FEATURE: Where do Asians fit in the newsroom?
“As an East Asian, you’re one of the least oppressed people in the world.”
“As an East Asian, you’re one of the least oppressed people in the world.”
This was one of many hate comments I received as a high schooler from readers responding to an article I wrote in 2020 about the cultural appropriation of the fox-eye trend. I had noticed a lack of Asian news stories in the general media and wondered why writing one might have caused this kind of reaction. Having been told that I am un-oppressed, I reflected on the role Asian Americans have in journalism at the Yale Daily News.
For a while, I didn’t realize how impactful my identity as an Asian American was in shaping my journalism until I found myself in a space that intentionally centered it. When I attended the first AAPI affinity group meeting in February, I felt grateful for the conversations around inclusion in the newsroom and related to other Asian journalists’ triumphs and struggles. I appreciated that there was a community within the News who cared about my racial identity and experiences. For this article, I decided to have more in-depth conversations with some of those people about the role that Asians have in the YDN newsroom.
According to the News’ most recent demographic survey results conducted in the fall of 2021 — which 100 of about 300 staff members filled out — Asians accounted for 36 percent of total staff, down slightly from 37.3 the previous year.
In the 2019-2020 school year, 20.8 percent of all Yale students identified as Asian. Nationally, across newsrooms in 2021, 7.7 percent of staffers were Asian journalists.
At the News, Asian students also are more likely to have roles outside of the newsroom. The most recent demographic survey results indicated that Asians accounted for 44 percent of non-newsroom staff, a category that includes photo, video, data, podcast and illustrations; production jobs which include copy editing and production and design; and long-term project work which include business, tech and human resources.
However, for written content — reporting and opinion — Asians made up around 31% of newsroom staff. Currently, there aren’t any staff members who identify as Pacific Islanders.
Asian reporters are here to share their community’s stories and also to improve inclusion in stories that have traditionally not showcased their voices. Compared to national newsrooms, the News and other college newspapers such as The Crimson have a high concentration of Asian Americans on staff, giving us a unique opportunity to reflect on our roles as journalists.
I spoke to Brian Zhang ’25, who said that his Asian American identity has made him “more conscious” of the stories he writes. He noted that he has an interest in centralizing his work around Asian American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, achievements and challenges. Although he has not faced “many challenges” as an Asian American writer, he believes that there can be more Asian American representation in the media industry.
Staff photographer Tenzin Jordan ’25 said that having come from an immigrant background, he was taught important family values which included “be[ing] aware of your surroundings” and “know[ing] when to speak up [and] when to listen.” He’s also applied these key lessons in his photography.
“[Photography] is a weird intersection between an art form, but also a form of recording and reporting,” said Jordan. “There’s an obvious gap between my experiences and the experiences of the older generation … like people who are my grandparents … so being able to stop, listen and evaluate the stories around you and then convey that in a medium is very important.”
One of the reasons behind my decision to write for the Sci-Tech desk was the editors, Anjali Mangla ’24 and Nicole Rodriguez ’24. As women of color, they understand the importance of comprehensive reporting and encourage me to cover a diverse range of topics and to source multiple perspectives.
Mangla has started various initiatives to increase diversity coverage at the News. As a reporter last year, she created her own beat called science and social justice because she wanted to address “what it’s like to be in science and have a different identity” and to investigate how race and health intersect.
She also noted that she has had to advocate for greater South Asian representation in coverage and in sourcing. According to Mangla, most of the Asian coverage had involved events that focused on East Asian identities.
“I feel like just being a woman of color in general, I try to source pitches or general assignments and encourage reporters to cover stories about marginalized communities who normally don’t have a voice,” Mangla said. “I think with my Asian identity and just being a South Asian woman at Yale, I feel so much more cognizant of it than I do normally … That informs what I pitch and how I want the desk to write.”
Together with Isaac Yu ’24, Mangla created the News’ AAPI affinity group to connect people of similar identities. They hoped that members could share resources and information, along with “being there for each other” because of a shared sense of background.
Yu noted that very few publications have the access and resources that the News has in regard to Asian voices, so it is important to “platform those voices.” For him, “representation is not the endgame.”
“We need to make sure the space not only represents Asian people on campus but includes them and values their work and cherishes them,” said Yu.
Yu mentioned that he took an active interest in Asian and Asian American politics in his journalism, which is one way he has tried to bring his identity to his work. In addition, he noted that being able to speak in Chinese and having the experience of being an Asian American in the States has “made it more effective” for him to report on people in his community and to ensure that topics that might not be covered are reported on.
Having Asian Americans in leadership positions, within the News and at Yale, has played an instrumental role in inspiring journalists. In this paper’s 144 year history, there have been only two Asian editors-in-chief: Vivian Yee ’11 and Sammy Westfall ’21. There have been a number of Asian managing editors — including current editors Ryan Chiao ’23 and Natalie Kainz ’23 — that identified as Asian, as well as more than ten Asian publishers.
