The First Amendment; Ann Kersheimet
The First Amendment and the Free People Weekly examination of civil liberties in the media and I think 70s produced by WGBH radio Boston cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University.
The host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Rubin.
How are how are Hispanics treated in the press. With me today is Ann Curry Shimer of the Boston Globe who is not of Hispanic background but who has been fascinated with Spanish culture and Hispanic affairs from her earliest days in high school and college and current Shimer did a lot of urban reporting for The Boston Globe over an eight year period. She's now in charge of the living pages. She's also kept her work a law of Hispanic affairs. Last October November she was in Columbia South America on a fellowship in the partners of the Americas Program in journalism. Getting to know the press down there she's traveled extensively through Latin America and in Spain. And although not Hispanic. Has a fair weather eye view of what is going on as well as a bad weather eye view of what is going on she's a woman for all seasons. Let me ask you this. Perhaps I should also say that. And Kersh Armor has been working with people at the Globe in Hispanic work. One of the problems at the Globe is it's difficult to get Hispanic people to cover Hispanic affairs or it appears difficult at least from the history of the globe's employment situation would you say that's fair.
Well I would say that it's hard to judge because the globe really didn't have any Hispanics working here until very recently.
We had we had some in Spain it's working they're sort of part time or temporary. Type of positions but recently in fact last week the globe hired a Hispanic and another Hispanic is coming in August. Too warm to be a general assignment reporter.
Now there are more than 50000 Hispanic Hispanics in the local area there are more than or approximately 19 million in the country. Both those who carry American citizenship and those who don't. Why is this such a problem for a great metropolitan newspaper when the globe is not exceptional.
Now you know I was covering Hispanic liar's newspapers with the size of the population in Boston but I would say because basically maybe it's a cynical point of view being that I work in a newspaper but I would say that the Boston Globe like like all other newspapers is a business and we always forget that.
And I think a lot of times the people who make decisions about coverage you know there's a lot of people competing for a little bit of space.
And I think they look at what they're going to cover according to who's going to read the paper and the Hispanics. Most of you know many of the Hispanics in the Boston area don't speak English do not read The Boston Globe. And. You know they feel like they could just sort of drop the coverage or not really cover that community because it's not beneficial to them.
But this is a coast to coast phenomenon for example the Los Angeles Times has emphasized more of its suburban bureaus of late and de-emphasizes coverage of the people who live in the ground and that's actually what is happening in Boston the globe has increased its coverage of the suburban or the suburbs in the outlying areas and to the detriment of coverage of the urban areas.
And when you talk of the urban areas you're talking of coverage of the Hispanics Although Hispanics live in other areas most most of the time they live in the cities that they might live in Worcester they might live in Lowell you know a few maybe one or two live in Clinton or one or two live in a little town you know outside you know between here and west but but most of the people live in the cities where the jobs are.
I'm particularly impressed at least I find it significant that you have two master's degrees and one is an applied anthropology and the other's an urban affairs.
And I think this gives you some clues that other journalists would not have as to the life of Hispanics in metropolitan areas. What do Hispanics read. Those who don't speak English well what do those Hispanics who speak English rely upon in terms of news from the press.
Well I would say that the professionals of course like any other professionals read the Globe read the Herald. Read what's out there what's available. I would say the the people who are professionals and maybe have the they don't speak English that well they might rely on el mon don't newspaper or one of the other newspapers in Spanish.
Now there are at least two in the Boston area right. Or they might get us a man and El Mundo How would you characterize each one of those. What is the purpose of each one of those.
I think it's aimed at the you know the Spanish speaking readership and of course they they both have their different editorial points of view but basic game is to you know to bring news to Hispanics who who wouldn't otherwise get it because they don't read or speak English. You know it's filling a void.
Now there is another way to look at the problem and that is to use a newspaper to communicate in two languages in print it's very easy and The Globe The Boston Globe had a bilingual column as a matter of fact. I understand you are among those people who initiated it. How long did it continue and how successful was that.
Well we started I started a bilingual column in 1971.
At that time. It served a number of purposes first of all the greater Boston community the Anglo community did not realize the extent of the problems of the Hispanics they didn't even realize that they had a Hispanic population here. Now the population is about 50 over fifty thousand at that time in 1071 it's only 8 years ago but the population was probably thirty thousand and it had the population with the big migration I say migration because most of the people came from Puerto Rico and you know Puerto Rico is a U.S. protectorate. But most of the migrants came around the early 70s. And the purpose of the column was to let the Greater Boston community the Anglo community know that there was a Hispanic population here. Now that they did have problems at that time there was one one Hispanic teacher in the whole Boston system. There was one Hispanic policeman and you know out of 20 a hundred cops. You know there were just minimal people who could speak Spanish who were bilingual who could deal with this population. And that column I had guest guest writers for the column people who were Hispanic or people who were working in the Hispanic community. And it was to let people know about the problems just by you know Mrs. Rodriguez lives and you know housing and she needs a better partner she lives in slum housing she needs a better partner type of type of columns and the bilingual part of it was the sort of the part an English address was informational for the greater Boston community and the part in Spanish was informational for Hispanics. It gave radio stations or TV shows in Spanish to tell where you could get a free vaccination for your kids things like that.
