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Over the next few months, Phillips and the NAHJ chose the Rocky as the first newspaper at which to introduce Si Se Puede, with Scripps papers such as California's Ventura County Star and Florida's Naples Daily News earmarked to follow. Next the parties established an ambitious agenda highlighted by multiple presentations about Hispanic life and issues for Rocky staffers, with the NAHJ offering a national perspective and Polly Baca, executive director of Denver's LARASA (Latin American Research and Service Agency), speaking about the metro area's unique concerns. Editor Temple, whom Gonzalez praises for his lack of defensiveness and willingness to keep an open mind, says approximately half of those in the Rocky's editorial department made it to one of the NAHJ/Baca talks.
Still, the main event was the community forum, at which a wide variety of gripes were aired. Locals were miffed at Rocky types for expecting Hispanic news to come to them, maintaining that they should be more active in seeking it out, and they grumbled that the preponderance of stories writers do cover fall into predictable categories -- either crime narratives or superficial looks at Cinco de Mayo and the like. News columnist Tina Griego, who was at the meeting, has heard the latter observation many times.
"What tends to get covered are the extremes -- the festivals or the gang members, the cruising or that extra-stellar student," Griego says. "There's very little day-to-day middle ground reflected in the newspaper, in part because it's very difficult to do. Newspapers are drawn to extremes. So it's not really a matter of whether we're writing about good news or bad news; it's a matter of accuracy. And we often write minorities as caricatures."
Community members and journalists apparently disagree about how often such stereotyping occurs. The NAHJ handed out surveys to journalists and community members that asked them to rate the quality of coverage as it applies to Hispanic issues. A preliminary tally shows that Rocky staffers generally felt they were doing an average job, with minority reporters within that group rating the paper slightly higher. In contrast, invited guests usually gave the Rocky below-average grades across the board, and were likelier to believe that the easiest way for a Hispanic to get some ink was to break the law.
To broaden the range of subjects, some locals suggested that the Rocky generate a special Hispanic-news section -- a scheme the paper tried once before, with little success. In the early '90s, the Rocky created "Las Noticias," an eight-page weekly feature assembled by folks such as Sherri Vasquez, now host of the Channel 12 public-affairs show Latin View. Las Noticias didn't last long, Temple says, because of two problems: "One, it had no advertising support, and two, when we did readership surveys, it had the lowest rating of any section. It might have been ahead of its time, it might have been the wrong product, but we were in a newspaper war, and eight pages of newsprint is a serious financial commitment." Temple isn't sure that reviving this concept would serve anyone's purpose: "I don't want us to write about Hispanics only for Hispanics."
The shortage of Hispanic journalists who can do this writing was equally worrisome to meeting attendees, despite the Rocky's recent hiring of minority-affairs reporter Javier Erik Olvera, previously of the Fresno Bee. They were just as troubled by the lack of Latinos in managerial positions at the Rocky; the most senior decision-maker there is Gerry Valerio, who oversees prep-sports coverage -- an important beat, but one that's extremely low-profile. Temple is confident that minority-internship programs like one the Rocky sponsors at Metropolitan State College will help matters, and the NAHJ is trying to expand the reach of journalism courses in largely Hispanic high schools in Denver with the assistance of ASNE and the Knight Foundation.
Of course, these are long-term tactics, and the scarcity of Hispanics in newsrooms has been obvious for ages. In 1978, ASNE set a goal of achieving racial parity at the nation's newspapers by 2000, and when, in 1998, it became apparent that this wouldn't be possible, the organization extended its deadline all the way to 2025. Since asking Latinos to wait patiently for another quarter-century is unrealistic, Temple will try to speed things up by attending the NAHJ's national convention in June. Gonzalez adds that his association will be working to convince experienced Hispanic journalists from across the country to consider jumping to the Rocky. Meanwhile, the NAHJ and the Rocky are putting together a community advisory panel to make recommendations and monitor progress at the paper, and another forum scheduled in six months will do likewise.
Professor Luis Torres, who chairs the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at Metro State, would love to see substantial progress by then, but the signals he saw the week after the April 22 meeting were decidedly mixed. He passed out a dozen press releases at the session regarding an April 24 rally at Metro protesting potential cuts in financial aid, and although Rocky reporter Nancy Mitchell wrote about the demonstration, her account filled less than 400 words, featured no art and wasn't played prominently. (Channel 4, whose personnel also received releases, aired nothing about it, Torres says.) The day after Mitchell's story ran, Metro hosted a leadership conference for Hispanic youth that drew over 1,200 students. For this feel-good event, the Rocky was a no-show.