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February 5, 2008

Two Coasts One Voice

Over the last few weeks, I have been tasked with looking into ways to spread the word about NIAC’s electoral education outreach in the Persian-language media. During this experience, I was both astounded and impressed by the sheer volume of Iranian media outlets (both print and broadcast) based in the United States. It was very unexpected and reassuring to see the lengths of our community’s efforts at creating a media landscape beyond the standard American media outlets. Although the clear lack of professionalism in some of the outlets was discouraging, the vast majority of them were a very pleasant surprise.

As many of you undoubtedly know, there are dozens of publications, radio stations, and TV channels directed at Persian-speaking Iranians Americans, almost all in southern California and the west coast. While it is good to see such a high number of Iranian outlets, I found myself amazed at their concentration on the west coast. Though I expected the majority to be based out of the Iranian American population centers in southern California, it was truly shocking that so few existed here on the east coast or in other regions despite their sizable Iranian-American communities.

I remember how, as a child, I sat with my parents watching Rang-a-Rang without knowledge of the numerous other Iranian television networks in America. As I became more aware of the various other outlets (and their varying viewpoints) I was always struck by lack of east-coast based media outlets.

While helping NIAC reach out to Persian-language outlets in order to more widely disseminate information about the American election process; these memories and observations flooded back and again piqued my curiosity. I have my own theories as to why this huge gulf exists between the east and west coast Iranian American communities and I would love to hear the feedback of some of you with more experience in this arena.

My theory is that the notable cultural differences between the east and west coasts Iranian American communities are reflected in the media landscape as well. I think that Iranians on the east coast seem to have been in the United States longer (generally speaking) and tend to be more integrated and reliant on American media outlets. West coast Iranians on the other hand, tend to focus more on their Iranian identities and even Iranian politics because they seem to have been more directly affected by the upheavals of the Iranian revolution. Specific examples of the survey results include that west coast Iranian Americans tend to emphasize more on politics when educating their children compared to east coast Iranians Americans.

No matter the reasons, the main point is that while the affluent, highly educated, and widely dispersed IA community has many Persian-language media outlets, the vast majority of them are based out of the west coast. Would it not serve the entire community better for these numerous Iranian American media outlets to be as dispersed as the community itself instead of being isolated to the west coast? After all, Iranian-Americans live in every state in the union and have dense population in many major cities throughout the country (not just on the two coasts) and yet our media outlets remain concentrated in southern California. Due to this phenomenon, they tend to be reflective of and responsive to the identity and culture of that community without major consideration of the rest of the diaspora.

Though I remain impressed by the sheer volume of Persian-language outlets, I am unconvinced that they fully serve our communities needs. With such a widespread and varied population, we need a range of media outlets to match our own highly diversified society.

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