shared by immigrant advocates to fight ICE with “power, not panic.”

Within 24 hours, local immigrant advocates sprang into action on email, social media, and in protests, sharing information immigrants can use, such as what to do if ICE officers knock, and what number to call if anyone sees them. “Power not Panic” is a motto activists have embraced in responding to reports of ICE raids — whether they are unverified rumors from social media or announcements from the mayor. Despite these efforts to fight fear with information, as one advocate told the LA Times about the announcement, “The main reaction that people have had has been fear.”

For politicians and activists, as well as journalists and newsrooms, the response on the ground raises one central question: How can news and information empower rather than cause panic?


For many immigrants, the feelings of fear, confusion, and misinformation are constant. In Oakland, one in five residents speaks Spanish at home, and a growing number speak indigenous Mayan languages. As a group, Latinos earn the lowest wages in the costly Bay Area, and for many Latino immigrants, reports of ICE raids are only one source of panic among a barrage of possibilities: an eviction notice for a family just making ends meet; a workplace injury for someone who lacks legal status; a teenager pressured to join a gang. How do residents find information to help them navigate these personal crises? How do they share their stories so that government officials, direct service providers, and the wider community can take action?

Interviews with more than a dozen community leaders indicates that quite often, they don’t.

Información Para Inmigrantes Latinos

For 6 years, I used video evidence to document human rights abuses around the world, so that advocates and policy makers could have the information they need to take action. Turning my attention closer to home, I wanted to understand why my own immigrant neighbors and relatives often lack the information they need to make decisions. So last year, with the support of the Listening Post Collective, a project of Internews, I set out to learn how Oakland’s Latino immigrants access news and information, and how journalists can better serve them.

In a listening session, one participant wrote that she wants “more information on everything.”

In a listening session, one participant wrote that she wants “more information on everything.”

For nine months, I met with church leaders and librarians, grassroots organizers, leaders of health clinics, women’s empowerment groups, and legal advocacy agencies. I attended “know your rights” trainings, neighborhood forums, and citywide town halls, and talked with many of the residents I met there.

What I found were residents hungry for news and resources that will help them be safe, healthy, and engaged in their community, and who are frustrated by just how difficult it is to find that information. In basement meetings and on phone calls, grassroots organizers and faith leaders work long hours to connect residents to relevant information. With limited resources, they are faced with communicating the constant and often dire policy changes coming from the Trump administration.

Residents and community leaders told me that the handful of bilingual newspapers distributed in Oakland are not reliable sources for information they need. In reporting on the mayor’s announcement last week, Univision and Telemundo spoke with advocates who reminded residents of what to do if ICE officers knock on the door. But for a large part, TV news was described as too superficial and sensational to be truly informative. As one community leader said, “I want news that helps me take action rather than leaving me feeling defeated and helpless.”

The observations I heard from Latino immigrants by and large echo those captured in recent studies of news consumers. Yet rarely do those studies focus on immigrant communities, and rarely are solutions developed by the journalism industry designed for non-English-speaking audiences. By collaborating with the Listening Post Collective, along with leaders, organizations, and residents, to map the information needs of Oakland’s Latino immigrants, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of how news outlets and others can provide information that engages and empowers this community.

This is the first in a series documenting our efforts to map the information needs of Oakland’s Latino immigrants. Next up: How we collaborated with community organizations to research what sort of news and information residents want, and what we learned in the process.

The News Deserts in Immigrant Communities by Madeleine Bair

If newsrooms want to rebuild trust with underserved audiences, they can start with immigrant communities

Originally published on Medium

For the past four years, my life in New York City consisted of a regular trip from my home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to spend an evening with my in-laws in Ridgewood, Queens. There, my husband’s mom introduced me to Andean dishes like llapingachos — a pillowy, cheese-filled, potato pancake — and taught me how to create perfect folds in the preparation of empanadas.

The food, of course, wasn’t the only cultural difference between my husband’s family and my own. When it came to news, I was effectively traveling from the most media-saturated landscape in the country — one designed for a college-educated, iPhone-equipped, white professional like myself — to a very different ecosystem for Spanish-speaking immigrants.

My husband’s parents, Ecuadorean immigrants who construct condominiums and clean homes, do not receive email newsletters or mobile news alerts. They have never been invited to a town hall to mingle with newsmakers and offer up story ideas. Google Cardboard has not arrived in the mail. Their media diet consists of Univision news and El Diario La Prensa — the country’s oldest Spanish-language daily. But those outlets are often insufficient when it comes to local news that addresses their immediate concerns. Univision’s strength is its national reporting, and El Diario La Prensa has thinned out in recent years after several rounds of staff cuts. And so they get their news just as often from church acquaintances, friends, and lawyers.

Their options for news and information may be limited, unreliable, and, at times, expensive, but they are better off than many immigrants elsewhere in the country, who have no local news catered to their concerns and delivered in their language. And in communities with few or no local media outlets, fake news and misinformation spread quickly.

