The front page headline on the June 19, 1942, edition of the Detroit Jewish News ran in red for emphasis: “60,000 Vilna Jews Massacred by Nazis.” In contrast, The New York Times covered the same story in a single column on page 6.
In fact, between 1939 and 1945, The Times only carried 26 front-page stories about the Holocaust“The Jewish press was talking about it all the time,” said Sharon Shahid, the lead writer for “One Nation With News for All,” an exhibit on minority and ethnic journalism running at the Newseum.
With oversized front pages and photos, the exhibit demonstrates how minorities as well as new immigrants used the power of the press. “It shows the power and the reach of ethnic news,” said Shahid, who is also the museum’s online managing editor.
There are 3,000 ethnic newspapers, radio and television stations and blogs, of which 78 are specifically Jewish, according to the exhibit. The larger ethnic forms of media are geared toward Latinos and African Americans, but there are examples of the press for Native Americans, Arabs and the Hawaiian-Japanese.
Eight large banners depicting individual minority newspapers greet visitors at the entrance to the exhibit, which is located on the sixth level. None of the eight include any Jewish newspapers. There are several Hispanic examples as well as a newspaper for Arab-Americans.
When minorities came to the U.S., they started social groups as places to practice their religion, and started newspapers, Shahid explained. The papers helped them both stay in touch with their culture as well as assimilate, she said.
The mainstream press didn’t always address their needs. “For so long, they were either misrepresented or ignored,” Shahid said of minority groups and immigrants.
The exhibit, which opened in mid-May in partnership with the Smithsonian, deals with the beginnings of the ethnic press, which date back to before the U.S. became a country. Even early American figures were involved in ethnic press, as Benjamin Franklin founded a German language paper in 1732, according to the exhibit.
One wall depicts various ethnic front pages. “We weren’t able to tell everyone’s story. For those, we show the front page. Every week, we change this. It’s going to be a rotation of these front pages,” Shahid said.
One panel speaks of the history of the Jewish Daily Forward, which was started in 1897 by Russian immigrant Abraham Cahan. The display focuses on how Jews were involved in the labor movement. It notes how the newspaper started a radio show called the Forward Hour in 1926 and a Yiddish language radio station in the 1930s.
“The Jewish immigrant really had a role in shaping the American experience as well,” Shahid noted.
Another section, Hear Our Voices, Challenging Stereotypes, includes several examples of how African Americans were denied equal treatment and could not enter certain places. One sign clearly states that Negroes, Mexicans and dogs were not permitted. Jewish struggles are not included here.
“There were some signs like ‘No Jews allowed,’ of course,” Shahid explained,
noting that they didn’t have enough room to display all the signs.
The civil rights movement had a profound effect on journalism. Until then, it was rare for African Americans and other minorities to be hired at a mainstream city newspaper, but soon editors realized they couldn’t really cover the civil rights riots and other news pertaining to a specific ethnic group as well as the smaller ethnic papers. That realization led larger papers to open up their hiring to all, Shahid noted.
The big media conglomerates today do their part in feeding their ethnic audiences. Many have opened their own ethnic publications, including NBC’s The Grio, which is oriented to African Americans, and the television channel Fusion, which is oriented toward Latino youth and is a joint venture between Disney-ABC Television Group and Univision Communications.
Elsewhere in the museum is a map of the world, showing countries with a free press in green, those with a partly free press in yellow and those without a free press in red. Gazing at the Middle East, Israel is the lone green country in a sea of red, with only Lebanon and Kuwait depicted in yellow.