So it was sort of very beneficial at that time to let the people know that there was a Hispanic population here and that they had a lot of problems and basically they a lot of them still have the same problems they had then although we have more people you know who are bilingual in government agencies or the police department are and the schools have a bilingual education program but.
But now people don't seem to be as concerned I think it's just sort of the the way things are in the late 70s as compared to how things were in the early 70s.
So the column disappeared after one years or so.
No no I wrote it for about a year year and a half and then I felt like a Hispanic I became an urban reporter and I was getting tied up with that and I felt like they should have a Hispanic writing the column.
So we had a young man who was a Colombian writing the column for about a year and then he had a go go back to Columbia.
Then we had a Puerto Rican woman writing it for a while and then she went back to Puerto Rico and then it sort of just died I was about two and a half three years there and it had eight and a half years I was referring to was the spirit period of time that you were working at the globe as an urban reporter. And then you shifted over to to the so-called living pages.
Well it wasn't really shifted. And I want to mention that you said I was in charge of the living pages when you introduced me and I'm not just a promotion and promotion right to be great.
You're working as a living playwright I'm a reporter in the living pages but it was sort of I want to I had been doing urban reporting for a long time. I saw the interest in the urban reporting sort of going down the tube. And I felt like it when I was a kamikaze pilot you know remaining an urban reporter although there was no interest and emphasis on it at the paper and sort of as a self-preservation move I would say I moved to the living pages. Also I wanted to try to get some experience writing features and you know longer articles and you know I think it's good to have a change after quite a few years before I ask you what you do with the living pages or in the specifics.
Tell me about some of your stories when you were covering the Spanish community or the Hispanic community more properly some of the stories some of the stories that you did.
The column I explained I did you know basically problems people were having things like that and I guess when I was writing features about that Hispanics I was doing or doing urban reporting on Hispanics. It was basically you know problems people were having in housing on it were all over all type of stories and the Hispanic population in Massachusetts and and how how the Hispanic population is is growing very rapidly in the United States in fact they figure by about nineteen eighty five thousand nine hundred ninety they will be largest minority minority group in the United States. I would write overall type of picture is I. I went to Puerto Rico once to do a reverse migration story. I know I didn't just cover the Puerto Rican community as I went to quad Amala after an earthquake. Anything to do with Spanish speaking I think I got involved and did some features on Cubans the Cubans in Massachusetts. I tried to cover the arts also I did I went to did reviews on Hispanic and plays in Spanish movies in Spanish.
I just sort of dabbled in any area that I could related to Spanish speaking people.
As an aside you referred to Puerto Rican awhile ago as a American protectorate.
If you're looking for the word Commonwealth is there a so-called Freudian slip there.
Do you consider Puerto Rico to be an American protec No I do know that I didn't know exactly.
It's a commonwealth but I thought it was called a pirate protectorate.
Well in fact they I think that's a State Department.
What is your opinion about the kinds of stories that best serve a Hispanic community that is not being well served by the metropolitan press in any area. If you have your choice would you say that the good feature story probably does more good than news stories that are not adequate in terms of number. When you highlight a family or highlight a situation or highlight a crisis a good feature story like that in the absence of general coverage well that helps a particular family or a particular housing community you mean the Greater Boston community or any greater metropolitan community does it tend to trigger them to thoughtfulness about about that minority or this minority or is it just something that piques their interest for a minute and then they move on to the next page.
I have a feeling that's what happens. It's hard to tell what how you get the most mileage out of the story. You know it depends really on the story you're really on the problem.
Sometimes these overall features on Hispanics having problems.
It seems that whenever I write these stories I get negative feedback I think that's just the people who respond. I am very used to getting a lot of hate mail and a lot of derogatory type of messages for Spanish speaking people. I think there's just a lot of people out there who are very bigoted or just don't like Hispanics and they they they scribbled their letters to me saying you know why cover these people these you know. And you got mail as well from I don't generally know the Hispanics do not respond once in a while you know I'll get a phone call from maybe a professional person or somebody I know from the community or or see somebody and they'll say good story but generally no mail comes in that's another problem because the the globe and all newspapers sort of respond to letters or feedback they get from people and if a group of people you know don't respond at all that's a problem.
