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So, too, did many of the others on hand -- but the community representatives quizzed by Westword all characterized the session as a first step whose ultimate success will be judged on more than good intentions. Says Professor Estevan Flores, executive director of the Latino/a Research & Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Denver, "I think this is a great effort coming from the NAHJ. At the same time, I live here in Denver and recognize how difficult a task it is to get things moving at an institutional level at a place like the Rocky."
Even more skeptical is author and activist Ernesto Vigil. "It was the exact same type of meeting I've been to many times before, and they almost never come up with tangible results," he says. "It's just a lot of imagery and public relations."
Vigil won't be easily won over by the Rocky. After all, he knows plenty about the paper's history when it comes to the Hispanic community and views many of its past actions with contempt. His 1999 book The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government's War on Dissent tells the story of the Crusade for Justice, which he describes as "the most significant urban organization for people of Mexican descent in Colorado" during the twentieth century. His tome reveals that the Rocky played a key role in sparking the movement. In 1966, Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, who would become the Crusade's driving force, served as head of the Neighborhood Youth Corp, a youth employment program, until being fired by Denver Mayor Thomas Currigan. Why? Gonzales believed it was because he called for a boycott of the Rocky, which published an article that, in his opinion, charged him with discrimination. Immediately thereafter, the Crusade was born.
Seven years later, on March 17, 1973, a run-in between Crusade members and police led to the death of a young man named Luis Martinez, and Vigil himself was shot. Afterward, Vigil says he agreed to share his experiences with the Rocky if a Hispanic journalist was given the assignment. The paper sent reporter Frank Moya, now a local attorney, in the company of another writer, Richard O'Reilly -- and when the story, which Vigil says twisted his words, came out under O'Reilly's byline, he felt betrayed. All these years later, he's still steaming. "Three chapters in my book were motivated by what the Rocky did," Vigil says. "I wasn't happy about how the media in general handled things, but the Rocky was by far the worst."
To Temple, who didn't come to the Rocky until over a decade after the 1973 incident, baggage like this isn't surprising: "We held a meeting with the American Indian Movement a number of years ago, and the most important issue on the table was how the Rocky handled the Sand Creek Massacre," he says. "I don't think people are ever willing to start with a clean slate.... But we don't want different perceptions to get in the way of us moving forward."
That's precisely what NAHJ head Gonzalez hopes to do, by attacking inequities in staffing and coverage at the Rocky strategically, not haphazardly. His plan, which is part of a larger campaign the NAHJ calls the Parity Project, has much in common with "the Rudy Giuliani approach to crime fighting," Gonzalez says. "Giuliani and his first police commissioner, William Bratton, didn't fight crime in specific. They developed a computer database in every precinct in the city, so they could have a real sense of where the high-crime areas were, and then they mobilized their resources in those high-crime areas under the theory that if you lower the crime rate in the worst areas, you'll lower it in the whole city.
"We took the same approach to diversity," Gonzalez continues. "We didn't want to try to immediately diversify the industry in general. We wanted to diversify in those specific areas where there's the greatest gap between the growing Latino population and the Latino proportion of the news staff."
Because the NAHJ's statistics showed that MediaNews and Scripps had more papers that fit this description than other media conglomerates (they're the equivalent of bad neighborhoods), Gonzalez targeted the two companies at a January diversity conference in Tennessee that was sponsored by ASNE. "[MediaNews head] Dean Singleton and Mike Phillips from Scripps were there," Gonzalez recalls. "We told them, 'We have a plan that we think will help your papers improve, but we need your cooperation to join us, so that we can figure out how we can do better.' And Phillips came forward eagerly and said, 'We know we have a problem, and we want to partner.' Singleton said the same thing, but Scripps was a lot more aggressive, so we decided to start with them."
To Phillips, the NAHJ's methodology represented a step forward. "Juan was arguing that instead of sitting around singing 'Kumbaya,' we should focus on the markets where diversity really matters most. It was a refreshing thought, because I've been sitting in this-is-so-hard, hand-wringing kinds of meetings for years. I was looking for ideas, and Juan had a good one."