As a high schooler, Denise Wong soured on journalism while writing for a youth newspaper produced by the New York Daily News. She felt stories about ethnic minority and openly gay teens were so tightly edited that they lost nuances crucial to news coverage of those demographics.
But Wong’s feelings about journalism have changed since joining the staff of hardboiled magazine, the Asian American student publication at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I love expressing myself without conforming to expectations. I’m learning a lot about Asians and getting to dialogue about it,” Wong says.
Her passion mirrors that of her peers at not only hardboiled, now in its 14th year, but at other U.S. colleges having newspapers, literary journals and e-zines focused on Asians. It’s not known how many such staffs exist nationally, but students typically work without pay and operate on shoestring budgets. Some have prior journalism experience; others have none. What they all share, though, is a commitment to exploring topics relevant to young Asian adults that aren’t necessarily covered with depth by official campus papers or any other establishment media.
“There’s no question such periodicals will continue to proliferate,” says San Francisco State University journalism professor Jon Funabiki. “Considering the many Internet and desktop publishing resources available, today’s climate makes it possible. As time goes on, you’ll see more diversity and fragmentation, too.”
The general public’s consumption of U.S. media has declined steadily in recent years, but segments of ethnic media have seen “significant growth” nationally, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The Project reports that a 2005 survey conducted for an association of ethnic news outlets indicated that 24 percent of American adults consumed news produced by ethnic media. All this coincided with the U.S. immigrant population jumping from 19.8 million in 1990 to more than 35 million in 2005.
Funabiki says the formation of ethnic media, whether among adults or college students, springs from “a natural desire to connect with each other and to establish community identity.” He adds that, even in areas heavily populated by minorities, their voices aren’t necessarily represented in the so-called mainstream media.
So despite UC Berkeley’s undergraduate enrollment of 25,000 being 40 percent Asian American, there’s still a void that a newsmagazine like hardboiled can fill, say Funabiki and Wong.
“Even though we’re a majority on campus,” Wong says, “we’re underrepresented in lots of ways. Many Asian ethnicities have historically lacked access to education. Hate crimes and hate speech against Asians aren’t taken seriously by the rest of the campus. hardboiled is our voice.”
By no means are Asian media limited to the West Coast. A decade ago, Dartmouth College students launched Main Street magazine, its name evoking images of middle America while simultaneously challenging them. Furthermore, pan-Asian publications often co-exist alongside ethnic-specific counterparts. The University of Southern California boasts the pan-Asian Bamboo Offshoot and the Asian Indian Nazariya, for instance.
The features, photography and opinion pieces in Asian student publications reflect as much diversity as the populations themselves. A typical edition on any campus might contain profiles of Asian faculty, coverage of cultural events on- and off-campus, and news involving ethnic studies and courses on campus. Some publications dissect the truth behind stereotypes, such as the myth of Asians being slender, never obese.
UC Berkeley’s hardboiled recently profiled the mayors of Oakland and San Francisco, both of whom are Asian, and criticized the campus Greek system for touting certain fraternities and sororities as “top tier” even though their membership lacks minorities.
Wong says that, when students compliment the hardboiled staff “for stories they connect with, it’s an empowering feeling.”