CAB Minutes: January 2005

Outreach meeting:

"Listening to the Latino Community in the Bronx"

7 pm, Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Montefiore Medical Center, Cherkasky Auditorium

MEMBERS PRESENT: Fred Friedland, Ed Sawchuk, David Weinstock, Shawn Williams, K.C. Sahl, Alex Senchak, Kelly Wachowicz, Emily Gertz, Neal Zuckerman, Nicholas Arture, Elizabeth Nam, Sallie Gouverneur, Chris Small, Toby Butterfield, David Rahni, Mary O'Hara, David Hall.

APOLOGIES: Charles Murray, Inge Reist, Barbara Genco
WNYC STAFF: Laura Walker, Phil Redo, Lori Ann Krushefski, John Keefe, Mikel Ellcessor, Brian Lehrer, Nuala McGovern, Jennifer Houlihan, Robin Bilinkoff, Olivia Kissin, Jim Colgan

NON–MEMBERS: Approximately 20 members from the general public

Opening remarks

Kelly Wachowicz, CAB chair, thanked the hospital, panelists, Brian Lehrer, and the members of the audience; introduced WNYC as the flagship public radio station of the metro area and explained how public radio stations differ from commercial stations. She briefly described the station's programming and the CAB's role as attempting to better understand the needs of residents of WNYC's listening area, and introduced vice chair Neal Zuckerman.
Neal said we were here to hear the story of the Bronx, the needs of its people. He then introduced radio host Brian Lehrer, the moderator of the evening's event.

Panel discussion

Brian Lehrer said he was born in the Bronx, all 4 of his grandparents had come here from Eastern Europe; though he grew up in Queens, he came over most weekends to the Bronx to see his maternal grandmother. Though the borough is ethnically different now, he observed that but many of the residents are immigrants facing the same issues, wanting to become American but hold on to ethnic traditions; the process of assimilation is a cycle which repeats itself with different communities. Many here are Puerto Rican, others are non–immigrants as well. He thanked the CAB, the panelists, and the audience, asking them to take advantage of the chance to respond to ways to serve the Bronx community.

Many would start by saying that the Bronx and Latino issues are underrepresented in the media; Lehrer suggested that this be taken as a given and assume that WNYC needs to improve service to the Latino communities. One current example on the Brian Lehrer Show is New York 51, a series of interviews of all 51 City Council members on the state of things in their districts, well ahead of the start of the campaigns. Another, as yet unannounced segment in the show, will be White Boy Learns Spanish, with Brian as "White boy" and Nelson Dennis as his tutor, coming on the show every few weeks to teach something relevant to issues and culture in the Spanish–speaking communities in the city, and teach Brian a little Spanish language on the way. These segments of his program are an example of the kind of further service to the community the station has under way.

He then introduced the panelists:

    Adolfo Carrion, Bronx Borough President
    Laura Rodriguez , Region 2 (Bronx) Regional Superintendent for the Department of Education, Angelo Falcon, Policy Director, Puerto Rican Defense and Education Fund Maurice Valentine, Bronx Tour Guide, Carolina Gonzalez, Freelance Journalist and consultant formerly of the Daily News

Brian suggested that the panelists talk in general about media coverage of the Bronx.

Adolfo Carrion thanked the station and the hospital for making the event possible, saying it is an important conversation to have, overdue but always timely. He said that press coverage of Latino community in the Bronx is a mixed bag. In print media, one often sees fantastic negative stories of crime on the street. Inevitably, because half the population in the county of 1.4 million people is Hispanic, many of the people involved in these high–profile stories are Hispanic. He noted a fascination with the Latino community after the presidential race, noting the significance of shifting voting patterns in the recent election (where Gore got 65% of the Latino vote in 2000, Kerry got 55% in 2004), and observed that the parties are speaking to the Latino community differently, showing more outreach and marketing. With nearly 30% of the NYC population Latino, he said we need in press coverage to see more substantive conversation about who Latino community are, and what countries they come from. He said there is, for example, little or no coverage about the politics and economies of Latin American countries, nothing in English–language media except major events or coverage of Vicente Fox in Mexico. There is also confusion about who Latinos are, a popular sense that there is a "Hispanic race" when in fact it is multi–ethnic, multi–racial, and multi–lingual. The Latino Community tends to be painted with a broad, comfortable brush which distinguishes the Latino community and "everybody else." He cited this as being a paradigm similar to characterization of the black community: the Afro–Caribbean community, for example, is also seen as homogeneous group. Reporters need to do more homework, and to ask who lives in our city, what are the idiosyncrasies of our communities. We need more talk, to look at leaders in the Latino community, e.g., who makes opinion, who are heroes and heroines ("not J–Lo") who should be profiled; look at cultural manifestations of Latino groups, and examine who are their artists and their work.

