What is not Defined Cannot be Measured
Latino diversity in media remains critical
By Jackie Puente
“Let’s talk about media diversity and Hispanic representation in media.”
This conversation comes up repeatedly in many of my circles, both personally and professionally. From salon dinners to panel discussions, from New York to Los Angeles, at awards shows, film festivals, and even virtual policy brown bag lunches for wonks in Washington, D.C. People want to talk about media diversity. But what do we, in the public discourse, have to say about such an important topic as media diversity? The truth is – not much.
I track this conversation for a living, and frankly, it can be painful. The dearth of research on this topic is frightening. Most articles and reports are filled with anecdotal, self-ascribed data. They are short-lived at best, further complicated by how quickly the media marketplace is evolving as channels, networks, platforms, creators, and studios compete crosswise for audience shares. Ever heard of the expression comparing apples to oranges? I feel like we are comparing mangos to mandarins to margaritas.
During the pandemic, we witnessed a significant transformation in media consumption. In addition to the explosion of short-form content on social media platforms, we have seen the evolution of the streaming wars. Not so long ago, there were “cord cutters” (a dirty term in a cable household like mine) and the rest of us. Fast forward to today, no two households have the same combination of hardware (e.g., smart TVs, tablets, mobile devices) and services. This plethora of platforms has empowered us as viewers, not only to stop and start our shows on-demand, watch them on the go or choose the content we wish to consume but to actually have a say in who is making and starring in the media we watch. With more of us than ever purchasing, consuming, and advocating for U.S. Hispanic-made content, certainly, media companies have taken notice of this expanding market for diverse programming. Yet, despite this strong show of support from the community, the progress to diversify media has remained slow, and the data to track issues has remained sparse and inconsistent across the industry.
On my first day on the job in 2012, Comcast announced the launch of independent and minority-owned and operated networks as part of the company’s voluntary commitments made during the acquisition of NBCUniversal. At the time, this commitment to supporting diverse programming as the result of an acquisition was one of the first of its kind; negotiated specifically to respond to the calls of community leaders expressing the need for diverse representation at all levels of media.
How different was the world then? In the decade since, these community groups have held up their end of the bargain, keeping the pressure up for similar commitments from new media deals, mergers, and acquisitions. Shockingly, however, recent media deals have not resulted in more channels, and it remains difficult to evaluate whether the calls for diverse representation on screen, behind the camera and in the c-suite of these media corporations have been met in any meaningful way.
British physicist and mathematician William Thomson Kelvin left us with this pearl: “What is not defined cannot be measured. What is not measured, cannot be improved. What is not improved, is always degraded." On this matter, I do not think we are in a state of degradation; but to Mr. Kelvin’s credit, it is not easy to improve and sustain advancement without the accountability that quality data provides. With flawed and inconsistent data collection practices across the industry, it remains unclear how the expectation for diversity at all levels of media should, would, or could be met.
I commend my company’s leadership for ambitious goals and rigorous data collection, shared with an External Joint Diversity Council (now called the DEI Corporate Advisory Council), including leaders from business, civil rights, and the creative community, with the purpose of advising on governance, workforce, programming, procurement, and philanthropy. Nonprofit leaders representing organizations like HACR, Hispanic Federation, LULAC, National Hispanic Media Coalition, SER National, UnidosUS, USHCC, and more have served on the Council over the years. We maintain an open line of communication with these organizations on this very topic—something that not all content creators and distributors can say they do. This work is never finished; however, goal setting and data collection spotlighted opportunities for greater equity, greater representation, and actual advancement on an issue that we continue to make progress towards.
There is much more work to be done. There are many more stories to tell and audiences to engage. As recent reports confirm how media bias impacts our economic, social, and wellness outlook, this work echoes beyond the box office. What steps can we all take to make an impact today? Here are some questions that I think we should all consider.
Hispanic content creators are businesses navigating a quickly changing marketplace. How are Hispanic creators compensated? Who pays for this content? Are you reading coverage on this subject to learn more for your own edification? I recommend diving deep into the data, challenging definitions across broadcast, streaming, digital, and other mediums, for fair comparisons.
Take it one step further. Do you know which media organizations have boards with Hispanic directors? To solve the media diversity conundrum, we must look beyond representation in front of and behind the camera. Yes, it is essential to have diverse film directors, writers, showrunners, and direction behind the camera, but it is also imperative to have increased diversity in the c-suite.
Celebrate the successes. Academy Awards, new museums, and box office sensations are all fair game. Businesses respond when we all come out in droves and being able to see ourselves on screen inspires a whole new generation.
Jackie Puente is Associate Vice President, Comcast NBCUniversal Telemundo