"Trust comes from being transparent. I am not from most of the communities I work with. So I need to be collaborative and open, to provide opportunities for the communities to set the agenda."
In New York, where the large, English-language media dominate the debate on most public issues, public officials and mainstream journalists tend to overlook the vision and insights of the news publications springing from the city’s ethnic, immigrant, and low-income communities. This oversight had particularly alarming ramifications after September 11, 2001, when New York’s Middle Eastern, South-Asian and Arab populations suddenly were rendered suspect and vulnerable.
These alternative media outlets play a crucial role in reporting the news and mobilizing readers. But immigrant and ethnic reporters often lack access to public officials and resources that mainstream newspapers take for granted. For decades, advertisers also have preferred the large, big-name media, with their economies of scale. In recent years especially, many of these outlets have been consolidated and homogenized—further marginalizing people outside the mainstream.
In 2000, Scher founded IPA-New York, associated with the national Independent Press Association (IPA). IPA works to promote and support independent publications committed to social justice and a free press. As IPA-New York’s director, Scher provides technical assistance and information-sharing to a network of ethnic newspapers and magazines serving immigrant and low-income communities. Particularly valuable to independent journalists has been IPA-New York’s Independent Press Club, which Scher founded in 2001. The press club offers face-to-face access to newsmakers who might otherwise not return phone calls from small publications. Past IPC events have featured New York’s police commissioner and schools chancellor and the state attorney general.
Access has been a major theme for Scher. After September 11, she created “Voices That Must Be Heard,” a weekly e-mail and Web publication that translates and presents the best of New York’s ethnic press to the rest of the city, and beyond. Through IPA, she has generated a group ad-placement service for the ethnic press that last year generated $600,000 for participating publications. Scher also launched a program that supports 14 Immigrant Press Fellows, to hone their knowledge of immigrant legal rights and other issues. Her concise, yet comprehensive study of the ethnic press of New York resulted in Many Voices, One City: The IPA Guide to the Ethnic Press, a 200-listing directory. A bridge-builder, Scher stimulates discourse across ethnic barriers, helping groups with long-standing animosities, such as Arabs and Jews, and Indians and Pakistanis, to work together on common problems.
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