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Extended Interview: Phil Bronstein

October 14, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: The charge has been made that the mainstream American media largely ignore the ethnic media and even the populations that they serve. How do you plead?

PHIL BRONSTEIN: Oh, I think it’s absolutely true. I think you couldn’t say that enough and have it be more true — in the reverse order. I think the mainstream media ignores the communities and then, of course, by extension ignores the ethnic press.

And in San Francisco, to me that would be suicide because the ethnic communities are not only such a large part of the community but such a big and significant cultural part. So for us it’s a no-brainer. You cannot ignore those communities, because those communities are such a big part of the larger community.

PHIL BRONSTEIN: But I think most of the mainstream press hasn’t figured that out yet. There’s a very insular quality to mainstream press, mainstream media. And they’ve kind of shut themselves in their building, they show up at the building, and too many people bring their politics and leave their own cultures at the door. And it should be the reverse.

You should leave your politics at the door — unless you’re on the editorial pages — and bring your culture in. Because we have close to 500 people in our staff, and if they all brought in their different neighborhoods and different cultures and different experiences, we’d be a richer place.

So I think the mainstream media does not do that. What they also tend to do — for instance, The San Jose Mercury started their own Vietnamese language paper. The effect of that was maybe they made a few bucks, but the reality is they big-footed the community press that existed and stole all their advertising.

And so for us, it’s really got to be more collaborative and more of a partnership.

TERENCE SMITH: So what have you done in an effort to bridge that gap that you’re talking about?

PHIL BRONSTEIN: Some years ago, before [Sandy Close started] New California Media, I got together all of the San Francisco ethnic neighborhood and community press editors to talk about how we might be able to collaborate and have different kinds of partnerships that are mutually beneficial.

And of course, we’ve worked together with Sandy. We sponsored the first New California Media Expo. So I think it’s an ongoing relationship.

These days, when all of us are hurting financially, we have to find perhaps more creative ways of collaborating, but I think we still need to do it.

TERENCE SMITH: But, editorially, have you done things together? Are there project stories you’ve presented through either partnering with ethnic media or in any other way that brought something extra to your readers?

PHIL BRONSTEIN: Oh, absolutely. From the moment we had the meeting, and by now it was four or five years ago with this group of ethnic community editors in San Francisco, we started getting stories. And we started giving them more exposure. And we started really a path of more collaboration and more conversation to trade stories.

And of course we’ve been running this column every Sunday in the Chronicle that comes from Sandy and the New California Media, which is called “Bridges.” And it’s basically a compendium of things that are going on. And Sandy has met with our Sunday editor, I think once every couple of weeks, to talk about what kinds of stories on her end that might be of interest to us.

TERENCE SMITH: And these are translated into English, of course, and put into the Chronicle?

PHIL BRONSTEIN: Yes. And the stories end up as larger stories in the Chronicle.

TERENCE SMITH: Were there any stories that you got to that might have been difficult for you to penetrate as a mainstream organization — that you could get into via people in the ethnic media?

PHIL BRONSTEIN: Yeah. For instance, there’s a huge — even though it’s English-speaking — Filipino community in the Bay Area and in San Francisco, and there are all sorts of things going on there.

I think one of the things that’s been ongoing for us is the story about the Filipino World War II veterans and their struggle to get recognition from the U.S. government.

You know, we’ve had a number of stories like that, where our understanding and appreciation for that community, or for any community, really, was helped, if not initiated by Sandy and New California Media, helped by them significantly. Because culture’s really the context in that it provides the meaning for unrelated — seemingly unrelated — facts and events. Facts and events have no meaning if you don’t have culture, because that’s really the glue.

And if you don’t understand the different cultures, you don’t understand the larger culture, you’re in trouble.

TERENCE SMITH: From a more critical point of view, as you look at the ethnic media — obviously, in translation — is it, generally speaking, an objective media, or is it an advocacy — media advocacy — for the communities that they serve?

PHIL BRONSTEIN: Well, it’s always advocacy in the sense that [ethnic media is] more about those communities and understands those communities better.

But I think it sort of depends on the press outlet. Some ethnic press and community press are very much advocacy-oriented, and some really attempt to be very unbiased and sort of in a more traditional sense. So it really depends on what the press is, what the outlet is, what country or community it represents.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, Phil. Thank you very much.

PHIL BRONSTEIN: My pleasure, as always. Nice to see you.

TERENCE SMITH: Nice to see you. I appreciate it.