The multicultural media in the U.S. plays a vital role in covering the full breadth of news happening in all our communities. From the legacy press to modern digital platforms, diversity ensures all voices are heard.
But with outlets in financial peril and plenty of controversy, 2019 was another year of highs and lows.
To close out the year, here are some of the top news stories affecting multicultural media in the past twelve months.
In August, the New York Times unveiled its ambitious 1619 Project in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Virginia. The series of essays that debuted in the New York Times Magazine aimed to follow the effects of slavery through the last 400 years to bring about a re-examining of America, past and present, in light of the institution. The project garnered praise — for example, from then-Democratic candidate Kamala Harris — as well as criticism from conservative politicians and pundits and more nuanced critiques from academics. In addition to the magazine issue, the project comprises a podcast and plans for a series of books, including a graphic novel.
In June, AP and other news organizations published a heartrending image emblematic of the life and death struggles of migrants at the southern border. The photo showed Salvadoran father Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez with his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, tucked inside his t-shirt, clinging to his neck, both drowned in the Rio Grande. The image was discussed at one of the Democratic debates and drew comparisons to other similarly horrifying depictions of the toll of policies on children and families, like the 2005 photo of Syrian 4-year-old Alan Kurdi who drowned in the Mediterranean.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) raised ethical concerns about such a painful image being included by AP in social media feeds without a warning while others noted the power of such images to force the public to confront the human toll of the border crisis.
Also during the summer, Puerto Rico was rocked by protests that led to the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. Already frustrated by corruption and economic crises, Puerto Ricans reached a tipping point when Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) released a trove of messages between Rosselló and top aides that were widely regarded as sexist and homophobic. CPI, which was previously hailed for its work compiling a database of deaths attributable to Hurricane Maria, proved the power of investigative journalism once again.
In recent years, journalists have struggled to characterize controversial statements about race in ways that are both accurate yet neutral. The AP Style Guide took a stand on the issue in March, tweeting, “Do not use racially charged or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable.”
In October, USPS announced the late pioneering African American journalist Gwen Ifill will be honored with a commemorative stamp. During a long career, Ifill served as co-anchor of PBS’s “NewsHour” and host of the channel’s “Washington Week.”
Lastly, the summer also saw tensions between the NAHJ and Fox News escalate. Citing rhetoric on the channel referring to migrants as invaders mere weeks after the shooting in El Paso targeting Hispanic Americans, Hugo Balta, president of the NAHJ, rejected Fox as a sponsor of the organization’s conference.
In November, the NAHJ launched palabra., a platform for freelance journalists telling stories about the Latinx community. The early plan for the publication includes English-language stories in quarterly editions with expansion to Spanish and more frequent updates in the future.
Leading Native American news site Indian Country Today joined the AP in October. This provides AP and its thousands of member publications with a valuable source of stories from all over Indian Country. In addition, the publication plans to continue expansion of newsrooms on college campuses, with Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage soon joining the bureau at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School.
The Washington Post beefed up its Spanish-language coverage with its Post Opinión section, which debuted in August, and a new podcast, El Washington Post, that launched in December. Post Opinión offers op-eds covering the full breadth of the Spanish-speaking world from the U.S. and Latin America to Spain, while the twice-weekly podcast will delve into top news stories.
Black News Channel is set to debut round-the-clock TV news coverage for African American audiences in January 2020. In October, it was announced that Shad Khan, owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and English soccer club Fulham F.C., was a majority investor in the channel. In an interview with AP, he said, “I am a big believer in the fact that we have a number of communities, obviously especially the African American community, who are underserved. We know the mission, but I’m hoping that, as time goes on, this becomes a bridge to connect all the cultures, including obviously South Asian, which I am. This is a great worthwhile cause. I want to see it happen.”
In May, Self Evident, a podcast aiming to tell Asian American stories, debuted. Self Evident strives to capture the diversity of Asian Americans, representing the full breadth of Asian American experiences, even in relation to other communities of color in the U.S.
In September, the New York Times announced that NYT en Español would no longer function as an autonomous platform with its own original content. While it will no longer host original stories, the site still will be updated with translations of top English-language news.
The Chicago Defender, the legendary African American newspaper with a 100-plus-year history, announced the end of its print publication and the shift to digital in July. Hiram E. Jackson, chief executive officer of Real Times Media, the parent company of the Defender, is quoted by the outlet as saying, “The Chicago Defender will lead the way in reinvigorating news delivery for the African American press, one that makes business sense in this digital age.”
ESPN closed ESPN Deportes Radio in September. The network focused on sports coverage in Spanish and included 44 affiliate stations across the country. The most popular shows shifted to podcast format, while ESPN Deportes TV continues unaffected.
In April, Univision sold Gizmodo Media Group to private equity firm Great Hill Partners. Univision had purchased the group that included The Onion, The Root, Jezebel, and Deadspin during efforts to expand toward English-language sites focused on millennials. Trouble quickly arose at Deadspin in November when the new management issued a dictum that writers stick to sports, leading to the en masse resignation of the entire editorial staff.
Also in April, Johnson Publishing Company, the former parent company of the venerable pillars of the African American magazine world, Ebony and Jet, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. While the two magazines themselves had been previously sold to a private equity firm, Johnson Publishing Company still controlled an archive of the most iconic photos chronicling the 20th century history of African Americans. The announcement of the bankruptcy meant liquidation of these immeasurably important cultural artifacts, which included the iconic photos of Emmett Till’s funeral that provided part of the impetus for the Civil Rights Movement itself. However, in July, a consortium of foundations bought the archive for $30 million with the intention of donating it to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute, thereby ensuring that historians and other scholars will continue to have access to it.
As we look forward to 2020, the new decade will undoubtedly bring both trials and triumphs for multicultural media and the news industry as a whole, but as long as diverse voices are there to tell our stories and the stories of communities around the world, we will all benefit from a rich and deep understanding of ourselves and our neighbors.
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Nicole Howard is a product manager at Cision, as well as an editor and freelance writer. When not working or reading, she enjoys word puzzles and the outdoors.