Sitting in her cramped and crowded sixth floor office in the
Wheatley Building on the UMass Boston campus, Ellen Hume explains the philosophy
that drives her these days.
“There are a lot of
people working on saving the Boston Globe.
But I don’t see a lot of people out there working to save Sampan,” she says, referring to Boston’s bi-lingual Chinese
Hume herself is a big
media product, a former Los Angeles Times
staffer who also worked as a White House and political reporter for the Wall Street Journal in the 80’s. (During
the 1988 presidential campaign, Hume was the subject of a famous display of
anti-media animus when a pro-Dan Quayle crowd began jeering the press -- and her specificially -- at an Indiana
rally for the vice-presidential candidate.)
But today, the director
of UMass Boston's two-year-old Center on Media and Society is focused on uniting,
galvanizing and empowering some of the area’s smallest and most
resource-strapped news outlets -- the ethnic press.
Explaining that people
of color make up about 40 percent of the campus population, Hume says, “I has
looked at what all the think tanks were doing about the media. [And] when I
looked at the landscape and looked at who my students are, it came to me
-- ethnic media.”
Working with a handful
of volunteers and with the help of a $10,000 planning grant from the Boston
Foundation the center has embarked on
several projects. (“We used up the
$10,000 -- everybody’s been working on fumes,” admits Hume.)
The most basic program is
the center’s ethnic media data base featuring information on roughly 100
outlets ranging from the Jamaica Plain-based Somali paper RAJO Newsletter to the Lowell-based Cambodia Today paper.
There’s also an effort
underway to create a New England regional version of a Pulitzer Prize for
ethnic media journalism and plans to try to create an internship program with
several local universities that would place students inside ethnic outlets. A
more ambitious venture would be the creation of an ethnic media wire service to
generate regional community stories that could go national.
At a time of
circulation and advertising weakness in the traditional media, ethnic news
organizations -- particularly Spanish language ones -- are widely viewed to be
rising powers with significant economic potential. That sense was buttressed by a major poll last
year, conducted by Bendixen & Associates, that revealed that 45 percent of
African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native-American and Arab-American
adults preferred ethnic media to the mainstream press and that 51 million
American adults were regular consumers of ethnic media.
But even with all that
potential upside, getting the disparate elements of the local ethnic press to unify in order to maximinze their clout is no mean feat.
And at a time in her career when many established journalists are looking for a cushy landing spot with sweet hours, Hume is working tirelessly to help the ethnic press not only survive, but flourish.