The Message

Diverse Opinions

On March 31, Denver observed an official city holiday in memory of Cesar Chavez, the late labor organizer who devoted his life to helping migrant workers. Yet the only allusion to the celebration in that day's Rocky Mountain News was a modest-sized blurb in "Extra!," one of the "channels" that appear on the tabloid's section fronts. Headlined "Hold on to Those Quarters!," the item declared that "parking meters are free all day." Talk about treating an important happening in the Hispanic community like pocket change.

Less than a month later, the paper gave Chavez a great deal more attention. Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple began "Yes, We Can Build Better Coverage," his April 26 column, with the words "Si Se Puede," a favorite Chavez phrase; it translates to "Yes, you can." Later in the piece, Temple acknowledged that members of Denver's Latino community were unhappy about the absence of Cesar Chavez Day features. His response: "It was a year we flubbed the story in the midst of the war. We didn't have a good answer."

The motivation behind this admission isn't tough to figure. On April 3, four days after the aforementioned botching, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists issued a press release announcing that the NAHJ and the E.W. Scripps Company would combine forces in an effort "to improve newsroom diversity and news coverage of Latinos." The public phase of the pilot program, dubbed Si Se Puede (hence Temple's reference), kicked off with an April 22 community forum at the Rocky Mountain News, which Scripps owns.

Author and activist Ernesto Vigil is skeptical of the 
Rocky's minority outreach.
Brett Amole
Author and activist Ernesto Vigil is skeptical of the Rocky's minority outreach.
Ted Nugent left Lewis and Floorwax shocked and 
Ted Nugent left Lewis and Floorwax shocked and awed.

The Rocky was an appropriate setting for this get-together, given its less-than-spectacular showing in a Knight Foundation report on newsroom diversity that was presented at the American Society of Newspaper Editors' convention in New Orleans on April 8. According to researchers Bill Dedman and Stephen K. Doig, the News ranked 138th out of the 200 biggest U.S. newspapers in terms of diversity, thanks to a staff in which minorities make up just 8.5 percent of the total.

With a newsroom team sporting 18.1 percent minority members, the Denver Post fared better by comparison with the Rocky, finishing 70th in the Knight Foundation study. Nonetheless, MediaNews Group, the Post's parent company, could hardly trumpet this achievement without citing some far less laudable numbers. NAHJ president Juan Gonzalez, who's also a columnist for the New York Daily News, says his organization recently analyzed newsroom employment data and compiled a list of 57 newspapers with the poorest records of hiring Latinos as measured against the percentage of Hispanics in their circulation areas. These findings allowed the NAHJ to pinpoint problem chains, defined as the firms that owned the most papers among the ignominious 57. Finishing first, meaning worst, was MediaNews, with Scripps coming in a close second. That the flagship properties of both companies are based in Denver probably won't fill local Hispanics with hometown pride.

Unlike the Rocky, the Post didn't land on the NAHJ's dishonor roll, and it's apt to do better in subsequent Knight Foundation surveys because of a very public effort to make its staff less homogenous. Editor Greg Moore, who took the paper's helm last year, serves as chair of ASNE's diversity committee, and he displayed his commitment to its cause in the early months of his regime. Of the first fourteen new employees he brought on board, five were African-Americans, as is Moore. Then again, no one from this first batch of hires was of either Hispanic or Asian descent -- a fact that prompted several Post employees to add their names to a memo authored by business writer Louis Aguilar that was sent to Moore. The note underscored significant demographic shifts in Denver: The citizenry is approximately one-third Hispanic, and its Asian populace is growing much faster than the national average. As a result, Aguilar and company contended that the recruitment of Latino and Asian journalists is a greater necessity than ever before ("The Black-and-White Newsroom," December 19, 2002).

Similar sentiments were voiced during the April 22 meeting at the Rocky, which was well attended considering that it took place on a Tuesday evening. Mike Phillips, editorial-development director for Scripps, who was present, says "around fifty leaders and other people from the Latino community" turned out, as did "about 25 people from the Rocky staff, mostly editors and managers" and an NAHJ contingent led by Gonzalez and communications director Joseph Torres. Others who were present included executives with Channel 4, the Rocky's broadcast partner, which is also participating in Si Se Puede, plus a few wild cards, such as the Post's Aguilar. "John Temple wasn't really happy to see me," Aguilar allows, "but I'd like to point out that all NAHJ members were invited, and that means people who work at the Post as well as at the Rocky."

In his April 26 column, Temple conceded that the Rocky took more than its share of criticism at the gathering, documenting a healthy sampling of it along the way. However, he fears that this tack may not have given readers a true sense of the meeting's tone. "It didn't reflect how positive it was. People came early and talked, and they stayed late and talked. It wasn't anger, but engaged discussion. So I felt really good about it."

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