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A screen in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio shows Mekahlo Medina addressing members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists after his election as president. Behind him are other elected board members: Ivette Davila-Richards (left), Rebecca Aguilar and Ken Molestina. 

Richard Prince

The celebratory tone of the closing gala of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention was punctured briefly Saturday night when 84-year-old co-founder Charles Ericksen called it "kind of a farce" for the association to honor Fox News and other media companies when the number of employed Hispanic journalists had declined in recent years.

Hugo Balta, outgoing NAHJ president, apologized to Francisco Cortés, who in October of 2010 launched FoxNewsLatino.com and accepted an NAHJ Media Award on behalf of Fox News Latino.

"I want to personally apologize to you, Fox and the Fox family for what is . . . unacceptable," Balta said from the stage. "I will not allow any of our guests to be singled out or be insulted in this way. Fox News Latino deserves this award. Frank Cortés was the first Latino to be named VP at Fox. Fox is the reason why we're here," Balta said, apparently referring to the participation of Fox News Channel and Fox News Latino as convention sponsors.

Ericksen, founder of the Hispanic Link News Service and an honoree himself as an NAHJ Hall of Fame inductee and member of NAHJ's founding committee, told Journal-isms afterward that Balta was correct in saying that "Fox isn't the only one. There's a lot of them that are just as bad. But anyone who says positive things about Fox has cotton in the ears and blinders in the eye."

Cortes told Journal-isms, "That's his opinion." Others told Journal-isms privately that they were glad that Ericksen spoke up.

Folkenflik also wrote, "Fox News Latino doesn't treat American Hispanics as a monolithic cultural, economic or political force. And that can be credited with some of its early fortune.

"The site started up in late 2010, with a push from Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. Fox News Latino Director Francisco Cortes was rising through the ranks — from an apprenticeship named for Ailes to a senior producer for Fox's news programming — when he was summoned by his bosses.

" 'Mr. Ailes himself ... wanted to see how to strategize on how to speak to the Latino community,' Cortes recalls. 'They wanted to know ... how do we go about talking to one of the most influential groups in the U.S.'

"With colleagues, Cortes devised a website that features staff-written pieces and aggregates news coverage from other sources, particularly abroad. The site's articles are largely in English.

" 'Our target audience is second- and third-generation U.S. Hispanics,' Cortes says, 'but we also don't want to ignore first-generation Hispanics who have deep ties to their homeland.' . . ."

Folkenflik quoted reporter Bryan Llenas" 'Fox News Latino is different than Fox News,' Llenas says with a smile. 'You know what? That's the purpose — to add value.' "

Total registration was 885 for the NAHJ conference, held at San Antonio's Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, according to Anna Lopez Buck, NAHJ executive director. That number includes sponsors and exhibitors. Forty-six companies exhibited in the Media & Career Expo, or job fair. About 500 people registered last year for the NAHJ portion of a convention in Anaheim, Calif., held jointly with the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association. The 500 figure likewise included exhibitors.

NAHJ members elected Mekahlo Medina, a technology and social media reporter at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles and NAHJ vice president for broadcast, as their new president. Medina received 177 votes running unopposed, it was announced at the gala.

Medina, 36, described NAHJ as being like familia, in which he had been a member since age 16. "I'm still a short, dark-skinned kid who grew up poor, I'm gay and I grew up without a left hand." He explained later that he was born without one. He also said he is  5 feet 6 inches tall, 5 feet 7 "on a good day."

"We will see together the first Hispanic to be chief anchor of a mainstream English-language newscast" and the first to edit a major English-language newspaper, Medina told the crowd, celebrating NAHJ's 30th anniversary. "How about the L.A. Times?" he asked. Gilbert Bailon edits the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Aminda "Mindy" Marques is executive editor of the Miami Herald.

Medina has said the organization looks forward to broadening its reach, with a regional conference scheduled for Mexico City in October, and he has proposed that 50 to 60 percent of NAHJ's panels and workshops be held in Spanish. "That's where our growth" potential is, Medina told Journal-isms, speaking of Spanish-language media. He estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the membership is bilingual. [Text of remarks below.]

