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Restoring the Trust
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Is There A Need
For Mainstream Media?

George White, Assistant director,
UCLA Center for Communications and Community

We do communications workshops nationwide, and what we do is help journalists get better connected to communities, which is what public, civic journalism should be about. . . we also help non-profits and community groups nationwide understand journalists better, so they can do a better job of connecting with media and getting their stories told, or if they choose to create their own media . . .

One of the questions I was asked to address was to consider, is there a need, considering the declining readership in mainstream media, is there a need for mainstream media?

I think there is. I think there is a need for a common square, a public square of opinion, of information. But it’s clear that public square is going to be smaller in the future, because there’s no way we’re going to reverse the trends we’ve been seeing in the past 15 years. We heard some of the numbers. . . New California Media with regard to the loyalty that consumers of ethnic media have toward their newspapers and television and radio stations. They have not been served by the mainstream media. They are finding what they need elsewhere.

What we do see is mainstream media trying to get into the game. With the New York Times trying to start what is, effectively, a black newspaper in Gainseville, Florida. We’ve seen it with the Chicago Tribune company with Hoy—there are lots and lots of examples. This is the trend when we look at the changing demographics of this country. We’re going to see a continuation of this niche-news approach.

Can the Mainstream Media Appeal to Ethnic Groups?

There will be some difficulty for mainstream media trying to reach communities of color. We’ve seen it already, for example, with the Chicago Tribune and Hoy, where they had some circulation scandals. We’ve seen it in sort of the lack of quality coverage in some of these satellites of mainstream media.

Basically, the problem is this, and it’s the problem mainstream media has with its overall audience: It is too focused on the bottom line. These companies are public companies, they are concerned about shareholder price, and so therefore they will not, or have not, put the resources into these new alternative media, which are designed in many cases to reach people of color.

I was recently on a panel whose topic was similar to this. . . [public relations professionals] were looking specifically at ethnic media or minority media, and what was interesting was the composition of the panel, or at least three-fourths of it—at one end was a former L.A. Times reporter, a former colleague of mine, who had quit about five months earlier to start an English-language magazine for the Latino market in Los Angeles—there are already two monthly magazines in the city—but Latinos don’t read them. And even English-speaking Latinos, for the most part, don’t read them. So he felt there was a market for it, and he seems to be doing fairly well.

Right next to me was an L.A. Times reporter, much younger—I left the Times five years ago—so I did not know him. He was an Asian American journalist whose assignment was to cover the Asian American community. He said, more than once, the Asian American community does not, for the most part, read his articles because they don’t read the L.A. Times. Not [just] those who don’t speak English, but the English speakers. And so he felt somewhat out of sorts—who is he writing for? Maybe, he said, there are some whites who are concerned about the Asian community who are reading his reports, but that’s pretty much it.

How Some Journalists Are Connecting With Communities of Color

...Let me go back with my history, very briefly. Right after the riots in Los Angeles in 1992, the Ford Foundation looked at the situation there and came to the conclusion that the mainstream media didn’t have any idea what was going on in communities of color in Southern California. We journalists already knew that. But the Ford Foundation wanted to do something about it. They were willing to fund something.

A coalition made up of the L.A. chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, the California Chicano News Association—which is the largest journalism association of color, by the way—and the L.A. chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association came together. We called it the Unity Media Access Project, UMAP for short. ...three years, we did 30 community engagement sessions in all parts of Southern California, where we had journalists come and talk about their jobs...

This is something we need to be about, no matter what we’re involved in, mainstream media or ethnic media. .. we need to make sure that, whether it’s minority media or ethnic media or mainstream media, that those news organizations are trying to connect with the communities they’re supposed to be serving.

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Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14
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