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White House Welcomes Ethnic Press: Is it Enough?

New America Media, News report, Cristina Fernandez-Pereda Posted: Mar 11, 2009

The Obama Administration has been maintaining an 'open door' policy with a few ethnic media outlets by keeping constant contact with them and providing their reporters with updated information on the President's movements. However, these privileged outlets still struggle to cover the White House and gain its attention.

Denise Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, with a staff of eight said that he cant afford to devote a reporter to cover the White House regularly. "That's the real challenge. We are not in the position to have someone there. You can't challenge the system if you don't have someone there to ask the question."

Hispanic media members echoed his concerns. They said that if they were to cover the White House on a daily basis, it would mean less coverage of their own community. They have to fall back on using news wires and pool reports.

"They don't see our faces, but just because we aren't there every day, that doesn't mean that we don't cover what happens at the White House every day," said Lori Montenegro, Washington, D.C., correspondent for Telemundo, one of the few ethnic media outlets that was granted an interview with President Obama.

However, the ethnic media recognize and appreciate the welcome mat put out for them by the White House. They are kept abreast of the President's schedule and the policies he is working on. Members of the White House staff are available for interviews, something that didnt happen in previous administrations.

"Up until now, the White House has been much more open and accessible. They pay more attention to our needs and they are sensible to the limitations of Hispanic and African American press," Montenegro said.

The work of Luis Miranda, director of Hispanic Media at the White House Press Office, many said, has had an enormous impact. Miranda worked in a similar position for the Democratic National Committee, so he is already familiar with Hispanic correspondents in Washington, D.C., their needs, limitations, and even the schedule that best works for them.

We want to be accessible and maintain a dialogue between the Hispanic community and the administration, said Luis Miranda. We want Hispanic media and the Hispanic community to know what we are doing, why we are doing it and how it will affect them, whether its on economic stimulus, health care, or helping responsible homeowners avoid foreclosure,

For Maribel Hastings, Washington, D.C., correspondent for La Opinion, Miranda's role is key, especially for the outlets that cannot afford to have one person at the White House every day.

"We cover different issues every day. Not being daily in the White House makes it difficult to develop the right sources, so we depend primarily on the Latino press contact. That means that our access will depend on how well that person pushes for our requests," Hastings said.

Luis Miranda's role at the Press Office has changed, compared to his predecessors in previous presidencies. He can now arrange interviews and even be on camera for such Hispanic media as Telemundo. With previous administrations, the person who linked ethnic media and the White House just sent out press releases. That person made himself accessible to print media only, and never agreed to go on camera.

The White House has until now held meetings between Hispanic media and Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff; Carol Browner, assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, and Melody Barnes, director of Domestic Policy Council. The Obama administration wants to do this on a regular basis "to keep the communities informed through these meetings with ethnic media," Miranda said.

The African American press has also been welcomed by the White House. Soon after the elections, Ebony Magazine interviewed Obama, while Black Enterprise did an interview after the inauguration.

When this system works well it is a two-way conversation that allows us to present the Presidents policies to a wide range of audiences as well as hear from communities about issues they care about," said Corey Ealons, Communications Director for African American media.

Yet despite all the efforts by the administration, ethnic media members want even more attention. "The issue is not just whether we are there or not but that we want to be represented. When we come, we are ready to participate," said Barnes of the Washington Informer, who attended President Obama's first press briefing. "All the media were selected prior to the briefing. The list was provided to him, as opposed to other times when they [took] questions from the floor, so it's a little different. How do you get on that list? I don't know."

After having covered the Clinton and Bush administrations, Barnes said she doesn't remember press briefings "as scripted" as the ones Obama has done. The only time he's not following a script is when he's answering a question. But even then, she said, he doesn't seem to leave much room for surprises.

"When you always let the same media ask the question, and you don't invite anyone different, then you cannot get a different perspective on what's happening. The list just seems a way to make him feel safe. He knows the position of everyone he's inviting to ask a question and their outlet; he knows who's more or less aggressive," Montenegro said.

Montenegro said that while things have changed for ethnic media as far as the White House is concerned, other federal agencies have yet to recognize the ethnic media. The Department of State seems to be, in her words, "still finding their spot." She noted that when she requested an interview with the Treasury Department to talk about the impact of foreclosures in the Latino community, the person who talked in Spanish "didn't seem to be the right one to talk about it."

Hastings of La Opinion, who has covered Washington, D.C., for 16 years, is not sure how long the ethnic media can enjoy the new administrations goodwill.

"Usually, every administration pays attention during the first months, and then it gets difficult," she said.

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