Phuong Ly

Phuong Ly is founder of Gateway California, a nonprofit that helps journalists connect to immigrant sources. The project was developed during her recent year as a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. She began her journalism career at the Charlotte Observer and then spent seven years at The Washington Post, writing about crime, religion and education, with a focus on immigrant communities. In 2006, a portfolio of her stories won the American Society of Newspaper Editors/Freedom Forum Award for Outstanding Writing about Diversity and was included in the book “Best Newspaper Writing 2006-2007.”


How to interview, report on immigrants when you don’t speak their language

Growing up, I discovered the easiest way to get rid of someone soliciting from door to door: Just say your family doesn’t speak English. Most visitors turned away quickly.

Occasionally, a church group would really persist and invite themselves in. After some awkwardness, they managed to communicate with us, even though my parents’ preferred language was Vietnamese. They used me as a translator, showed books with photos and after patiently sitting around for a couple of hours, found out that my father did speak a little English, albeit slowly and shyly.

Many journalists could take some inspiration from those Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses who visited our North Carolina home. Immigrant communities are rich with stories, but reporters often cite language as an obstacle.

Tom Huang, assistant managing editor for Sunday and enterprise at the Dallas Morning News, told me that some reporters he’s supervised have assumed they wouldn’t be able to get much information.… Read more

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As people of color become a majority, is it time for journalists to stop using the term ‘minorities’?

Is it time to stop using the term “minorities”?

The word has long been used to describe people who are not white. But changing demographics make the term outdated and oxymoronic.

Consider the word usage in these stories:

From the Associated Press:

For the first time, minorities make up the majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and growing divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.

From KTLA-TV in Los Angeles:

Not surprisingly, most of the states that experienced growth in populations of minority children are the ones where white children are in the minority: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi and Maryland.

David Minthorn, deputy standards editor at the Associated Press, told me via email that the wire service uses “minority” as it’s defined by Webster’s dictionary — a racial, ethnic, religious or political group smaller and different from the larger group.… Read more

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Vargas’ essay renews attention to media’s use of ‘illegal’ & ‘undocumented’

Should journalists call Jose Antonio Vargas an illegal immigrant or an undocumented one?

Discussions about how to refer to an immigrant who isn’t authorized to live in the U.S. have popped up periodically in newsrooms. But Vargas’ recent New York Times essay — and his stature as high-profile, Pulitzer-winning journalist — has thrust the media into a bigger role in the debate.

In his essay, Vargas refers to himself as an undocumented immigrant. In a tweet last week, he noted that many people were tweeting about the controversial essay with the hashtag #undocumented immigrant. “Undocumented immigrant is trending,” he tweeted from his @joseiswriting handle. “So let’s drop ‘illegal’ and ‘alien.’” No person is illegal or an alien.”

Increasingly, immigration advocates are questioning the media’s language usage.… Read more

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California Watch’s engagement efforts show staffers what hard-to-reach audiences want

California Watch’s stories about earthquake safety problems in schools reached hundreds of thousands of people through a statewide network of radio, TV and newspaper partnerships.

But the ones most affected by nonprofit news agency’s investigation were the ones least likely to read it — children.

That’s where Ashley Alvarado comes in. Her job as California Watch’s public engagement manager is figuring out how to deliver information to the audiences who need it most but are hardest to reach. This means that her techniques have to be as unique as the diverse communities that she’s targeting.

With the earthquake safety story, the solution was putting information in a kid-friendly format — coloring books. And not just in English, but also in Spanish, Vietnamese and both simplified and traditional Chinese, the most spoken languages in California.… Read more

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