October 27, 2004

Gonzalez Speaks on Race in Media

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In her introduction of guest speaker Juan Gonzalez, Prof. Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, anthropology, praised the award-winning New York Daily News writer’s “street-smart scholarship” and insightful investigative reporting skills.

She prefaced Gonzalez’s speech, entitled “How Long Must We Wait? The Struggle for Racial and Ethnic Equality Within the American News Media,” by saying that the state of the national media “should concern all those in a democracy.”

Gonzalez agreed, saying that the media affects “each and every American” and that it “will determine whether democracy will survive in the 21st century.”

The lecture was part of the Daniel W. Kops Freedom of the Press annual lecture series. “Today’s news media have become more than just another business,” he told the crowd of over 100 students, faculty and staff. The media has become the “principal gatekeepers” of news, culture and society.

“We’re drowning in it,” he said, pointing out the thousands of television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines now available.

At the same time America is being saturated with news, Gonzalez said, it is also receiving that news with an alarmingly different angle than the rest of the world.

“Poll after poll show the people of the United States see the news one way … while the rest of the world see something entirely different,” he said.

After addressing what he viewed as the broad problems of corporate news and increasingly centralized control of it, Gonzalez focused on the problem of race in media.

Gonzalez, who has served as the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, said that although several news networks approached him for help on integrating their newsrooms, “progress has been woefully inadequate.”

He cited the need for a diversity of viewpoints and voices in addition to a simple diversity of ethnic groups inside a news organization.

He also said that many news organizations worked to create controversy instead of dialogue. “News now divides instead of bringing America’s cultures together,” he said.

Gonzalez then talked about the historical segregation of the press and its roots, and the effects that linger today making it harder for minority publications to compete.

As an example of the damaging effect that papers can have on race relations, Gonzalez discussed the sensationalism that he says many early American editors favored when reporting on Native Americans and the stereotypes that they promoted.

Despite this, Gonzalez said, the Cherokee were able to create their own alphabet, teach it to a large portion of their nation and then create their own paper using that language, a feat that amazed many contemporaries.

Gonzalez then went on to discuss a variety of other early minority publications, which he says refuted the complaints of many news organizations that came to him and said that there were not enough qualified minority journalists.

“It is apparent that there was a significant pool of minority reporters, if only the media had looked for them,” he said.

Gonzalez said that minority journalist advancement in radio and television was as slow, or slower, than the print counterpart.

“Integration of the broadcast industry was agonizingly slow in coming,” he said.

Gonzalez said that the problem with the slow integration of the press was compounded by the fact that in each medium, the media was boosted by tax money that failed to represent the interests of all taxpayers.

Gonzalez pointed to steep mail discounts that propped up newspapers and the public money spent on cable networks and the development of the Internet.

“Even in colleges and public radios, the same [discrimination] happened [in media],” he said. “These colleges admitted no blacks or minorities,” but still had student-run radio and television stations, he said.

Gonzalez said things were not getting better, arguing that deregulation under the Bush and Reagan administrations had hurt minority ownership of news sources, and that the 1995 repeal of a tax credit given to white station owners who sold their stations to minorities killed ‘the most effective program for minority ownership.”

“Waves of mergers that have reshaped media in this country” also worried Gonzalez, as he said that many formerly minority-owned outlets were bought out by larger conglomerate companies, such as B.E.T.’s buyout by Viacom and Univision’s primarily white management. “Media conglomerates buy out minority-owned media,” he said, leaving minority journalists without the freedom they once enjoyed in their reporting of minority issues.

Gonzalez said that this increasingly leads to “infotainment” instead of investigative reporting and diversity in viewpoint.

Brian Kwoba ’06 said he enjoyed the lecture.

“What struck me about it was the historical context in which he put his discussion,” he said. “The struggles are ongoing and continuing.”

Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun Senior Writer