Anti-Asian hate never lacks “news peg” for AAPI media

Stop Asian Hate
NEW YORK, USA – MARCH 19: Asian Americans and New Yorkers are gathered for a peace vigil for Atlanta Spa shooting victims of Asian hate at the Union Square in New York City, United States on March 19, 2021. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Last February, when surveillance cameras caught a string of violent attacks against Asian seniors in Oakland, California, the blog NextShark began amplifying the incidents on its Instagram page. Some of the videos showing similar attacks against Asian Americans went viral, racking up more than a million views within days.

Before legacy media caught on, the videos sparked widespread outrage that spurred lawmakers to adopt hate crime legislation and stronger public safety measures.

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“We decided early on this was a major story that we couldn’t cover as a one-off.”

— Randall Yip, founder and executive editor of AsAmNews

NextShark, founded in 2013 by internet marketer Benny Luo, is among tech-savvy Asian American blogs and independent news outlets that led coverage of anti-Asian racism during the Covid-19 pandemic — while exposing shortcomings in mainstream media’s reporting on the Asian diaspora.

“We decided early on this was a major story that we couldn’t cover as a one-off,” said Randall Yip, founder and executive editor of AsAmNews, a volunteer-based community news site launched in 2012.

In addition to covering individual bias incidents, Yip wanted his writers to look at general patterns that tie them together. The team came up with questions they wanted to address in their reporting, such as: “Why is it so easy for something that happened in China to be considered a black mark against Asian Americans, many of whom aren’t even Chinese?”

As mainstream media began to pick up the story of anti-Asian hate, AsAmNews differentiated itself by covering solutions that lawmakers and community organizers proposed. Some were controversial, such as increasing police enforcement and regulation and prosecuting more assaults as hate crimes. Others were geared toward education and celebration of Asian heritage, like integrating Asian American studies courses in schools.

The first Asian American blog emerged at the turn of the century, when there was little to no coverage of Asian American issues, said Jenn Fang, founder of the longest-running Asian American feminist site, Reappropriate.

“When things happen in the community,” she said, “we’re telling those stories first. Our outlets have the pulse of our community.”

— Jenn Fang, founder of Reappropriate.

“We wanted to take advantage of the internet to create a community for ourselves and better understand who we are as racialized and political beings,” Fang said, noting that discussions of Asian American culture and identity primarily unfolded on online forum boards and independent print magazines.

Fang said that since she launched her site in 2001, community-run blogs, along with ethnic media outlets, have consistently done most of the reporting on Asian American issues, from the post-9/11 rise in Islamophobia to the lack of representation in entertainment.

“When things happen in the community,” she said, “we’re telling those stories first. Our outlets have the pulse of our community.”

While Asian American media have been instrumental in raising awareness about the prevalence and roots of anti-Asian hate amid the pandemic, they’ve also fielded criticism for sensational headlines and graphic imagery that can fuel vigilantism.

Data experts, including leaders from the group AAPI Data, noted that social media blogs and users at times conflated all attacks against Asians as “hate crimes,” even though there’s no evidence of racial animus in many reported incidents. Inadvertently, they’ve also perpetuated the dangerous misconception that anti-Asian violence is committed mostly by people of color.

One of the most influential social media blogs that’s been on the receiving end of such criticism is the nonprofit Asians With Attitudes, which has nearly a quarter-million Instagram followers.

“Mainstream media covered a lot of this problem for two to three months, but all of a sudden it’s like they don’t care anymore.”

— James Torio, founder of Asians with Attitudes

The group entered the national spotlight last February, when it began organizing volunteer patrols across California to protect Asian elders. The blog is an amalgamation of videos of anti-Asian violence — many of which rack up tens of thousands of views — GoFundMe pages for victims and other Asian American news.

“Mainstream media covered a lot of this problem for two to three months, but all of a sudden it’s like they don’t care anymore,” founder James Torio said. “It felt like they were posting about it because it’s a trend.”

Marketed as the “voice of the Asian people,” Asians With Attitudes is a form of citizen journalism. Torio said much of his content comes from his followers, who record anti-Asian attacks in real time and send him the videos, which he edits and posts on his own account.

Instagram has banned the page twice in recent months, once for sharing content that “promotes violence” — a move that, to Torio, felt like censorship. But he’s made an effort to abide by the platform’s community rules, putting disclaimers in captions that alert viewers of potentially disturbing footage. (NBCU Academy reached out to Instagram for comment on the action taken on Torio’s page but has not heard back.)

Independent media sources that don’t have the bandwidth or resources to fact-check content have come up with thoughtful ways to reckon with the graphic nature of their posts.

AsAmNews’ Yip said his team is especially scrupulous about image use in reports of anti-Asian violence. Most stories use stock photos of nondescript police cars and crime scenes in lieu of mugshots that risk normalizing the criminalization of Black people. The same standard applies to descriptions of assailants, who should be identified by specific details about their physical appearance, including height, physique and hair style.

“Describing someone only by their race can be an indictment on their whole community,” Yip said.

A veteran multimedia reporter, Yip said reporting on the Asian diaspora has improved markedly over the past two years — although he’s disheartened that it has taken nearly 10,000 reports of hate attacks to sustain that interest. Already, he noted, coverage of the Asian American community in established outlets has waned.

“When the mainstream media has long forgotten about this story,” he said, “it’s going to be the ethnic media and Asian America media that will continue to tell it.”