Also elected were:

Vice president/broadcast: Ivette Davila-Richards, associate producer at CBS News' Newspath in New York, and Region 2 director, 189 votes.

Vice president/online: Rebecca Aguilar, the incumbent, a Dallas-based freelance news reporter for television, online, print and radio, 189 votes.

At large officer: Ken Molestina, anchor and reporter at KTVT-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth, who now has the post on an interim basis. He has been Region 3 director, 189 votes.

Spanish at-large officer: Cesar Arredondo, president of the Los Angeles chapter. He is principal at the Q&A Communications consulting firm and at the Web project LatinoEntertainmentPlus.com, 186 votes. The Latino Reporter, a student publication, later reported in a Sunday posting that Arredondo is being accused of organizing a money-losing event, keeping the revenue in his personal bank account and failing to keep the board informed.

Academic officer: Yvonne Latty, the incumbent, 187 votes. She is director of the Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation programs at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Four positions – vice president of print, financial officer, student representative and secretary – had no candidates. 

Balta said that membership had risen to more than 1,600 under his two-year tenure and that the number of professional chapters has doubled. He recalled that when he was elected, his predecessor, Michele Salcedo, quoted a member saying the organization was behaving like crabs in a barrel. Balta said he thinks a better analogy would be one of seeds sprouting. Salcedo has been seen rarely at NAHJ events since Balta's election. By contrast, Medina asked Balta to head a committee on chapters and regions, growing and developing NAHJ chapters.

The American Society of News Editors placed the number of Hispanics in newspaper and online newsrooms at 2,346 in its 2008 survey, but at just 1,637 in its 2014 census. However, the total number of full-time journalists plummeted from 52,600 to 36,700 with the recession and cutbacks in the news industry.

In local radio and television, Bob Papper reported July 28 for the Radio Television Digital News Association, "In the last 24 years, the minority population in the U.S. has risen 11 points; but the minority workforce in TV news is up less than half that (4.6), and the minority workforce in radio is up 2.2." The workforce at non-Hispanic television stations was 5.3 percent Hispanic, down from 5.5 percent the previous year.

Ericksen did not limit his criticism to Fox in his comments on the awards to media companies. He told Journal-isms that Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC who spoke on Friday, insulted his audience by appearing as "somebody who really loves Hispanics" when "one anchor of 16 under his control is Hispanic."

Ericksen suffered a stroke in 2005. A crowdfunding campaign by members of the Washington, D.C., chapter of NAHJ helped to pay for his trip from Washington to San Antonio, the Latino Reporter reported.

Other media award recipients were CNN, PBS and BuzzFeed. Accepting the CNN award, Ramon Escobarvice president of talent recruitment and development for CNN Worldwide, said his mother came to the United States from Colombia and his father from El Salvador in the early 1960s.

Seeing unaccompanied minors from El Salvador attacked today makes him think of his father and of the civil rights movement of the '60s, Escobar said. "We've got to do more. We must fight to tell these stories," he said.

Adrian Carrasquillo, accepting for BuzzFeed, said the website has grown from having two people with an interest in Latino coverage when he started last June to having a dozen. "We are breaking stories in the space," he said, noting that the stories are integrated into the rest of the site's news and that he was the first to report on MSNBC's Cinco de Mayo gaffe, for which Griffin has repeatedly apologized.

Like Ericksen, Maggie Rivas Rodriguez, an associate professor at the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, was present to be inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame as a member of the NAHJ founding committee.

Known as a Latino oral historian, Rivas Rodriguez told the group that NAHJ oral histories are fine, but that she hoped the association would collect its historical documents in a library "so that the story of NAHJ can finally be told." Members of the National Association of Black Journalists have similarly voiced concern that their organization needs a repository for archival materials, many of which are held by veterans.

