The NOLA Beez project, an online collaboration of ethnic media in New Orleans, was officially launched in a ceremony that took place at Dillard University on January 12.
Hosted by Vincent Sylvain, publisher of the New Orleans Agenda, the ceremony preceded a two-hour New Orleans mayoral debate and drew more than 100 attendees, including local leaders, students and school faculty members, and several candidates for district representatives.
"We're proud to present to you an online hive for hyperlocal news content covering the New Orleans metropolitan area," Sylvain said. "This is a site where we can learn about what's happening in our communities — white, black, Latinos and Asians — without any language barriers."
A project of New America Media (NAM) and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, NOLA Beez culls daily and weekly articles and videos from New Orleans' ethnic media, translates them to English when necessary, and posts them online, creating and opening up new lines of communication among and between ethnic and immigrant communities.
An hour before the launching ceremony, Dr. Marvalene Hughes, president of Dillard University, welcomed the project in a private meeting with NAM and NOLA Beez representatives. "This is so timely and relevant, and it's a great honor for our university to host this event," she said.
For John Hoa Nguyen, publisher of Ngoc Lan Thoi Bao, a Vietnamese-language biweekly, the online collaboration is an important step to unite immigrant communities in New Orleans and help the city regain what had been lost and destroyed.
"How can we say that we are rebuilding New Orleans if we don't know what's happening in the Latino community, or if the Latino immigrants don't know what's happening in the black, white or Asian communities?" said Nguyen.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Nguyen remembers that customers inVietnamese restaurants in New Orleans were mainly Vietnamese immigrants who largely reside in the city's East Bank. If there were white, black or Latino customers, they were most likely invited by their Vietnamese-American friends and colleagues.
Now these Vietnamese restaurants are just like any bustling restaurants in the French Quarter. Sometimes, he said, whites, blacks and Latinos even outnumber Vietnamese customers.
"I didn't see that kind of diversity in New Orleans before," Nguyen added. "This tells us that we now need to familiarize ourselves with this new environment...and an online collaboration of different ethnic communities is one way to do it."
One of the primary goals of the NOLA Beez project is to help community media set up a viable, robust online presence with trained contributors who could produce stories more efficiently and comprehensively. Nguyen, whose publication does not have a Web edition, is optimistic that the project will help him build an online presence and reach out more to his younger Vietnamese-American readers.
"It will surely expand our readership," he said.
"It's really easy to open doors when you know the people outside your own community and build relationships with different ethnic groups," said Juan Carlos Ramos, publisher of bilingual publication El Tiempo New Orleans. "It's always helpful when you recognize others."
Ramos said that through NOLA Beez he is optimistic to see a big improvement in his publication. While his primary audience will still be Latino immigrants, his marketing and editorial base will be expanded to other ethnic groups.
"Because the Beez cuts across all ethnicities, our advertisers will no longer be limited to Latino businesses. As far as our news contents, we will be able to publish stories about blacks, whites and Asian communities in New Orleans. It's going to be just great," he said.
"In an era when 50 million 'I's' of the blogosphere dominate the newscape, ethnic media give us the collective sensibility of the 'we.' And that 'we' — far from being insular and parochial as the term "ethnic" implies — fuses the global with the local, giving ethnic media's coverage a cosmopolitan perspective," said Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media.
These ethnic communities, Close added, not only bolster the city's economy, but also further enrich its cultural and social backbone. Along side these dramatic changes in New Orleans are the ethnic media that tirelessly chronicle the key events and concerns of their communities and advocate their perspectives to the wider public realm.
"Our diversity makes the city more vibrant," Dr. Beverly Wright, interim president of the African American Women of Purpose and Power (AAWPP), said in an interview after the launching. "We're here because we love New Orleans and we want to see it rise again."
New America Media also sponsors similar ethnic media Web sites in San Jose, CA (SanJoseBeez.org) supported by the Knight Foundation, and in Los Angeles, CA (LABeez.org) supported by the Ford Foundation.
Anthony D. Advincula is co-editor of NOLA Beez and associate editor/national media outreach director for New America Media.
Photos by Julian Do, New America Media.