“Immigration has never stopped in the U.S.”

Insights, Northeastern
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How do you edit a bilingual newspaper? What types of stories and issues does a newsroom like that cover? Who is your audience?

Ling-Mei Wong, the editor of Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese and English newspaper in New England, set out to answer questions like these and more, when she spoke on Nov. 8 at Pizza, Press and Politics, an informal speaker lunch series hosted by the Northeastern School of Journalism.

The name, Sampan, comes from a Chinese word meaning “a small boat,” especially a small river boat used to unload big cargo boats — and that name reflects the mission of the Boston-based paper, said Wong, who has been editor for six years.

“That’s what a sampan is. We unload really big things at the federal level and then translate them to the local level,” Wong said. For example, the newspaper tries to answer questions for its readers, such as: How will proposed changes to federal law affect immigrants on issues such as child-care benefits?

“That sort of thing is our long-term focus for this newspaper,” Wong said.

One important issue Sampan is tackling is getting local Chinese-American communities more involved in politics.

American democracy is about citizen involvement, where you can get coffee with your city councilor and scream insults at the mayor, she said in a later email. In China, the government is a distant bureaucracy and something you don’t want to get involved with. That can be a difficult change in mindset for immigrants, she said.

Zicong is a graduate student at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

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