Extended Interview: Sandy Close
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TERENCE SMITH: How many people do you think will show up [at the New California Media Expo in Los Angeles] over these two days [Sept. 17-18, 2002]?
SANDY CLOSE: Well, I hope 2,000, 2,500 people.
I’m a short-term pessimist, long-term optimist, so to get 1,500 in Los Angeles is a feat. And I think we already have about 2,000 people who’ve said they’re going to come.
TERENCE SMITH: Two thousand people, coming together to talk about the role and relevance of the ethnic media. What does that say to you?
SANDY CLOSE: Well, one of the most important things it says to me is that ethnic media themselves are coming together, that they recognize that if you really want to knit together the horizontal city — it isn’t just about the Chinese media getting visibility for itself or the Thai media or the Spanish media or the black media.
It’s about each of these media coming together to make a big bang, to showcase all of this segment that for so long has been in the shadows and treated as kind of an afterthought or footnote of American journalism, whereas in fact this is an integral part of American journalism.
Indeed, it has been that way for a century, if not longer.
And now it’s more important than ever, because of the demographic situation in California, where we not only have a majority of minorities, but the majority of Asians and the majority of Hispanics were not born here; they were born outside the United States.
They come with their languages. Forty percent of Californians today speak languages other than English at home.
To communicate is to be part of the media culture. To feel the assurance you belong — you need a media that reflects your concerns, that gives you a sense of visibility.
So this media coming together is about much more than a journalism conference. It’s about their audiences being part of the larger process. It’s about Asians being interested in Hispanics, being interested in blacks. And being interested in the Irish, the Armenian, the Russian.
So it’s not a color code. For me, it’s about American journalism finding new energy and reconnecting to audiences we’ve not been in touch with, we’ve not found a way to be in touch with for a long time.
TERENCE SMITH: Do the mainstream media and advertisers and, for that matter, political figures recognize this?
SANDY CLOSE: Bit by bit, I think the public realm is becoming more aware. But a very good warning, I think, came with the poll we did about the impact of September 11th.
Most mainstream media organizations relied on English-language polling to measure the impact of 9/11. Well, of course that was absolutely essential.
However, in California, and in other parts of the country, we have large populations who have no role to play in that public kind of ‘what-does-the-public-feel’ about this or that. They absolutely have to be included in non-English-language polling or polling that only goes to the corners, the margins, and often the core of cities where these populations have been excluded.
And I think it’s going to take a lot of ‘show-don’t-tell.’ Here’s an Expo: Come and see the ethnic media. Come and meet the leaders of this segment of journalism; see that they want to partner with you — they’d love to have more of a role to play in the civic realm.
It’s odd, because it’s like the niche media wants to be part of the large mainstream just at the point where the mainstream media’s looking for the niche to grow.
That suggests to me there’s a real common ground that we can figure out ways to create a more comprehensive communications capability.
TERENCE SMITH: This concept of New California Media — what is it and what’s it supposed to accomplish?
SANDY CLOSE: New California Media is an association of ethnic news organizations, from big to small, all languages, all colors represented.
Very inclusive, gay and lesbian. Anyone doing journalism that has a very specific target audience, working together to create a cross-ethnic kind of Associated Press editorial exchange and raise the visibility — so that you have elected officials or candidates that are going to include ethnic media representatives in the debates so that their audiences will be included.
And finally, in terms of marketing — a kind of one buy-one bill, easy approach — making it a media that’s more easily accessed.
Of course it’s difficult to access this media if you don’t speak the language, if you don’t know the people, when you rely on a kind of ‘let’s just do the big media.’ That’s important, but each media seems to have a very unique audience that you can’t replicate any other way.
So to build a “communications capability” means marketing through this media, and New California Media really designed the Expo as a way to say, look, we’re all working together, you can access all of us in one easy step — especially in areas like social marketing where we’re prepared to drop everything, help you recruit teachers, help get messages about misuse of antibiotics, help recruit court interpreters.
They’ll see what our audiences really know then, high-stake issues for our audiences.
We’ll go and reinforce the advertising with a lot of editorial support because that’s what we ethnic media really do best.
TERENCE SMITH: You’re focused on California. But in fact isn’t this situation and presence of the ethnic media relevant elsewhere?
SANDY CLOSE: Yes. California’s the epicenter of an explosive growth in ethnic media.
But of course there are other parts of the country with huge newcomer populations, immigrants, traditional minorities — New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, for that matter the West, the West Coast, Seattle.
There are ethnic media in many parts of the country, but nowhere, I think, has it come together in this kind of organic way and supported each other.
Tonight [at the New California Media Expo] you’ll see an awards program where Asian, Hispanic, African-American, American Indian, Irish, Armenians, et cetera, will come together to celebrate each other’s successes.
And I think journalists do that, of course, we like to celebrate good journalism. It helps raise the bar. But what’s important here is that Asians are celebrating black successes. Blacks are celebrating Hispanic successes.
And God, I think that’s a tremendously important thing in and of itself for a state that’s so fragmented as California.
TERENCE SMITH: Advertisers, national advertisers –do they get it?
SANDY CLOSE: Some of them, some of the Fortune 500 advertisers — Colgate, Palmolive — there are a lot of them that have begun to get it.
The problem is that they think it’s really only the big television or broadcasting ethnic organizations that they should rely on. And in fact, to really develop outreach to this population, look at the Vietnamese. You have 30 Vietnamese media outlets in Orange County alone. You have 15 Filipino media outlets in San Francisco. It’s so diverse within each group. And each group serves a particular audience that can’t be replicated.
So I think it’s incumbent on the advertisers — where the big buzz word now is target the grass roots — to really understand the Korean, the Central American, the Armenian, the Russian, the Arab — if we utilize the media that serves them in all its forms.
And I think that’s the message of the New California Media, is they’re ready, they’re willing, they’re able, and it’s an effort now and makes it a lot easier to access the big and the little and what the marketing people like to call secondary, tertiary. Well, frankly, it’s all about reaching this vast new population that otherwise would be very much excluded from mainstream life in America.