Mark Contreras, and his strong commitment to local journalism
In his view, local journalism is the most integral component of a healthy democracy and staying true to this country’s constitutional foundation.
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Oftentimes there can be a debate between which profession is the best vehicle for change — politics or media.
For Mark Contreras, President and Chief Executive Officer of Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, the media has been his platform towards change.
In 1983, he met a man by the name of Paul Simon, whom that year was running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. Contreras called Simon “a constant presence in my life.”
Prior to entering politics, Simon began his professional career in the media industry as a newspaper publisher and reporter before enlisting in the Army.
“He said to me one time, ‘I love being Senator, but I made much more of a difference as a newspaper reporter and publisher,’” Contreras reflected in an interview with AL DÍA.
While he began his own professional career on the Judiciary Committee in Capitol Hill for Senator Simon, that message inspired Contreras to later develop a passion for local journalism and create a path of his own in that industry.
“So for the last three decades, I’ve been leading organizations whose mission is to do local journalism,” he said.
Contreras’ career has included tenures as President & CEO of Capital Cities and Calkins Media Incorporated, senior vice president at The E.W. Scripps Company, and Dean of the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University.
Currently, he leads the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, the NPR and PBS organization for the state of Connecticut.
“I have been passionate,” said Contreras. “I haven’t lost one inch of interest in trying to support local journalism.”
To Contreras, local journalism is the most integral part of a healthy democracy.
While speaking with AL DÍA, he underscored the city of Philadelphia as “where it all began.”
When he thinks about the meaning of a true representative democracy, he links it to local storytelling and watchdog journalism.
“I just feel very passionately about that,” he said. “including developing Hispanic journalists who can cover their communities accurately and authentically.”
At Connecticut Public, Contreras is in charge of growing local journalism there to better connect citizens of the state to their communities and beyond. In Connecticut, there are 169 towns, all of which have some form of a local government.
Contreras highlighted the importance of journalistic influence and the free press in how people with positions of status conduct themselves. He noted that a society without that influence and vigilance leaves the door open for corruption.
“In order for people to keep faith in the idea that democracies are a good way to govern yourself, you need to have that balance,” said Contreras.
“And it was hardwired into the Constitution that a free press is the undergirding of the original idea of a democracy,” he continued.
Throughout his career, Contreras has often had a hand in the business side of media operations, helping them thrive long-term.
To that end, Contreras felt that was the most important contribution he could make.
“Whether you’re talking about Hollywood, local television or local newspapers, media over time has constantly been a reflection of ourselves,” said Contreras.
Given the evolution of the demographics in the U.S. over the last century, the media should evolve at the same rate.
“If a group of heterogeneous people are to coexist together, they have to understand each other, and the media can help be the lubricant that allows that to happen,” he added.
As someone who is the child of a Mexican father and Irish-American mother, Conteras saw at an early age the importance of embracing multiculturalism both within himself and the communities around him growing up in the Midwest.
Contreras praised organizations such as Report for America for its focused efforts to put local reporters into local markets across the country.
He noted that Connecticut Public currently has three of those reporters, which has helped increase its local reporting capabilities.
In response to the reality that we are living in a society where ZIP codes can determine the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status of communities and accessibility to vital resources, the media can be that tool that helps circumvent those challenges.
“It’s important to have a force like journalism exist and thrive so that whether you live off the main line or whether you live in Center City, you can at least have access to the same information,” said Contreras.
“And that information should reflect a wide variety of people and contributors to storytelling.”