Superintendent Rodriguez said that as a resident of Queens, she spends much time undoing misconceptions about the children of the Bronx. She said the misconceptions all have to do with perceptions that have little grounding in reality and real interaction. She described her own journey as Latina who grew up in NYC, went to Barnard, and having a professors assume here English would not be on par with other students in the class. She said that encounter was for her a striking example of a teacher making assumptions which can give the wrong idea of people. She said the people of the Bronx themselves have to be persuaded that they have a good story to tell, and referenced the young woman featured in Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City speech who worked hard to make it through summer program and get promoted in the new school year. Stories like that, she said, have to be sought out. Stories too often are reported when they're negative, rather than positive. For example, she said, even though the Bronx baseline data compared to the city makes the school district rank #9 of 10 regions, the gains in math and ELA in 12 months of certain students in certain areas represent real improvement.

Angelo Falcon commented that a recent editorial by The Daily News' Richard Schwartz was very derogatory and upsetting. The editorial was entitled "Babies having Babies in the Bronx," and detailed that about 64% of the mothers who gave birth in the Bronx last year were unmarried. He said the article caused no big uproar in the borough or among the Latino community, even though imagery such as that in an editorial is a longstanding problem in media coverage. He felt that WNYC is not a typical station in terms of coverage. In general, he felt journalism in New York is bad, polarizing, and getting worse. He said the Bronx is used as a whipping boy. He felt communities need to mobilize to pressure institutions such as Daily News for being prejudiced and outrageous. He added the problem in the city was generally symptomatic of the deterioration of journalism in the US.

Mr. Falcon said he works with a coalition doing media advocacy work, trying to provide balance for an understanding of communities that get short shrift in terms of how they are projected. He said they try to capture the real texture of communities, good and bad. As society gets more diverse, he said, journalists need to have better tools for looking at communities; media companies should hire Latino people to cover the issues better. The Bronx has the largest number of Latinos in the city, of which the largest group is Puerto Rican; the Bronx is also the center of Puerto Rican politics; as the media focuses more on newer immigrants, there comes a tradeoff, with the Puerto Rican community (the oldest) becoming invisible. In the school system, he noted, as the Latino community has become more complex, the statistical rendering of the Latino community has become more generalized and simplified.

Maurice Valentine identified himself as not Latino but black. He said he grew up in the Bronx (Coop City), and had noted negativity about the Bronx in the media which had spilled over abroad. When he visited Australia he found the locals thought the Bronx was a war zone, all drug selling and daily gun battles. Mr. Valentine likes to bring people who come to the city to the Bronx to change their opinions. He thought WNYC was doing a good job. He said he felt young people are hindered about negative perceptions of the Bronx–Mr. Valentine himself found it depressing to discover how people in other countries felt about his borough. He said he felt people should stand up and not take it anymore.

Carolina Gonzalez emphasized that more people from the Latino community should be hired to improve the coverage of it. There is a cliché in the media, that a story is what happens to the editor on the way to work, and she pointed out that The New York Times City section stories come out of particular neighborhoods because the editors live in those neighborhoods. The good news–there is a lot of Bronx–centered media, produced by local ethnic communities or published elsewhere, but distributed widely here. For example, the Mexican community in Jackson Heights distributes widely in the Bronx. The Norwood News is an excellent local medium, treating the Bronx as the center of the universe, "which is how you get a great story." One good example of how to tell a story about the Bronx in a non–marginalizing way; she said that David Gonzalez writes in the New York Times about the Bronx as if it is center of universe, presenting his stories about the Bronx as NYC stories which just happen to feature Latino subjects. People in mainstream media who are Latino feel they have to go out of their way to prove that they are not just Latino–too often get pigeonholed. In 8 years at Daily News there was never a major Latino story that was not crime–related, while at the same time there were major errors over differences within the Latino community in the city, and for some time, people at the News did not think to ask Ms. Gonzalez to vet some of these stories for basic errors. Reporters often do not get time to develop strong connections with ethnic or local neighborhood subjects.

Brian Lehrer asked the panel who else is doing good work covering Bronx/LC issues. Most listened to stations would be––?

Adolfo Carrion said Puerto Rican listeners of his generation listen to 1010 WINS and CBS, sometimes they "stumble on" WNYC. He said a Puerto Rican grandma would listen to 1280 AM talk radio (Radio WADO) for news on the Latino community in New York. He said newer immigrants listen to 1280 AM and the pop station on 93.1. He mentioned 97.9 FM and 05.9 as Spanish Broadcasting stations, playing mostly music and some talk, some of it trash talk. He said readership of newspapers breaks down similarly: those who grew up here read the Daily News and Post, and some read The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Carrion said there were some good talk shows on Radio WADO; on the print side El Diario La Prensa does a pretty good job (now owned by Canadian company owning newspapers on both coasts). He said Hoy, owned by Newsday, does not have a reliable circulation. Brian Lehrer noted that El Diario prints its lead editorial in both languages side by side. Mr. Carrion concluded by saying he felt no one news source gets high grades.

