What I learned about my newspaper tonight

One gentleman got up and addressed his words directly to me in Spanish. “When three Hispanic teenagers walk together in a group, they are automatically thought of as a gang, as gang members, and they are treated that way by police,” the translator said. “When other kids get together in a group, they are viewed just as friends getting together. Do you get the distinction? Do you see it?”
I learned some things about my newspaper tonight, and just how far we must go before we can call ourselves the “voice of our community.”
For the most part, we represent our (as in, hey, we’re “professional journalists” and we buy a lot of ink and newsprint, and we have this Web site, too) voice, and the voice of those who hold places of power within the community, or know how to get the attention of and their way with those in power.
I sat on a panel tonight next to some school board members, the high school and middle school principals, the police chief and a bunch of cops, in front of about 100 parents gathered to confront the issue of racism and discrimination against Hispanic students.
The executive editor of a larger, competing, out-of-town daily newspaper got up and displayed a file folder (thin, I might add, but more than we have done, and beside the point) full of positive articles that had run about Latino residents, students and businesses, saying that the newspaper is a mirror that must reflect both the good and bad.
“Why does a rumor about Latino gangs get banner front page headlines when the fear, the discrimination, the racism that your children faced every day before that never made the newspaper?” I asked. “It is because we do not know. We, with our limited experiences, cannot represent your voice.”
This is where the translator started adding commentary to everything I said, chiming in that she liked what I was saying (when I said we didn’t have a clue).
Torrington’s police chief had earlier said that communication is the key to getting past these problems.
Well, communication is our business, “So I think that we can be a part of the solution,” I said.
I offered to partner with the Hispanic community “on their terms,” saying that hey, we do have a pretty popular Web site, and we do buy a lot of ink and newsprint. And we have some expertise that we could lend in helping the community set up their own communication vehicles. We don’t want to control the information and (pretend to) be the voice. We want to help your voice be heard.
And (as my translator chimed in again), it seemed to me, if communication within their own cultural group in the community was important, but having their voice heard to the community at-large was also key, it seemed to me that something in both Spanish and English was necessary.
I’m excited about what happens next.

About mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter, editor, publisher and corporate editorial director and has been recognized nationally for leading newsroom innovation. He teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University, writes a monthly column for Editor & Publisher magazine, and serves as interim executive director of LION Publishers, a national network of local independent online news site publishers. Previously, he served as group editor of Digital First Media's publications in Connecticut, including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Register Citizen and Connecticut Magazine, and Northeast regional editor for Digital First Media. He also served as publisher of The Register Citizen, Middletown Press and a group of weeklies in Northwest Connecticut, and before that was corporate director of news for small dailies and non-daily publications for the former Journal Register Company. In early 2011, The Register Citizen was named one of Editor & Publisher magazine's "10 Newspapers That Do It Right," and DeRienzo was named to its annual "25 Under 35" list of leaders in the newspaper industry. In the fall of 2011, The Register Citizen was awarded the Associated Press Managing Editors Innovator of the Year Award in recognition of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, an "open newsroom" launched in Torrington, Connecticut, in December 2010. He led a team of more than 100 journalists in covering the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in late 2012 and 2013, and has been honored for his editorial writing and leadership of public service and investigative reporting. In 2014, his efforts at the New Haven Register were recognized with the APME's and ASNE's Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity. DeRienzo is a former longtime board member of the United Way of Northwest Connecticut, and served as co-chairman of the United Way's annual fundraising campaign in 2009 and again in 2011. In 2011, he received the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.
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