The “Marshall Plan” to save journalism can't ignore the elephant in the room
The Knight Foundation Commission Report on "Trust, Media and Democracy" hit the nail on the head. This is the way we did read it: Where are the Latinos/as in…
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The alarm the Knight Commission sounded in their “Trust, Media and Democracy” report on the state of journalism pointed out several important issues, none impossible to ignore anymore.
Chiefly among them, the commission concluded, rightly so, that what is at stake here is the very survival of the democratic experiment the United States of America has managed to keep alive for more than the 2 and a half centuries since the Founding of our Republic here in Philadelphia in 1776.
This one, in particular, sounds very close to home for us, American Citizens of Latino descent:
“Newsrooms should look like the communities they serve. News organizations should adopt recruitment, hiring, and retention practices that increase diversity of staff — as well as the owners. Mentoring and training programs can help enlist, retain, and promote more women and journalists of color at all levels. This must also include those from underrepresented geographical and political groups to reflect the entire community.”
Speaking from my personal U.S. Latino experience, nothing could be more painfully real.
This is my personal story if you don't mind me sharing it here.
Although I had both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Journalism, plus almost 5 years of experience working for a daily newspaper, I couldn’t land myself a job as a news writer when I applied in 1991 at the Daily News, right here in Philadelphia.
Was it a result of the fact I was Latino?
I don’t think so. I refuse to believe stories of ourright discrimination against us, based on my modest personal experience.
But what was clear is that The Philadelphia's "People’s Paper,” in my adopted hometown, didn’t even have at that time a “Latino quota,” which would become later America’s formula to answer the plead for "News Room Parity" the National Association of Hispanic Journalist (NAHJ) has advocated for over the past 20 or 30 years.
To their credit, the Daily News later hired Latino reporters, one at a time, Virginia Medina, for example, as I remember, and today the very talented writer, and now columnist, Helen Ubiñas.
However, they have been single “golondrinas” who, despite their first-class professionalism, could barely make “a verano” happen in the newsroom where they have just a corner with no executive power in the organization.
In other words, their voices, as strong as they could be, rarely rise to the point of making an impact on what is ultimately published, as they are yet to be appointed to executive editors positions.
Although Latinos comprise likely close to 20 percent of city residents today, the daily tabloid, which has partnered with AL DÍA News Media in editorial and business initiatives over the past 10 years, never thought the local Latino community would be sufficient enough to merit more personnel of Latino descent working in the newsroom— much less worth selling advertising for in the market place, even just as a business tactic to keep the paper afloat in today’s challenging advertising environment.
The truth of the matter is that Latino professional journalists remain invisible in the newsrooms of the major media outlets in town - print, broadcast, or digital. Too few, and too far in between.
Not much different, by the way, from the rest of America’s major cities:
For example, in those cities where the Latino population growth so much it already reaches the over 50 percent of the total population, like in El Paso, TX, Miami, FL, or Los Angeles, CA, or San Antonio, TX.
It is so preposterous over there that the inequality, or lack of parity, may make Philadelphia experiment and its lack of diversity in news media look "minor".
This is what the Knight Commission categorically points out:
“News organizations should adopt recruitment, hiring, and retention practices that increase diversity of staff — as well as the owners”
Yes, ownership, or executive office, does matter. We can't dance around the bush on this one, again in my humble opinion, and based on personal experience.
Is the news outlet African American-owned?
Is it Latino American-owned?
Or is it Asian American-owned?
If not, let's assume for a moment it may not matter so much, as I have heard others argue.
However, does the ownership —whatever it may be— is willing to appoint a representative of any of these 3 largest ethnic communities to an Executive Editor position, now that they, put together, represent the majority of the population in cities across America— including Philadelphia, DC and New York Cirty?
Well, the numbers speak by themselves and they do not need to be quoted again here.
This is the turning point of innovation:
Diversity must start at the very top so that simple change can resolve almost the entire issue and, as a consequence, bring the trust, progress and prosperity all the parties involved really want.
The current president of Knight Foundation, Mr. Alberto Ibargüen, for example — for several years one of the most successful publishers the Miami Herald ever had — proved himself how true this could be when he became the first Latino publisher of a major metropolitan daily in the U.S. down there in Miami, over 15 years ago.
From the C-Suite, Alberto, before he came to lead the Knight Foundation with sterling credentials as a Publisher, had the power to bring Latino and Multicultural talents up the ranks.
By deliberately diversifying the leadership at the prestigious Miami daily newspaper and, as a consequence, the entire workforce, the Herald achieved unprecedented growth, with both financial and editorial success during Alberto's tenure within the then powerful Knight-Rider newspaper chain.
That was more nearly 2 decades ago.
Now McClatchy newspaper chain now owns the then very prosperous Miami Hearald, as it did the Philadelphia Inquirer, along the very profitable "Nuevo Herald", the Spanish-language Daily Alberto developed to the fullest, and made a top-dollar producer in the chain.
But the principle here is - today more than ever - one of plain economic survival requirement, or outright need for business growth, certainly not a matter of equal opportunity policy anymore.
Bringing Latinos and multicultural communities to positions of responsibility and leadership, in this timer and age, is plain good business.
“The absence of Latinos and Latinas in American news media today is disturbing,” the AL DÍA Media Educational Foundation website statement reads.
It further argues:
“These needed voices are extremely scarce and often, completely non-existent."
“As the nation continues to see the growth" of the U.S. Latino Population, today the nation's "largest ethnic community, this endemic disparity has reached crisis proportions."
“This vast inequality must be addressed now as a key priority of an urgent and common call towards a more equitable evolution of the American News media in the new century”.
We are not surprised the 27 Commissioners achieved this level of clarity.
Among the leaders, part of the important Commission, four outstanding Latinos are listed (Eduardo Peñalver, Eduardo Padrón, Nonny De La Peña, and Alberto Ibargüen himself), as well as several thoughtful women, among them, the University of Pennsylvania President, and outstanding local leader Dr. Amy Gutmann.
All of them contributed to what is now a fundamental policy recommendation to start implementing change, ASAP.
As Alberto Ibargüen did put it at the kick-off of the Knight Foundation Forum in Miami this past Tuesday, February 26th, 2019:
"We’re not here to describe the problem. We’re here to fix it.”
Need a hammer, Alberto?