By Natasha Ishak
BOSTON — Media organizations must increase workplace diversity and take other measures to prevent racism from compromising news coverage, media executives and journalists said during a panel at the downtown Boston Public Library earlier this month.
The April 12 event organized by the Asian American Journalists Association — in partnership with the Boston Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists New England — examined how Boston media could better represent minorities.
“The work to improve and make progress is really done day to day, hour by hour, hire by hire,” said Princell Hair, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Boston.
The panel came after WEEI sports radio station host Christian Fauria used a racist Asian accent to mock high-profile sports agent Don Yee, who represents New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, during a broadcast in February.
Fauria, who apologized, was suspended for five days following the incident and the radio station shut down its on-air programming so employees could participate in mandatory sensitivity training.
WEEI Boston Senior Vice President and Market Manager Mark Hannon, who participated in the panel, called Fauria’s behavior “ignorant” and “deplorable.”
“We’re an entertainment medium, we’re not a journalistic enterprise,” he said. “But that doesn’t suggest that we don’t have boundaries.”
Hannon added: “Ratings are important. Revenues follow ratings. We’re in the business of those two things. But we can’t do that at the cost of what is right.”
Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung said the WEEI incident showed the importance of holding the media accountable for its coverage of minorities.
The incident “sends this message that we are foreign. That Asian Americans, by the way we look — no matter if we were born here — will never be accepted,” she said.
Leung said diversity in the newsroom helps organizations deepen their coverage of minority communities.
“We only cover them when bad things happen. We only go to Mattapan when there’s a crime, and so the rest of the world — and Boston — thinks that Mattapan is crime-ridden. But Mattapan is more than just crime and homicides,” Leung said, referring to a Boston neighborhood with a vibrant Caribbean and African immigrant population.
Richard Chacón, executive director of news content at WBUR, believes reporters can prevent incidents of racism in their coverage by getting out of their comfort zones.
“I think we just need to be more mindful that we get out of that bubble more often,” he said. “It’s only in doing that that we’re really going to expose ourselves to the things that we don’t know.”
He added that media organizations have a responsibility to contribute to the dialogue on race issues, because “all of us are part of the public conversation.”
For journalists of color, contributing to the public conversation on race also sometimes means working two jobs at once, said WBUR host Callie Crossley, who moderated the panel that evening.
“You’re going to work the job where you’re reporting whatever you’re reporting, and then you’re going to work the one where you got to be watching about these kinds of things because everybody doesn’t see it,” she said, referring to the WEEI incident.
Organizations like the Asian American Journalists Association play an important role in this regard, added Hair, of NBC.
“I think those organizations are where the conversation keeps going,” he said.”They’re the ones charged with coming up with solutions once these people are held accountable.”
A livestream recording of the one-hour panel at WGBH’s satellite station at the Boston Public Library can be found on the WGBH News Facebook page.