WEWS-TV went on the air in 1947 and has been continuously owned by Scripps Television since then, making it the oldest TV station in Ohio.
Multi-media journalist Paul Kiska, who has worked at Newschannel 5 for 14 years, also attended the meeting. He told the group his main coverage area is in Lorain County, but he also covers stories “anytime, anywhere” he’s needed.
“From my perspective, the Hispanic community has gone from being invisible, to being now overlooked and undervalued,” said José Feliciano, Sr., chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable and who introduced both Ms. Frater and Mr. Kiska. “My own sense is that the national Hispanic story has driven you guys, the media, to pay more attention to us locally—even though we have been raising issues with you all the time.”
Attorney Feliciano cited a political event where 500 people showed up to hear the Hispanic surrogates for two major campaigns—but no TV station bothered to cover the event, even though the stations [and other media] were timely notified.
“I think that’s a shame,” said Kiska to applause. “You’ve got to keep pushing until it’s understood and we show up for that type of event.”
“I recently saw a headline that ‘The Hispanic giant is alive, cranky, and taking names’—and we are taking names. So this is an opportunity to understand us, but there’s a lot of frustration out there,” said Feliciano.
“This is opening our eyes and we’ll take the message back to the station as best we can,” promised Kiska.
“What we need from the media now is a commitment to really devote some time to us, because there is no other way that you will devote time to us with a piece on the news,” said Monica Olivera of the Alzheimer’s Association, who pointed out one station has a TV news segment devoted to children. “To give us five minutes on what Hispanics are giving to the (at-large) community, I think you would be pioneers with that. I think that’s the way to get to know us better.” Ms. Olivera is the Hispanic Services Specialist for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Kiska seemed apologetic and pointed out that more news managers typically show up for such a meeting. But he also referenced “breaking news” or the “news of the day” as an excuse for why more coverage of the Hispanic community cannot be guaranteed.
Other forum attendees pointed out that mainstream Cleveland media tend to focus on the negative in the Latino community, such as a fight or a shooting. One questioned how many Latinos are on staff at the TV station. Ms. Frater admitted there are only two: divisional manager Ed Fernández (based in Detroit) and news anchor Stephanie Ramírez. Neither was present.
Kiska emphasized he covers a lot of “positive stories” and encouraged the audience to continue to reach out and “bring issues to our attention.” He explained there’s been a new position created known as an “assignment planner” to look for deeper issues that can be covered. He offered sheets with contact information to station news personnel.
Another audience member pointed to Cleveland’s shrinking overall population, but a steady rise in its Latino population. She asked whether there was anything in the TV station’s business plan to try to grow Hispanic viewership. Ms. Frater admitted there was not such a plan in place, but promised to “take it back to the station” management.
Another audience member asked the station to consider public affairs programming on Sunday mornings aimed at the Latino community, similar to what it provides other groups.
“What you’re hearing here is frustration aimed at all [mainstream] media, not just you,” pointed out Myra Rosario, another forum participant who has been in advertising and media sales. “What we are really looking for is a media partner who is sincere about the Hispanic community.”
She also stated her displeasure that there is no “local” Latino “voice or face” as an on-air personality at the station that could serve the greater Latino community. Ms. Ramírez hails from New Jersey.
Several Latino media representatives were present—Lou Acosta of North Coast Minority Media and Rico of La Prensa. Both expressed their frustrations with mainstream media over-emphasizing crime reporting and ignoring or neglecting many positive contributions and events by Latinos.
Rico opined that many in the Latino community felt insulted when mainstream media used the word “illegal” instead of “undocumented” when referring to types of immigrants—“the latter terminology is more accurate and less explosive.” Rico continued, “Mainstream media generally uses the word ‘American’ when referring to only a resident of the United States, whereas, in reality, any individual from North, Central, or South America is an ‘American.’ This offends many Latinos.”
Each audience member, in turn, thanked the Newschannel 5 staff for being concerned enough to attend the meeting and engage in a dialogue. But the final speaker may have summed up the thoughts of the audience by questioning whether the station’s representatives “have the authority to move the needle” in the direction they are seeking.
Only time will tell whether the community forum will bear fruit in the form of more positive media coverage for Cleveland’s Latino community. But many attendees left hopeful that at least they received a chance to air their grievances and make suggestions.