Long Island’s history of segregation brought great detriment to the information health of black communities on the island. Many of these communities, like Gordon Heights and Spinney Hill, lack news media that meet their information needs. But those that do, like Sag Harbor, have the potential to produce rich local journalism with quality information.
The digital age has provided all communities with tools that they can use to strengthen the information health of communities that have long been marginalized by traditional institutions. The authors of the Knight Commission report write that “instead of passively receiving it, digital users expect to own the information, actively engaging with it, responding, connecting” (1).
The report also has some startling statistics about the representation of black people and other minorities among both news consumers and news producers across the United States:
- About 48 percent of African Americans accessed the internet from a mobile device between 2007 and 2009, compared to 32 percent of the general population (5).
- African Americans are 70 percent more likely to access the internet from a mobile device than white Americans (5).
- But since 2000, minority journalists have made up less than 14 percent of professional print journalists in the U.S. (54).
- And more than 42 percent of print newsrooms do not employ any African American, Asian American, Latino or Native American journalists (54).
News media covering black communities and other traditional institutions in black communities should use the resources and power of the internet to enhance their roles as sources of local information.
In local government, the Village of Sag Harbor and the towns in which Gordon Heights and Spinney Hill are located all have websites on which their board agendas, meeting minutes, permits and other forms are organized and easy to find. But local government websites can do more for black communities. Take, for example, the websites of the Town of North Hempstead and the Town of Babylon. These towns are home to two hamlets with large black populations: New Cassel and Wyandanch, respectively. The websites for both towns have pages dedicated to town initiatives in these hamlets, New Cassel Community Visioning and the Wyandanch Community Resource Center, but those pages are not regularly updated. The towns can use these spaces on their websites to link to news and information about these communities, neither of which has news organizations of its own.
Websites for school districts serving black communities can also be informative. Longwood Central School District’s website has a section called “Longwood Journey” detailing the history of Gordon Heights and other hamlets in the district. The school districts of Sag Harbor, Great Neck and Manhasset can host similar projects on their websites.
Local libraries in all communities are important civic centers, but libraries serving black communities should look into what they can offer beyond circulation and reference services. The John Jermain, Longwood and Manhasset libraries’ websites have pages with links to government websites and other local resources. Library websites can also offers links to news stories when media in the surrounding areas cover issues that affect the black communities. While most libraries have event calendars on their websites that advertise library programming, they can expand these calendars to include events and activities out in the community. And while many libraries offer classes in digital literacy, librarians should make sure that residents in black communities are aware of these classes and any other resources that libraries can offer them.
Black communities on Long Island tend to lack not only traditional news media but also online-only news media in the form of hyperlocal websites and blogs. Citizen journalists in these communities can take advantage of an endless supply of platforms on the internet to bring these websites to their communities.
As stated earlier in this paper, Long Island’s black communities often have active civic organizations. But these organizations need to build their online presence.
- In Gordon Heights, the Greater Gordon Heights Civic Association’s website, ghcivic.com, is offline as of this writing. The Greater Gordon Heights Chamber of Commerce has a website, but its “In the News” page is still under construction, and its event calendar and Facebook page are infrequently updated.
- In Sag Harbor, the Eastville Community Historical Society’s website has an extensive “Events” page, but its “News” page has not been updated since last year, and it only includes links to news stories in which the organization is mentioned. And as for the property owners groups in Sag Harbor, only the Ninevah Beach Property Owners Association has a website, and it’s rarely updated. The Sag Harbor Hills Improvement Association’s website is offline, and the organization maintains a rudimentary Facebook page with occasional posts about local events.
- In Spinney Hill, the Manhasset-Great Neck Economic Opportunity Council has a website with infrequent updates to its “News and Events” page, but its Facebook page focuses exclusively on its Head Start after-school program, with no information on local news.
Civic organization websites can potentially provide online portals to news, services, and other important information for the black communities of Long Island that lack dedicated news media and village-level governments.
The digital age won’t erase the damage that segregation has done to the information health of black communities. But it can certainly help mitigate future harm. As the authors of the Knight Commission report concluded, “there need be no second-class citizens in the democratic communities of the digital age.”