The Hispanic community is nice use a word like Hispanic It covers everybody. But it is such a diverse community of people coming from areas thousands and thousands of miles away from one another with all sorts of different heritages. Right. How do you keep track. And again we have agreed that most metropolitan newspapers don't have adequate coverage of the Hispanic minority. Some do is there any newspaper that does a good job.
I'm sure the Miami Herald because the Miami Herald has a young section in Spanish the I don't know what it's called the Latin Herald it's totally in Spanish with Spanish Spanish speaking Ed. All the staff are bilingual and the whole newspapers and that you know because of the tremendous influx of Cubans primarily.
For me and I'm sure when I started my bilingual column I got letters from all over the country from different people and in different newspapers saying that this was sort of a new phenomena. You know how did you do it.
People were interested but they didn't seem to know what to do or how to go about starting a column which is it's a pretty easy type of task. I think probably in the southwest and in places like that where you have a large Hispanic population you're going to get more you know media coverage.
Now you have Spanish language ability you have urban affairs and applied anthropological knowledge. You have the professional experience of a reporter.
Are you able to keep track with all of these things in your background of the various components in the Hispanic community for example are you able to track of Chicanos and KU Banos and the Spaniards and.
You mean on a local level or on the local level or on a national on any level that you choose to answer or are you able to keep track.
No definitely not it's very hard like when I was covering the Hispanic community I would focus on Boston but I couldn't keep track of what was going on in Springfield in Lol and was there I mean everybody has their own issues and their own problems. And just to keep up with what was going on in Boston was was difficult. And then when you talk when I talk about this covering the Hispanic population in the community here and basically referring to Puerto Ricans I mean the Cubans and people from Central America and people from Colombia or Mexico you know they all have their different their different things I was just sort of covering you know overall type of issues covering housing covering bilingual education air education problems discrimination and you know you do the best you can but you really you can't get a handle on everything.
There are more than 50000 Hispanics in the area. There are. At least five to six to seven thousand Asian-Americans resident in the immediate area. There are many tens of thousands of black people living in the community. At what point does a newspaper recognize its obligation to cover a community. Do you have to have the majority of the population do you have to be in that clump before you are recognized as does a large metropolitan newspaper regardless of its name. In America now tend to be the voice of the majority without much to much business concern as you said for any minority.
I sadly to say I think that's true I read an article I think by Richard Rees a column he wrote in Esquire magazine not long ago where he talked about a case in point with regard to the Los Angeles Times and how. A black woman was killed by a policeman for some sort of crazy reason or some you know just it was definitely some kind of problem there and it should have been looked into by the newspaper. And the what's the name of the the opposing paper in Los Angeles the Herald Examiner. That's I think that's what it's called. Well anyway they they did some coverage of this this case. And when somebody asked the editor or the publisher of the. Los Angeles time why they had totally ignored the case. They said well you know we don't have the readers we have. You know it doesn't really matter that these people don't read the paper why should we bother. And it's sort of that attitude it's sort of you know we're running a business and you know with the suburban suburbanites are the people who are going to read and buy the paper then we'll address the the the stories to them are cover you know we'll cover the Wellesley town meeting before we cover you know a big problem a mission mission how I was lecturing a few weeks ago at a Western University I won't name the university.
But in the Rocky Mountain area and they had assembled a group of recent graduates of universities and colleges from the western area I guess from Topeka Kansas down west to the coast. And these people were all chosen because they had been editors of college newspapers and were people thought to be able to rise in the newspaper business on radio and television and they were a very fine group of young men and women. But I found to my surprise that when I spoke to them about the third world it overseas in the Third World at home or about minorities. And this was not a predominant interest in Matter fact the the amount of ignorance displayed was phenomenal about key cases and issues of situations. The amount of interest was tremendously high. It was not met by any knowledge.
This also seems to be a pattern in the United States you know the United States completely looks down on Latin America and coverage of Latin America. They think that if you are you know don't cover you're now the third world is getting a little more coverage with things going on in Africa and also the Middle East with the oil situation now.
But Latin America is just looked upon as some banana republics that don't merit any kind of coverage and Nicaragua is getting something now because of you know the threat. You know I saw today that the US was thinking they might you know they're not they're considering sending troops and maybe you know if it's a threat then of course it's get some coverage but. But usually they just look upon it as something that's not worth covering.
I should point out for those listeners who will hear the story. On this program in the future that they will know how the Nicaraguan crisis came about here at the end of June in 1979 we don't.
Let me ask you to push that point a little bit. We need oil from Mexico but that's really not as important as your earlier suggestion that we ought to be more interested in Latin America.
