Diversifying the Coverage of Newspapers: Speakers at Two Meetings Discuss How to Attract Readers Such as Minorities and Women

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Diversifying the coverage of newspapers

Speakers at two meetings discuss how to attract readers such as minorities and women. There are also elections and awards

Newspapers, well aware that their circulation is not keeping pace with population growth, are particularly conscious these days of trying to attract a more diverse audience.

Toward this end, improving the coverage of Hispanic-Americans, blacks, women, and other readership groups was discussed at two recent meetings in Charleston, S.C.

One speaker was ex-Creators Syndicate columnist Linda Chavez, who said media coverage of Hispanic-Americans doesn't adequately reflect their diversity, income, and more.

Chavez told an American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors (AASFE) audience that the media often give the impression that Latinos in the U.S. are a monolithic group of poor people.

"This is different from the Hispanic community I know," said the former Reagan administration official and current Manhattan Institute senior fellow. She noted that about 50% of the country's Latinos are U.S.-born, the other half come from about two dozen countries, and about 75% of Hispanic-Americans live above the poverty line.

Chavez -- who added that Hispanic-Americans have an "extremely strong work ethic" and are "very family-oriented" -- said there are several reasons for this poor media coverage.

One of them is the laziness of reporters concentrating on "what's easy and familiar," according to Chavez. Another reason, she contended, is that "many of the advocacy organizations representing the Hispanic community have a vested interest in making them seem disadvantaged" in order to get government funding and the like.

Chavez is the author of Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation, which was released last month by Basic Books.

Two days after Chavez's appearance, New York Times reporter Sara Rimer told Penney-Missouri Features Summit Workshop (P-M) attendees about an eight-part series she did on Dominican-Americans in N.Y.C.

The journalist recalled that she came up with the series idea after the much-publicized incident in which a number of minority youths raped and beat a white jogger in Central Park. Newspapers, she noted, tend to cover minority teens only in crime or drug stories. What about the many minority youths doing more positive things?

Rimer decided to focus on a baseball team with young Dominican-American players. She hung out with the squad, visited their parents, and more -- and came up with stories that punctured the preconceived notions many readers had about Latinos.

One piece, for instance, focused on how hard the players' parents work in factory jobs, as taxis drivers, and so on.

"It's important to present people as human beings, not stereotypes," stated Rimer co-panelist Yves Colon, executive director of the University of Missouri (UM) Multicultural Management Program. "The easiest thing to do is to look at people as stereotypes. The more curious we are about people, the better story we have."

Rimer is a non-Hispanic white. Colon said journalists don't need to be of the same ethnic background as their story subjects to do a good job -- although it can be helpful. He noted that some newspapers "pigeonhole" non-white staffers too much by having them cover only so-called minority stories.

Colon (who said "the term minority bothers me because we're the majority in the world") observed that it is important for newspapers to have multicultural staffers because they offer different perspectives and come up with more diverse story ideas.

The UM speaker added that minorities should be covered not only in minority-oriented pieces but integrated into other articles as well. He said by way of example that a medical story could quote doctors from different ethnic backgrounds.

Colon, a former AP reporter in Haiti and Miami Herald writer, told the audience that he has started a wire service at UM featuring local minority stories from various newspapers. …