Melanie Balakit, Latino Reporter: NAHJ in black, but expenses triple

Samuel Howard, San Antonio Express-News: Gala honors S.A. trailblazers

Yahaira Jacquez, Latino Reporter: Legacy of Ruben Salazar inspired Medina’s journey

Robert Taylor, KSAT-TV, San Antonio: Former Mayor Castro in SA for NAHJ ceremony

MSNBC Chief Promises Change for Latinos

A contrite Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, apologized again Friday for a May Cinco de Mayo skit on his network that Hispanics found offensive, and he agreed with a wide-ranging list of complaints from Latino journalists.

Those concerns included the need for more Latinos behind the scenes and on the air, objections to having to tone down Spanish accents and pronunciations, and the inclusion of Afro-Latinos along with their lighter-skinned brethren.

"It's important. We want to lead the way" on diversity, Griffin told attendees Friday at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in San Antonio's Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, a centerpiece of the city's celebrated River Walk area downtown.

"A cultural change" must take place at the network, Griffin said. "We've got to be honest."

Griffin agreed to hold a session between the hosts of MSNBC programs and Latino experts on issues of the day and meetings with potential Hispanic on-air talent. Both were suggestions from Alex Nogales, a diversity watchdog who leads the National Hispanic Media Coalition and shared the stage with Griffin.

"I think we should do it regularly," Griffin quickly said of the proposed meetings.

The network president told NAHJ members who lobbed questions at him from the audience, "I agree with everything that's been said at this microphone."

He made continual references to the idea that "the world is changing" and that "the forces of history" require changes in attitudes.

NAHJ leaders, who by Thursday had gathered about 850 registrants for their 30th anniversary convention, according to President Hugo Balta, were impressed.

"We invited all of the heads of the networks," Balta told Journal-isms. "Phil quickly agreed. He was the only one to show up, and they were not in the hot seats."

Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal, said he warned Griffin that he would face sharp questioning but that Griffin wanted to appear anyway.

Mekahlo Medina, NAHJ's vice president for broadcast and the sole candidate for NAHJ president, to be elected Saturday, said that "to take on a group of 500 or 600 Latino journalists who had issues with all the media and really talk about it . . . no other executive would be up there today but Phil."

Griffin opened his luncheon remarks by saying, "I apologize to everybody in this room for what took place on May 5" and said its ramifications had been felt in every corner of NBC headquarters "at 30 Rock," or 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan.

On May 5, an interlude on MSNBC's "Way Too Early" show, featuring correspondent Louis Burgdorf and host Thomas Roberts, showed Burgdorf onscreen wearing a sombrero, shaking maracas and taking a swig from a bottle of tequila. The holiday marks an 1862 battle victory by Mexican troops against the French and is celebrated in the United States with parades and revelry.

The hosts subsequently apologized, and Griffin said Friday, "When I walk by a Mexican restaurant, I get nervous."

Griffin went on to praise the network's coverage of voting rights issues as being ahead of the competition and said the network's addition of Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart to the network's weekday lineup has changed "the entire environment" because he is not restricted to Hispanic issues.

Díaz-Balart anchors MSNBC's 10 a.m. hour live from Miami, but as Nogales noted, continues to co-anchor Telemundo's "Noticiero Telemundo" and host "Enfoque con José Díaz-Balart."

"The challenge is to get beyond Jose," particularly by installing a Latino anchor, Nogales said.

Griffin agreed, saying, "We've got to build 'em." Growing Latino talent is the only way to change the culture inside the network and project a more diverse image, he said.

A Díaz-Balart interview in Spanish with a teenage Guatemalan refugee in real time "was one of the most powerful things" Griffin said he had seen on the network. "We should have done this years ago. He's part of the family now," he said of Díaz-Balart.

The network trails Fox News Channel and CNN in the ratings. It is working with its Telemundo sibling on a series about children of the DREAM Act after its successful documentary "Underwater Dreams," which aired in July.

Griffin counted among his top advisers Yvette M. Miley, vice president and executive editor, who is African American, and Chris Peña, senior executive producer, who is Hispanic.

Nogales said catering to Hispanics had progressed from "the right thing to do" to a business imperative. He said of Griffin from the stage, "He doesn't have everybody aboard, but at least he's not fighting us."