Mr. Falcon said that Spanish language news stations are giving good coverage. He said Latino papers have problems with coverage, that they're not very deep. He said El Diario did not run editorials for years. For television, Univision and Telemundo do a good job with coverage but not with analysis–many radio stations are undercapitalized, don't have enough money to get the depth of coverage, but some TV stations do. Tiempo (ABC) runs it at 5 am. Brian Lehrer says analysis is one of its strengths, and that perhaps what is needed is better identification of what issues need to be focused on.

Ms. Gonzalez wanted to address the language divide issue–for a large segment of the Latino community, some traditional sources in Spanish don't offer that much news. The two big tabloids have uneven performance, sometimes good stories, sometimes not. She said the Post publishes something called Tempo which highlights cultural articles. She felt there was nothing good for people who are Latino but speak English; those who speak Spanish best of all do not have too many sources for their news. She said the Spanish language version of NY1 is hard to get, and that the TVstations mentioned above are national rather than local. Brian observed that it sounded like there is a tremendous opportunity for WNYC for coverage with depth and analysis of Latino and neighborhood issues, and that the need is to get out there and find the stories.

Adolfo Carrion said people need to know that station exists and what it does. He said he felt those who listen to WNYC also listen to WBAI and other thoughtful stations. The station would need an aggressive marketing campaign for Puerto Rican and second–generation Dominican communities, for example.

Brian Lehrer asked whether the NPR style is a turnoff or barrier to making the connection with more New York Latinos. Angelo Falcon said that with NPR–style monotone voices, there may be a stylistic issue. He said Spanish radio is louder and more aggressive. Spanish–language media may not take on issues as aggressively as they used to, and are playing less of an advocacy role. Yet the Spanish–language is a major market, representing one quarter of the city.

Brian then asked the panel to focus on issues: what are the political buzz issues among the Latino community? Ms. Gonzalez said there are questions of sensitivity, airing dirty laundry–image of Bronx politics as a political machine for example. She said housing and development are interesting issues, citing the Bronx as having relatively affordable housing, the last borough left. Adolfo Carrion suggested that the reality of what is happening on the street is so far ahead of the perception that it is surprising people who hang on to a stereotype. He spoke of bidding wars now breaking out in the Bronx, but that very few people were reporting this. He cited Port Morris as being the new Soho/Tribeca/Williamsburg. He said that over the last 10 years, artists have been moving in and transforming lofts into great live–work spaces with water views. He said a mixed use zone was created, and that people are coming and investing. Mr. Carrion said he spends two hours every month on TV on English and Spanish with open mic, and that 80% of calls are about housing. That's the buzz on the street, every community board, middle–income and moderate–income families are looking for home ownership chances, and there is not enough housing stock.

Ms. Rodriguez said that building and rebuilding schools in the Bronx is another aspect of the same issue. She also asked about children who don't even read newspapers but have internet access, who listen to music rather than talk shows–where do these kids get educated, engaged, and find jobs?

Mr. Valentine described doing tours through Soho, that he reminds people that there was a time when Soho was undesirable. He felt the same will happen in the Bronx: where the artists go, the hipness follows.

Angelo Falcon observed that there seemed to be a media consensus in recent years that people should talk about the middle class and no one else; there were no questions about housing creating pressure on other segments of the population. Racial segregation in the city with regard to poverty and school achievement reflects a tendency to focus on middle class as well. Discussions of poverty and income equality in the city do not carry over into discussions in mayoral and other political races.

Ms. Gonzalez said she wanted to hear from Laura Rodriquez about how the citywide story may translate in the Bronx, e.g. smaller high schools into larger ones, noting that many of those most affected are in this borough. Ms. Rodriquez said the Bronx had a great small schools story–in last 10 years, Bronx schools were graduating 4 of 10 students. A 2003 initiative created a pre–K through –12 system, not a segmented system dividing high school from middle and lower level schools, since dropout and lack of engagement issues don't start in high school but much earlier. They looked at large structures, felt that the assembly–line approach to public education was not working, and tried a university concept with large existing structures. This brought together many opportunities. Morris High School is one example, bringing together kids from throughout the city. It now has a 90% attendance rate; 8 of 10 students graduate, and the teachers get lots of support and professional development. The system creates identities and cultures in smaller units, giving teachers chances to get to know kids well, especially academically. She said this is a major revolution that is essential.

At that point, the meeting became a more familiar WNYC CAB–style meeting as Brian Lehrer opened the floor to anyone attending to address either panelists or Brian as station representative, with questions or comments to be kept to 2 minutes or under if possible.

