Saundra Keyes, newly appointed managing editor of the Miami Herald, was introduced to the public last week. In an article prominently displayed on page A-3 of her new paper, Herald staff writer Tom Dubocq hailed the 47-year-old Keyes's accomplishments during her two years as executive editor of the Long Beach (California) Press-Telegram. The flattering story also included such illuminating details as the fact that Keyes drives a red Porsche, owns an Elvis clock, and lives with two cats, both former strays.
Doug Clifton, the Herald's executive editor and Keyes's new boss, praised her as someone who has a strong talent for helping newspapers better serve multi-ethnic communities. Press-Telegram managing editor Rich Archbold elaborated: "We've had more impact reporting, more outreach to the community," he declared. "We have more faces of color, stories of color, in the newspaper." Keyes, according to Archbold, "had a hell of an impact" in bringing the Long Beach paper closer to its black, Latino, and Asian-American readers.
That would be news to Ernest McBride, founder of the NAACP chapter in Long Beach and a resident of the area since 1930. "I didn't even know who Saundra Keyes was until I read in the paper that she was leaving to go to Miami," McBride says with a laugh.
Officials with various Asian-American groups, including the Long Beach Korean Chamber of Commerce, the Cambodian Business Association, and the United Cambodian Community, also say they are not familiar with Keyes. Sources inside the Press-Telegram add that the paper's Asian-affairs reporter left more than four months ago. Since then no one has been responsible for covering the area's substantial Asian-American community. In fact, the beat was recently eliminated.
On the other hand, Long Beach minority-group leaders, as well as Press-Telegram staffers, acknowledge that the newspaper has dramatically improved its reporting of the Los Angeles suburb's growing Hispanic community. The reasons, however, may have as much to do with marketing strategy as with a desire for improved coverage. Hispanics, who comprise 35 percent of the Press-Telegram's circulation area, are generally considered to be underrepresented among the newspaper's readers in comparison to blacks and Asian-Americans, who make up a combined 23 percent of the area. In addition, the Asian community is dominated by Cambodian immigrants, many of whom are not proficient in English. Hispanics thus represent a more likely target in the struggle for increased circulation.
"They've done an all-out job in the last year marketing themselves toward the Latino community," says Marie Treadwell, president of the Long Beach NAACP, "but not very much toward the black community." Ken Wibecon, a black activist who for the past ten years has written a weekly opinion column for the Press-Telegram, contends that coverage of the predominately black city of Compton, which is within the newspaper's circulation area, has been inconsistent and sporadic.
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Wibecon, however, stresses that Keyes was a positive addition to the newsroom. He and other staff members point out that the number of minority reporters rose significantly during the past two years; the paper also hired a black assistant managing editor during Keyes's tenure. "When she came here, she was a big improvement from what we had before," Wibecon explains. "Almost any change would have been an improvement. I think some of her predecessors didn't even know that Latinos and blacks lived in this community. And on the positive side, I suppose Saundra has done a lot more to bring the Latin community into the newspaper. But what isn't seen in the newspaper are stories that bring the entire community closer together A blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians. I think Saundra has missed the boat on the issue of multi-culturalism."
For years Long Beach was sarcastically dubbed "Iowa-by-the-Sea," a reference to the large number of Midwesterners who moved there for retirement. But in the last decade, the area has become increasingly diverse. "Knight-Ridder [which owns the Press-Telegram and the Miami Herald] understood that to make their property in Long Beach successful, they had to do something different to make it appeal to people of color," says one Press-Telegram employee who requested anonymity. "But rather than understand the ethnic diversity and the multi-culturalism of the Los Angeles area, they've focused on the Latino community."
Keyes, who earned a Ph.D. in folklore before taking up journalism, admits she was uncomfortable with the Herald's tribute to her cultural and community achievements while in Long Beach. "I would be a fool to argue with you that our coverage of Asians and blacks has not been spotty," she says by telephone from Southern California. And she doesn't deny that marketing and business considerations played a role in the paper's aggressive pursuit of Hispanic readers. "When people say there was a marketing dimension to our coverage, I'd be crazy not to admit that that was not the case," she says. "But to say that that was all there was behind it, I think that would be unfair."
Minority coverage, marketing, and fairness: a trio of tricky issues the Herald has been grappling with for years. One of Keyes's staffers in Long Beach sounds an optimistic note when considering the challenges that await her in Miami: "Maybe you can only do a little bit at a time. Even with all the problems, she put the paper on the right road, and for that she deserves credit. Overall I'd say she was better than worse for the paper.