NAHJ members challenged Griffin with their own concerns. One questioned whether the diversity among Hispanics, with their various countries of origin, would be addressed. Griffin said the network thrived on personality-driven anchors, "and that's the way the business is moving." Rachel Maddow, for example, hosts MSNBC's top show, and "I never asked her to change a thing. I didn't ask for a lesbian who dressed in T-shirts." Al Sharpton presents himself "his own way." Nogales used the opening to note that Maddow rarely has people of color on her show.

Daisy Gonzalez, a Mexican-American NAHJ member who works with FX Design Group, a set-design firm, said she had family members who look "indigenous" and wondered why more people with their complexions were not on the air. So did Annette Raveneau, a Panamanian-American who said she could name only three Afro-Latinos on English- or Spanish-language television. Adrian Ramirez of the Rivard Report, a San Antonio online magazine, asked why he saw so little about the killings of indigenous people in South America, which he told Journal-isms he learned about from Al Jazeera.

Griffin told Ramirez that the networks have "so much more European and Asian coverage. We've got to change that," and that "we're behind" in covering Central and South America. "The forces of history are going to overwhelm what's going on. I want to embrace this change. We've got to," he repeaed.

A May story on the New York Times website that asserted that more Latinos are considering themselves white riled some Latino journalists so much that a panel on the subject took place Friday at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in San Antonio.

It wasn't simply discussed. Signs with a range of Latino faces and the hashtag "#What Latinos Look Like" were placed around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

The panel's consensus: Stories about Latinos and race require a level of nuance and understanding too great to be left to reporters with no background in the subject. And if mishandled, the results can be damaging. The Times misrepresented the study it reported on, they said.

"I cringed, but I knew exactly how it got there," veteran journalist Ray Suarez, now a host on Al Jazeera America, said from the audience about the Times piece. "Nobody should have been surprised."

The original item was by Nate Cohn for the Upshot, a Times blog on demographics. Its editor, David Leonhardt, former Times Washington bureau chief, has stood by the story but the Times did not respond to an invitation to appear in San Antonio, according to panel organizer Julio Ricardo Varela, founder of the Latino Rebels website. The item gained traction as Cohn returned to the subject in a subsequent posting and the idea was picked up on television.

The researchers whose preliminary work was cited by Cohn wrote their own report this week on the U.S. Census Bureau website.

"We wonder if Cohn will take back his initial reporting?" Varela wrote Wednesday on Latino Rebels, pointing to the researchers' latest work. "He clearly only reported one part of the study and made some incredibly sweeping generalizations that never made sense to us."

No sense and damaging, panelists said. "Latinos are a multiracial identity. It's as simple as that," Roque Planas, the editor of HuffPost LatinoVoices who describes himself as a white Hispanic, said in his opening remarks. "There is no mestizo box, no mulatto box in the census. . . . The questions are confusing."

Racial categories in the United States are not the same as in Latin America, said Blanca E. Vega, director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Marymount Manhattan College. Her family is from Ecuador, and she said she had mostly African but also Native roots.

"In the United States, a different process of racialization occurs," Vega said. That process accelerated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the racial profiling that resulted, she said.

Yvonne Latty, an NAHJ board member whose parents are Dominican and Jamaican, said it was difficult for her to discuss the subject without emotion.

"I felt, 'here we go again,' " she said. The study was saying "you, too, can still live the American dream, like the Irish and the Italians, but if you're black, you're the minority again. This was very, very divisive. In my childhood in New York City, all the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans wanted to be white. I was always (considered) ugly, and it hurt. The first time I was called a nigger was by Puerto Ricans. . . . The voices of Afro-Latinos, I don't feel like we're heard. We're not seen."

Planas said, "We have a problem of racism within the Latino community that nobody talks about."

Latty, a journalism professor at New York University, later led her own discussion of Afro-Latinos in a corner of the convention's job fair. Her list of Latino groups that needed more black participation included NAHJ. "If you show more diversity within the organization, it makes people want to join who are black," she said.