A false report that the Trump administration would lift visa requirements.  Source

A false report that the Trump administration would lift visa requirements. Source

In February, a relative sent us an article about Trump’s plans to ease visa restrictions for Ecuadorean visitors. “Is this true?” she wrote on WhatsApp. The same fake news story had spread throughout diaspora communities from around the world. At the same time, unchecked and often false rumors of ICE raids among immigrant communities have fueled fear and mistrust.

While the news deserts in middle America have been well documented, trends in ethnic media have been less so. But a few figures paint a picture of the yawning gap between the news industry and the country’s immigrant communities: In the past 45 years, the number of foreign-born Americans has climbed, their share of the population nearing the historic levels of 125 years ago, during the height of European immigration. Back then, more than1,000 German language newspapers were published to serve what was at the time the country’s largest non-English-speaking immigrant community. Today, there are a total of four dailies serving Spanish-speaking immigrants, down from 35 in 2002.

New York city council members joined journalists and union workers in calls to “Save El Diario” after a third round of layoffs in less than two years was announced in early 2016.  Source

New York city council members joined journalists and union workers in calls to “Save El Diario” after a third round of layoffs in less than two years was announced in early 2016. Source

Since Trump’s election, many journalists, news executives, and media funders have undertaken a long overdue reflection into the disconnect between the media and much of America — a gap that is often framed as separating the cosmopolitan coasts from the rural and suburban heartland.But we need not hop on a plane to find communities that have been neglected and unnewsed. Media bubbles are not only geographic, they are also linguistic, cultural, and economic. And like middle America, immigrant communities are increasingly neglected by local newsrooms and left behind by the industry’s investment in new business models, distribution strategies, and reporting methods.

According to Michelle’s List, a nationwide database of local digital news outlets, only 3 of more than 300 publications describe themselves as serving immigrant communities. In a similar database compiled by the Columbia Journalism Review from 2010 to 2012, not one of the three-dozen digital outlets out of New York City focused on covering immigrants, who make up nearly 40 percent of the city’s population. (Outlets serving black audiences have similarly been left out of the innovation race, as journalist and publisher Glenn Burkins outlined in the recent Columbia Journalism Review.) With little resources to invest in innovation and training among local ethnic press, the urgent needs for verification of fake news and misinformation have largely gone unmet.


The struggles of the ethnic press, like that of local newspapers across the country, are not new. But since the election of President Trump on a platform of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, the disconnect between the media and immigrant communities has come into sharp focus. At a time of widespread fear, why would an immigrant want to speak to a reporter, especially one from an outlet they don’t know and trust? A recent NPR storyabout how fear of deportation has led to a drop in the number of immigrants receiving food stamps and other social services ended with this unusual footnote: “We tried repeatedly to find immigrants willing to talk to us for the story, even without using their names. But we were unable to do so.”

Think about that for a moment. One of the country’s largest newsrooms was unable to find an immigrant to talk to for a story about immigrants. Notwithstanding some excellent reporting on immigration by journalists around the country, many local and national newsrooms lack the relationships with immigrant communities that are needed to uncover and investigate urgent and important stories.


How can we create a media ecosystem that better serves today’s America — a country where immigrants and their U.S.-born children make up more than one-quarter of the overall population?

From media funders and investors to researchers, editors, and entrepreneurs, there are steps we can all take to bridge the gap between the news media and immigrant communities. Here are a few suggestions, and I invite you to share your own in the comments:

  • Researchers and innovators: Study news consumption among immigrant audiences; they may be different from that of white, college-educated, English-speaking news consumers. Foreign-born Latinos, for example, aremore likely than other groups to access the Internet from a smartphone — just one of many factors that may drive a unique distribution strategy to engage immigrants rather than native-born audiences.
  • Editors and reporters: Collaborate with ethnic media to report on issues in immigrant communities. They may be tapped into important stories and sources, and collaboration can strengthen the reporting of both outlets. Daniela Gerson has outlined steps news organizations can take to get started.
  • Funders: Support media innovation serving immigrant communities by inviting ethnic media publishers and innovators to conferences and prioritizing reporting that serves immigrant audiences for innovation grants. Whether the focus is on fake news, community engagement, or business models, it is likely that ethnic media outlets are facing those challenges just as much as mainstream outlets, and may well be addressing them with novel solutions.
  • Finally, understand the difference between covering and serving a community. Newsrooms can invest in an immigration beat, but if the reporting does not address concerns of immigrant communities, is not reported in their languages or distributed via tools and platforms that they use, then the journalism — while by all means important for one audience — may not make a dent in addressing the information gaps facing immigrant communities.

As we design ways to reinvest in local reporting, it is important that we consider all of the diverse audiences who can benefit from innovative, in-depth, and engaged local journalism.