Q&A with news engagement researcher, Yiping Xia

Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy and the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media (CISLM) hosted the Local News Researchers Workshop Feb. 16 and 17 in Chapel Hill. Before and after the conference, which was supported by Democracy Fund, CISLM reached out to a selection of the researchers attending to discuss recent projects, and how local news research can help journalists, community members, funders and academics understand the challenges facing local news.

Yiping Xia (he/him) is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Xia researches news engagement and disinformation and includes studies on the Chinese-Canadian community in Toronto.

Xia is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP).

CISLM intern Caitlyn Yaede sat down with Xia via Zoom for the following interview.

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media: What’s a recent research project you’ve done that has helped us understand the challenges facing local news?

Yiping Xia: My research focus is (on) immigrant communities and their information needs. A lot of immigrant communities are not bounded by their locality. So, they consume news produced by immigrant-centered media outlets, and not necessarily, let’s say North Carolina immigrants. It’s more like they consume news in space dedicated to immigrants at large.

I think one thing I’m interested in is that people always talk about local news as something bounded by the place, but then, for some communities, it’s really more than that.

One thing I did for my dissertation is (research) how Chinese Canadians in Toronto consume news and a big part of the findings is that they consume Chinese language local news from an app called WeChat. And it’s really hard to say if these outlets (on the platform) count as local news.

On one hand, (the outlets) are local and have titles such as Toronto Life or something like that. But, on the other hand, they do not have professional reporters. They just have editors who pull content from the internet and put together some articles with useful information or, sometimes, it’s just commercials or ads. So it’s a mix of many different kinds of information.

Another finding is that a lot of local Chinese immigrants do not trust English language media that much. Partly because they think (English-language outlets) are biased against China.

They still identify as a Chinese person, even though sometimes they’re already Canadian citizens. But then, they still identify as Chinese and they do still think Western media is sometimes biased against China. And it’s hard for media outlets to change this. It’s also deep-seated. It’s definitely a roadblock toward media trust.

CISLM: What should non-academics — local journalists or civically engaged community members — learn from that research?

YX: If you are a journalist or (leading) a newsroom, I will definitely suggest that you talk to immigrant audiences more often. I understand it’s challenging because of language barriers or because maybe the newsroom is not diverse enough to have a reporter that’s well-versed in the culture and situations of immigrant communities. But, I think doing more listening is definitely one way to go in terms of producing more content that speaks to their life experiences and potentially increasing their trust in your newsroom.

For policymakers around journalism, maybe it’s possible to forge some partnerships between larger media outlets, immigrant-focused outlets and even those commercial outlets operating on WeChat. There may be some space where some kind of partnership can happen.

CISLM: What’s a recent research project in local news that you admire?

YX: I really love Dr. Andrea Wenzel’s research on how newsrooms try to connect with local communities and produce community-centered journalism, including underserved communities of color; especially her work in Philadelphia I think is really inspiring.

CISLM: Why does local news research matter?

YX: For one thing, it’s becoming very hard for a lot of local news outlets to survive in this current environment. It’s not good for democracy and not good for the community that lacks quality information sources. I think, as researchers, it’s important to (a) understand this situation well and (b) be able to suggest solutions to mitigate this so-called crisis since this is the responsibility of researchers.

CISLM: What excites you about the future of local news?

YX: I think it’s exciting that there are more and more people, whether it be researchers or journalists, who are realizing that local news is the way to go. You can’t really just focus on the national outlets, you have to look at local news. That’s where people actually getting useful information for their everyday life.

I think more and more people are realizing that there are more and more efforts devoted to researching and promoting local journalism. A case in point is our conference in February.

CISLM: What helps you get through a long day of work?

YX: I play with my cats! I have two of them.

Are you a researcher, either academic or of the practice, who’s studying local news? Join our Local News Researcher Community, a peer group that meets every month to discuss upcoming, in-progress and recently published projects. Sign up here.