You know it's amazing but if you read in in Spanish but I also see that there's some books or literature or novels that comes out in English translations but I mean personally I think the Latin American literature Latin American art. Even music.
You know it's equal with United States or in in my opinion it's better in some respects it's more creative than they seem to have a lot of things coming out that you know American artists American musicians the musicians are catching on to this being cut off from Cuba for the past 20 years has really put a damper put clamps on the type of music the type of percussions type of rhythm that that we used to get this type of back and forth from Cuba all the time and talk to some of the great jazz people. You know John Coltrane or Dizzy Gillespie these people picked up totally from from Latin musicians you know some of their the things that they play now.
Robins of proving that they are very good in even the classical ballet. All right ordinarily. Right.
I mean just to think that because they're Latin Americans that you know it's inferior I don't know where this comes from I don't know where this attitude develops but I get that even you know covering Hispanics well maybe she's South American Central America really don't exist though for most people in the Continental United ranks they are somewhere south of where the airlines today think normal Chiquita Banana and that she got a banana.
Now you were in Colombia South America very recently studying the newspaper down there. What was your impression. Sort of off the cuff impression of the kind of press that you ran into down there.
They were very there. The press is sort of censored I would say. They don't really have a lot of. Investigative type of pieces. A lot of it is very old school stuff that we were doing a long time ago like the social covering like the society ites they're still involved in that kind of thing I was very impressed. I was not that much impressed with the. The newspapers and you know women in the city I was was in but I was very impressed with the journalists the students studying journalism in the in the colleges down there and they put out a monthly newspaper and then you know they were very good at investigation investigative type of pieces and looking into human human conditions those kind of those kind of articles and I think you know in the future they're very impressed with you know investigation of Watergate and these kind of things and they look forward to forgetting and you suggesting that they can't carry this into the papers.
I think they will.
But the city I was in was called marrying Columbia city of two million people and they have a very old school type of newspaper and they were starting as another group was starting a new newspaper. I was down there in November and they were starting it up in March but they had ideas to do some different kind of things and not just go along with the party line so to speak. So I think there is movement in the younger people want to get into that kind of thing.
To get back to the provincialism virgin almost everything that we have discussed we are not provincial about Latin America but we are provincial about our Canadian neighbors.
The troubles in came back and the troubles that affect the Eskimo or Al utes in our own country even you know Alaska the troubles that affect the Native American in various states. We are extremely provincial. The middle class newspaper reader and the middle class newspaper proprietor seem to share this provincially ality can anything break it or are we going to just go on and on like this ignoring the segments of our population.
Well I think yeah there are things to break and I think it's maybe the reporters who have traveled or who have other interests coming in and working in a newspaper. I think the Globe was lucky when when when I came to the globe because I don't think they would have gone out and looked for somebody who spoke Spanish but since I was there just a happy accident there was a happy accident and I started covering Hispanics and I think they were glad for that but they wouldn't have made a big effort to go find somebody to do it at that time. But I think you know I always thought that the Peace Corps when it started out and in the 60s was more beneficial to the United States than it was to maybe you know the countries that the volunteers went to I felt like people who came back at least in the beginning of the Peace Corps before it was like a draft dodger type of car. Situation people who came back they came back they've been living in another country for two years and they came back with extensive knowledge of the extent of a different culture of how to live in the different cultures of you know maybe our problems aren't as great is as some of the other problems they've seen and they came back and they could share this knowledge in you know as a journalist or working for the government or in business with with other people and I think it's just being very parochial. The United States people in the United States feeling you know we're on top why should we learn to speak another language everybody should learn to speak English. I mean it's just a bad attitude and maybe it's because we've been a you know a power base for so long but I think you know as things are going to change in the gas crisis and things like that will show us that we're we are dependent on people in different countries we are dependent on learning another language and being able to understand a different culture and I think that's you know well the only way to get the proprietor is to.
Further you know vacations to show initiatives to spring forth with a half a page for the Asians and and a half a page for the Latin Americans at least once a week at the start and then three times a week so that some insightful new lows can be brought to those communities were taken from those communities. Or is this sort of a hopeless cause why living in a dream world and proprietors may say we ought to go after the minority stories.
I don't know.
There are some people with some you know I think that the Taylors have good who these are the publishers of the globe right I think they have good hearts and good ideas but they also are businessmen and they're you know running this.
This business I think if more people from the Hispanic community came in and you know said Hey what's happening to our coverage.
Yeah I think that's how the blacks got so far in in terms of you know being able to be heard.
OK thank you very much encourage Shimer It's been delightful having you on the program for this edition. Bernard Ruben.
The First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties in the media and the lighting segment of the program is produced in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University. I w GBH radio Boston which is solely responsible for its Carter.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- The First Amendment
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