Mekahlo Medina, who is running unopposed for NAHJ president, told Journal-isms that he agreed with Latty that NAHJ could be more diverse.

Vega advocated more conversation among journalists, educators and politicians. She said the Times piece follows a troubling media narrative.

First, she said, it was, "Watch out, the Latinos are coming." "Then, watch out, black folks, Latinos are going to pass you now." "Now we have, wait a minute, Latinos are going white, if you can't beat 'em join 'em.

"They scare the hell out of the population."

Latty urged journalists to "be bold" and speak out against such representations. Planas said his social media campaign on the Times' pieces "was hands down the best thing we've ever done."

"We're in a world where it's OK to say as a journalist, 'This is what matters to us,' " Varela said.

Alex Corey, Latino Reporter: What do Latinos look like? (Aug. 9)

"ESPN Digital & Print Media today announced that award-winning journalist Amy DuBois Barnett will join ESPN as Executive Editor of Jason Whitlock’s upcoming site that will provide coverage, commentary and insight about sports and culture directed [toward] an African-American audience," the sports network announced on Thursday.

"In this role, Barnett will manage editorial operations for the site. She will report to Whitlock, founder and Editor-in-Chief.

“ 'Amy’s impressive resume across a wide range of publications and brands, as well as her leadership experience, will ensure that the site will be at the forefront of news and commentary relevant to African-Americans,' said Whitlock.

" 'Together, we aim to serve audiences with quality and innovative journalism when the site debuts.'

“We continue to attract highly-acclaimed editors that bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the ESPN Digital & Print Media team, and Amy is a prime example,” added Patrick Stiegman, vice president and editorial director, ESPN Digital & Print Media. 'She and Jason are building a tremendous team that will speak to, entertain, inform and serve African-American audiences about sports and culture.'

"Most recently, Barnett was Editor-in-Chief of Ebony, the oldest and largest African-American magazine in the country. At Ebony, Barnett executed the publication's first top-to-bottom redesign in its 68-year history and also re-launched Ebony.com, both to critical acclaim. . . ."

Robert Lipsyte, the ESPN ombudsman, wrote of the Whitlock site last month, "If the new moon rises and fulfills the expectations of ESPN president John Skipper, its most prominent champion, it will have the potential of becoming the media empire’s signal social achievement.

"The rewards for success are enormous, for ESPN, Whitlock, the staff and the audience. It is also the riskiest of the affinity sites. Race is America's greatest historical problem and its deepest divide. Sports, paradoxically, is the area of greatest visible progress in racial equality as well as greatest hypocrisy. To open a meaningful, ongoing discussion while giving opportunities to a new generation of journalists of color would be an incalculable contribution, well beyond sports.

" 'We want to be a birthplace for careers,' says Skipper, who added: 'It's also a commercial move. African-Americans believe ESPN is their TV network, but they are more ambivalent about ESPN.com as their site. We want to be the place to go when the community wants some conversation about Jay Z becoming an agent, about the racial aspects of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. African-Americans are big sports fans, and we want that audience.' . . ."

"ESPN television and radio host Dan Le Batard was suspended for two days after he paid for billboards in Cleveland that mockingly read 'You’re Welcome LeBron; Love, Miami' and displayed the two title rings he won with the Heat," Chris Chase wrote Thursday for USA Today.

"The billboards were a sly reference to James’ famed letter to Cleveland, which seemed to thank everybody except for Miami fans and their four years of support. The top line was written in Comic Sans, of course.

"The network released a statement about the suspension on Thursday.

" 'Dan LeBatard will be off the air for two days, returning Monday. His recent stunt does not reflect ESPN's standards and brand. Additionally, we were not made aware of his plans in advance.'

"Le Batard had been joking for weeks about playfully sabotaging LeBron's big welcome home rally in Akron. At first, he debated taking out a full-page newspaper ad. Then, he researched the costs of pulling a banner with an airplane. Finally, he and his show took out the billboards. . . ."

Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.