Keynote Sandy Close criticizes “communication apartheid” between ethnic and mainstream media

“The immigrant is the prophet of the future, it is who we are becoming,” said Sandy Close in her keynote speech at the 9th Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas on Saturday, Sept. 10. Close, executive editor and director for New America Media, detailed her early experience with ethnic media in San Francisco and spoke about its potential to transform coverage of immigrant communities in the United States and abroad at the forum, which was themed "Media Coverage of Migration in the Americas."

“It was the great promise of mainstream media when there was no mainstream,” Close said, criticizing the illusion of the mainstream media representing the interests of monolithic American society. “We were becoming a global society and didn’t even know what that meant.”

How was it possible to cover a city when transnational communities were coming to the United States everyday without taking the ethnic media of these communities—including black media—seriously, Close asked. “Our circulations are collectively greater than that of the San Francisco Chronicle,” Close quoted a representative from an ethnic media conference in the mid-1990s, “The mainstream media treats us as second class, if they even know we exist,” the representative finished.

The “communication apartheid” Close identified not only marginalizes ethnic media; it limits the mainstream media as well. “The mainstream media has health and weather ending at the border. Hispanic media had the mainstream media on H1N1, hands down. They were reporting on Mexico closing schools because of it. Americans thought they didn’t need to worry about it because it wasn’t here,” she said.

Close also pointed out that ethnic media--especially Hispanic media--are growing, even in the face of the economic downturn that has exacerbated the crisis in the mainstream media, because communities need it. “The Million Man March was completely organized by black media,” Close said. “If you think the mainstream media spent any time promoting that event, think again.”

Ethnic media’s close connection to the community they serve broaden not only the framing of coverage but also the potential to support human rights. “To speak truth to community is more powerful than speaking truth to power,” she said. Close started her talk with the promise of a mainstream media, but she ended it with the promise of ethnic media.

About 50 journalists and experts from 20 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean gathered Sept. 8-10, 2011, in Austin, Texas for the Austin Forum, organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Latin American and Media programs of the Open Society Foundations. A complete program is available here.