OurChinatown Mobile News Network Serves Its Community

A person chats on a phone, oblivious to the people crossing Chinatown’s Canal Street. They echo a photo of the Beatles, looking down from the iTunes billboard, as they crossed Abbey Road for their album by that name.

By Joe Grimm

One of the newest ideas to bubble up in the effervescent New York City media market is a site with a tight focus and a wide reach.

OurChinatown, launched this spring, is an Asian American Journalists Association demonstration project.

The strategy for OurChinatown is to distribute news – and to let the community contribute – by smartphone. Phones are a next-up tool for journalism and are the technology of choice for some communities. They are everywhere in sight on the streets of Chinatown.

The vision is a low-cost, mobile news network where a reporting team writes, takes photos and videos, edits them and posts them on the fly with smartphones. It is envisioned that community members will be able to see where reporters are on a digital map, feed them information or post their own news updates and photos.

OurChinatown is intended to be in English and Chinese and to unite a dispersed multilingual community within a big city. The builders of this mobile-to-mobile site say they want to knit the community together with street-level beat reporting, something that many traditional news outlets have had to curtail because of budget cuts.

Paul Cheung, a director of the OurChinatown project, said that the website lets people access news by phone, tablet or computer. The long-range idea is to have news be in English and Chinese. The team has experimented with cross-language aggregation, bringing five top stories a day from Chinese-language publications into English. The same could happen from English to Chinese.

The project is one of three demonstration projects proposed by Dinah Eng, former director of AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program. The McCormick and Ford foundations funded her ideas.

Project leaders are AP Global Interactive Editor Paul Cheung, freelance writer and editor Cindy del Rosario Tapan, and Jeff Yang, founding publisher of aMagazine and aOnline, and now Global VP of Iconoculture.

The top team and staff of contributors have many roots in New York’s Chinatown. Cheung grew up in Chinatown. Yang worked there for several years. Most of the staff is Chinese-American. The range of media experience includes broadcast and cable TV, newspapers, magazines, online, graphics, writing, video, photography and music.

Jeff Yang leads a planning session with other members of the OurChinatown team.

Contributions by citizens are welcome.

The site carries five content channels: news, people, living, eat and sea & do, serving up timely and cultural events.

The website has spots for ads that it is hoped can sustain OurChinaown beyond the startup phase, which extends into August. Ads might also display just on phones. Cheung, however, said that the most powerful sustaining feature might not be the technology or the ads, but the community that OurChinatown was designed to serve.

Cheung said that the advisory board created for the project will likely want to see the OurChinatown continue to keep Chinatown connected.

Disclosure: Joe Grimm is co-director of The Living Textbook, an AAJA demonstration project, with middle-school students in Dearborn, Mich. He will write about that in a couple weeks.

All photos by OurChinatown © All rights reserved by OurChinatown

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at www.jobspage.com since 1996.