Helping Reporters and Community Connect: What AANHPI Coloradans Want From News Coverage

  • Tina is an editor, reporter and coach with the Colorado News Collaborative. She has been a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the Albuquerque Tribune, but spent most of her career as a reporter and columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. Her reporting on immigration, education and urban poverty has won national recognition. Tina lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids. She's a native New Mexican and prefers red over green.

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Last Thursday, Joie Ha, 29, the daughter of ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam, stood before an optimistic gathering of about 40 people amid Lunar New Year decorations and Valentine-festooned tablecloths at Happy Living cultural and senior center in Aurora. 

Margaret “Malama” Savelio and Kanani Lukela Ropati at the Feb. 2 event at Happy Living cultural and senior center. (Photo by Tina Griego)

Most in attendance were Asian, South Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. A smattering of journalists was in the crowd. All were waiting to hear the upshot of a series of conversations that took place last spring and summer about local news. More specifically, about local news coverage that reduced AANHPI communities to overachievers or model minorities or exotic outsiders or spreaders of COVID-19, that confined them to certain roles in certain stories at certain times.

The conversations had a goal: To figure out how to broaden and deepen the coverage, creating relationships between communities of color and local newsrooms that build trust rather than fray it. 

On Thursday, Ha talked about four ways. 

The four, part of a larger report called “Fighting to be Seen,” call for:

  • sustained connection between Colorado’s local newsrooms and Asian, South Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, 
  • deeper understanding by reporters and editors of these communities’ diversity, cultures and histories, 
  • increased representation in newsroom hiring and in coverage, and
  • newsroom and philanthropic investments in translations and platforms that will reach young and older generations.  

Each broad recommendation will require smaller, significant steps to make it a reality. One of those steps — a guide to help community members find reporters and reporters find community members — was launched right then and there Thursday evening. COLab, with support of a $25,000 grant from Colorado Media Project, will lead the creation of Amplify Colorado, an online diverse source guide. The Asian Pacific Development Center’s Naureen Singh and Neal Walia as well as Mary Lee Chin, a food and nutrition consultant, were the first to sign up as potential sources Thursday.

“This work is important and it expands outside of these walls,” Ha told the gathering, which spent much of the next hour creating lists of feedback:

Amplify Colorado could serve multiple purposes. For example, new-to-Colorado people can find others with like interests from their cultural communities.

Some people may need/benefit from encouragement/training to talk to the media.

The ownership (for change) falls on the media, but they are severely under resourced for translation and other additional reporters. 

Reporters aren’t the only ones telling stories.

Ha, who is chair of the Denver Asian American Pacific Islander Commission and vice chair of the Colorado Asian Pacific United coalition, said she chose to help lead the conversations — held under the umbrella of  COLab and Colorado Media Project’s Voices Initiative — because the relationship between local media and the AANHPI community has to find room for community members  “to tell our own stories and take charge of the narrative.” 

The Voices Initiative, she said, “presented an incredible opportunity to ensure that AANHPI folks could express their thoughts in a way that we knew would be heard.” 

Meta Sarmiento shares feedback from a small-group discussion about the recommendations during the Feb. 2 event. (Photo by Gil Asakawa)

Voices has been an evolving project, one that over the past two years has brought together some 75 people — Black, Latinx, AANHPI and Indigenous — seeking to chart a path forward to more equitable news coverage. Each group has been larger than the last. Each has been more diverse. The AANHPI group has members who identify as Americans, as Coloradans, as members of their respective, sometimes multiple, ethnic communities: Indian and Punjabi, Korean, South Korean, Thai, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Mongolian, Filipino, Vietnamese. 

They recognize and are willing to act upon something we’ve said before here at COLab: The status quo is not an option. Not for newsrooms needing to grow their audiences and their bottom lines. Not for communities that need to have accurate information and to see themselves portrayed as human beings instead of cardboard cutouts. 

There’s a quote in “Fighting to be Seen,” from Meta Sarmiento, a Guam-born, Filipino poet, rapper, educator and Denver resident who was there last Thursday. It sums up the situation nicely:

“Newsrooms cannot continue to do the same thing over and over.”

So, let’s change things. Together.

If you’d like a head start in becoming or suggesting a source for Amplify Colorado, or if you are a reporter interested in adding your name to the guide, please fill out this form.

This post was sent as a letter to our email subscribers on Friday, February 10 , 2023. Join our email list to learn more about COLab and the work we are doing.