The first person was Steve Adler, who identified himself as a Bronx resident. He asked Bronx Borough President Carrion about the city's policy of ticketing people who hail non–taxi car services. He cited the lack of availability of cabs in the Bronx as a detriment to the community. Mr. Carrion said that car service associations were organizing and attempting to change the law. He said he had not heard an outcry from the community, but had heard from the industry. Mr. Carrion said be believed people should be able to hail cars anywhere in town, and that car services do provide a good service.

Another member of the public said he didn't feel the panel truly represented the diversity of the Bronx. He asked Superintendent Rodriquez how many illegal immigrants are in the school system, and asked if their inclusion affects social security.

Brian Lehrer first explained that the panel had been selected by WNYC, with an eye towards soliciting Latino input, and therefore was largely made up of Latinos. Borough President Carrion said that undocumented people in our city do impact services. However, he pointed out that New York will always be a great city of immigrants. He cited the city's long history of people pursuing dreams, aspirations and freedom, and that they've done it in many ways––some by force, some fleeing persecution, some welcomed because immigration policy was favoring Northern Europe. In New York City, he didn't think we saw the manifestation of illegal immigration we see in rest of country. He suggested it was more appropriate to start a national conversation about how we handle the flow, and whether we should give people amnesty. He also felt attention needed to be focused on what our relationship is to country they are coming from, and why they're coming in such numbers. He did say undocumented people are indeed a burden on the public tax dollar. He further commented that in the Bronx, officials were just trying to make sure that people were not treated badly while they're there, and that immigrants had certain rights.

Another gentleman commented that he didn't see Latinos in the audience. (Several audience members raised their hands at that point and identified themselves as Latino.) He further mentioned that Latinos did at one time have TV show and radio station. He felt the ratings hadn't been great, and that perhaps Latinos had not been interested. He suggested, as a Latino himself, that perhaps the community was not advocating for themselves enough. He said that at some point, needs to be more activism in Latino community. He pointed out that for the Puerto Rican Day parade, 3–4 million people attend, but that for community–oriented matters, attendance is sparse.

Carolina Gonzalez said that whenever a journalist writes a favorable piece about Latinos, the community does not send their approbations to the publishing organization. She said it was important for Latinos to provide feedback to news organizations when they think they're doing a good job.

Another member of the public said that education is a big issue and major concern in the Bronx, especially for parents or those looking to live in the Bronx in future. She said the focus in media right now is on test scores and fights. She said she felt there was no focus on education of the whole family and continuing education of students via after school and summer programs. She said the Bronx lost a lot of funding for keeping kids active out of school, and that the Bronx had also lost funding for parents looking to further their education and make a better situation for their families.

Borough President Carrion said that it was shameful and unforgiveable what had happened in the Bronx public school system for several generations. He cited that the Bronx was graduating very few of their young people on time, and that in certain pockets of the city, conditions have been allowed to exist for a very long time. Right now, attendance rates are improving, testing is showing results in smaller groups of students. He said that Bronx residents need to be tougher customers. He said he thought the community education councils and parent participation side of this was not working. He said residents needed to focus on this city and borough will continue to be a city of opportunity, or whether it will say to people who are aspiring that you need to find somewhere else to move to because this is only a city for the wealthy.

Superintendent Rodriquez said that many families in Bronx work to pay mortgages and to send their kids to private schools or get them into schools in Manhattan. She said that when learning is personalized in smaller learning communities, attendance and graduation rates are much higher and more encouraging.

Emily Gertz identified herself as a member of WNYC's Community Advisory Board and a blogger. She said she understood young people are selectively gathering news and information online. She asked if they were well served by that, and asked where the panel saw an opportunity to engage with young people in the Bronx via the internet. Superintendent Rodriquez said that the internet can be integrated into formal education, so long as the district was smart and strategic about their methods.

Another woman identified herself as the Director of the Bronx Tourism Council and a member of WNYC. She suggested WNYC cover Bronx businesses. She said that positive stories about the Bronx help children because they identify with cultural backgrounds where they come from. She also said that positive stories help businesses have an easier time recruiting.

Another man said he listened to Brian Lehrer's show, and that he would like to see more shows about what happens in the Bronx, especially in housing, education and politics. He felt people in the Bronx would be stirred in talking about controversy. He also felt that talking to people directly in those communities and listening to them firsthand would be a good way to start.

Another woman identified herself as a stay–at–home mother who listened to Brian Lehrer's show every day. She said she felt the station needs to be marketed so more people listen. She also said she felt the school needed to teach children that to make the transformation to adulthood, they needed to be good citizens. She suggested the schools combat today's focus on consumerism with a focus on citizenship. She suggested daily newspaper reading as one essential piece of being a responsible citizen.

Brian Lehrer concluded the community feedback session, and concluded the meeting.