Sarah Feng ’25 described that “a certain level of Asian American leadership has been encouraging,” as she discussed Yu’s presence at the YDN and the friendships she’s formed from writing for the Yale Daily News Magazine. Hamera Shabbir ’24, a reporter on the sports desk, noted that she appreciates writing about sports in a time when Victoria M. Chun, the first Asian American to serve as the Thomas A. Beckett Director of Athletics, serves in leadership along with other “diverse and representative members of athletics.” Chun’s leadership reassures Shabbir that “the school, the sports, and the people participating in them are continuously striving for equality and for diversity.”
Shabbir explained that although some sports have historically catered towards white audiences, her experience with writing for the sports desk has been very “positive” because there is a big community within sports and the News has “extremely supportive people” who never made her “feel singled out for her identity.”
Feng mentioned that conducting interviews with Asian American subjects sometimes becomes more of a conversation because they share experiences she can empathize with, and these interviews are some of the “most effective and the most enlightening” ones for her. She recalled interviewing someone who described having to “straddle the line between being too meek and too aggressive,” which she related to and enjoyed “explor[ing] the interview .. and deepen[ing] it.”
As a staff reporter for the city desk, Zhang noted that New Haven’s Asian population is low compared to Yale’s, making up just 5.6 percent of the city’s population. According to Zhang, these residents may struggle with finding a news source they can read that represents their own stories, so having a news outlet that covers stories relevant to their cultures and perspectives is “important.”
“I think especially the Asian American experience is one that doesn’t receive a ton of coverage, and only recently, people are starting to feel more comfortable speaking out about it,” said Feng. “I feel lucky to be at a publication in the school that encourages that sort of coverage.”
Yet, reporters at the News still feel that more can be done about increasing diversity and inclusion.
Feng described the affinity groups as “comforting” since she knows that they are there if she “ever need[s] a support system.” But beyond being “a support network,” she does not feel that the News has so far “really cultivated that into a full community.” She noted that having the AAPI affinity group host more talks, readings, AAPI speakers in journalism and workshops for covering Asian American topics could help.
Shabbir recalled having to advocate for a reporter to cover a show that the South Asian Society, or SAS, hosted, which sold out tickets within 12 hours. She recognized that she had started pushing for SAS coverage because of her role as the SAS communications chair, but the fact she even had to do so in the first place was “just a bit confusing.” According to her, the institution claims to be “dedicated towards student life and student coverage,” but needs to “expand on its definition of student life to incorporate … groups and events that are significant to students.”
She noted that a part of this problem might be a lack of diversity in sourcing and perspectives being put into stories.
“A lot of times, I read stories [that are] definitely showing only one socio-economic, class, racial and gender experience,” Shabbir said. “Moving forward, YDN can do a better job of sourcing and considering what it thinks is newsworthy, given that there are a lot of stories that go uncovered that should be covered because they do have significance to the larger population and spark discussions outside of the YDN.”
In a similar vein, Yu mentioned that diversity work at the News is often seen as a “side thing that’s to be performed out by people of color.” According to him, other barriers might include not fitting the stereotype of what the typical journalist looks like, especially given that very few of the “star journalists” from the News who end up working at the Washington Post or the New York Times are Asian.
Yu noted that even in pop culture, most people in the newsroom are white journalists. For example, in the TV show Gilmore Girls, the characters Rory Gilmore, Paris Geller, Doyle McMaster and Logan Huntzberger all are reporters at the News and all are white people. However, the Asian character Lane Kim, who did not attend Yale, was not a journalist.
“Could Lane have been a journalist? We will never know,” said Yu. “In popular narratives, we just haven’t been journalists. To be fair, there have been increases in diversity at the News … I think maybe part of [the issue] is linked to the News’ wider problem of being over competitive. And competition that’s limited to very few people often leads to the same kinds of identities being represented.”
Overall, though, Yu and Shabbir both emphasized that there is a great community in the News of Asian American and Asian journalists that help each other out with sourcing and editing, along with internships and professional opportunities.
“My experience with my identity and the YDN intersecting has been an experience of personal growth and professional growth at the same time, while also building a strong network and hoping to hold the door open for other people down the line,” said Shabbir.
What the News has currently done in its efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion have made profound impacts in the institution. However, we still need to put more deliberate effort into ensuring that more groups across campus are covered and that articles have diverse sourcing. This burden does not lie with people of color. We have put in the effort.
As I continue to explore my identity in college, reporting for the News has helped me become more aware of my surroundings and find ways to increase diversity and inclusion in my stories whether through sourcing or content coverage — and my identity as an Asian woman influences that experience. But clearly, more work needs to be done, and I hope to be a part of that change as I continue as a member of the News.