By Joe Grimm
In a scathing post on his OC Weekly blog Editor Gustavo Arellano wrote that the death of singer Jenni Rivera shows, once again, that the mainstream media are clueless.
Arellano was toughest on the Los Angeles Times but wrote, “No one among the MSM big boys is absolved here. NPR? Not a single story on Rivera until she passed away. New York Times? Just a brief mention in a story not involving her. Orange County Register? HA! Even Rivera’s hometown paper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, waited until last year to finally cover the hometown hero.”
Arellano’s charges sound like those about the lack of mainstream coverage given American singer Selena, already known as The “Queen of Tejano” music before she was shot and killed at age 23 in 1995.
Arellano said Rivera, 43, who died in a plane crash Dec. 9, didn’t get coverage she warranted because “she was a Mexican and popular mostly to Mexicans. . . .” Selena’s father was Mexican-American and her mother was half Cherokee.
On Dec. 11, The Washington Post wrote about the lack of attention to Jenni Rivera’s music with references to “parallel Americas.”
But media myopia is not limited to Latin pop stars.
In 2001, singer Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash at age 22. African-American and raised in Detroit, she had notable achievements, including a double-platinum album, and more work lined up. But she wasn’t really cracking mainstream media.
There was an exception.
Kelley L. Carter, a young, plugged-in entertainment writer at the Detroit Free Press, had been watching Aaliyah, understood what she was about and knew that she had a large fan base.
Carter told her editors Tina Croley, who had learned to listen to Carter’s hunches, and Entertainment Editor Steve Byrne, who keeps his finger on the pulse of pop culture. Carter, who is currently filling in as entertainment editor at Ebony magazine, wrote in an e-mail to me that Byrne “was instrumental in keeping the Aaliyah story alive and on 1-A.”
Editors don’t want to create stars by giving them unwarranted attention, so it becomes a tipping-point game, rather than just one of awareness. Carter had evidence, including accomplishments and attendance numbers, that said Aaliyah was legit.
Croley and Byrne encouraged Carter, who wrote a major profile of the young singer. By year’s end, that profile was serving as one touchstones for many reporters trying to catch up on Aaliyah as they wrote about her death.
The Free Press had the story when others didn’t for two reasons:
• It had a young reporter with a good eye.
• It had wise editors with ears to hear what that reporter said.
In her email, Carter writes, “the big difference now—and I hope that newsrooms are taking note—is that there’s this nifty thing called social media, which AT LEAST gives us clues as to what heats up the pop culture barometer.
“Back when Aaliyah died, it was just a guess (and the power of persuasion) that people would care the way they did. But seeing as how her missing plane and subsequent death dominated Twitter trending topics and folks were able to post stories of hers on Facebook, etc., it should have given newsrooms a clue that this is a pretty big deal in the music community.
“I think we still have a long way to go, but at least now even if editors don’t trust reporters, they can at least (on some level, anyway) trust hot trending topics.”
Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at www.jobspage.com since 1996. Questions about careers? Email Joe for an answer.