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Puerto Rico News: The Good And The BadPuerto Rican Or Journalist? I Choose Both

Puerto Rico News: The Good And The Bad

Manning Pynn

September 22, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

As the November election approaches, Democrats, Republicans and those in-between show heightened sensitivity to every nuance of the Sentinel's reporting of political developments.

Nowhere, though, do political sensitivities run higher than among Central Florida's burgeoning population of Puerto Ricans, several of whom seem to think that the newspaper's coverage of their island has reflected poorly on them and their political associates.

"Where is the principle of impartiality, fairness, respect, courtesy in its [the Sentinel's] reporting about politics, in general, and about Puerto Ricans in Central Florida and Puerto Rico?" Justina Gonzalez-Marti asked El Sentinel Editor Maria Padilla in a recent electronic-mail message.

Gonzalez-Marti had wide-ranging concerns, but she expressed particular distress at the newspaper's reporting of recent arrests and convictions of political figures in Puerto Rico.

"As respectable and intelligent Puerto Ricans, we feel embarrassed and outraged by the criminal behavior of many politicians," she wrote, adding, though, that the Sentinel should acknowledge that no single political party had cornered the market on corruption.

Winter Springs City Commissioner Edward Martinez Jr. put it in stronger terms. "For years now, the paper has chosen to print an ugly picture of Puerto Ricans on the island that affects each and every Puerto Rican here in Florida, and possibly elsewhere."

He, too, referred to the accounts of corruption and asked, "Why do the internal politics and strife in Puerto Rico intrigue your paper so much?"

Martinez explained that Spanish-language television and radio broadcasts "bring us all the news we need to know" and suggested that the Sentinel's publishing of such distressing news prompts readers to look upon Puerto Ricans as "alien criminals."

I think readers know better than that. People of nearly every background run afoul of the law, but that doesn't mean that everyone of that background is a criminal.

The Sentinel concerns itself with Puerto Rico because, as we learned last year from the 2000 Census, people from the island have been moving to Central Florida in very large numbers. More than 165,000 Puerto Ricans now live in Central Florida, a 182 percent increase from 10 years before.

Those new Central Floridians need to know not only what is going on in this community but also what is happening in the one they left. The Sentinel tries to fill that need with two reporters in San Juan and a separate publication, El Sentinel, to provide information about and for Hispanic readers.

The Sentinel's news department, though, doesn't engage in public relations. It reports the bad along with the good -- both stateside and on the island.

That doesn't mean that it reports only the bad.

Much of the news the newspaper has reported from and about Puerto Rico has been quite positive. In July, for instance, the Sentinel -- working with its sister newspapers in South Florida, Connecticut and Pennsylvania -- published a special section of Insight marking Puerto Rico's half-century of self-government under the United States flag. And religion writer Mark Pinsky had a Life & Times section article not long ago in which he profiled three leading candidates for Catholic sainthood, including Carlos Rodriguez of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

There will continue to be accounts of wrongdoing, of course, because, unfortunately, that occurs in Puerto Rico just as it does stateside.

The Sentinel's agenda in covering Puerto Rico, though, will go no further than keeping people informed.

Puerto Rican Or Journalist? I Choose Both

Maria T. Padilla

September 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

The space between a rock and a hard place has become familiar territory lately, especially as coverage of Hispanics has heightened awareness and sensitivities among some of them.

Questions have come from Osceola, Orange and Volusia counties about stories from Puerto Rico and about themes in this column.

"If I go to Puerto Rico I read about corruption, and when I'm here I read about corruption in Puerto Rico," said an exasperated Angel Camacho of Orlando, echoing the frustrations of many.

I certainly understand the frustration among many Puerto Ricans. When bad people do bad things it reflects on the community, which is overwhelmingly honest and hardworking.

This complaint isn't new, either. I've heard it from Colombians and African-Americans, among others.

Here's why: Hispanics, and other minority groups, often are keenly aware of how they are perceived by the majority community, and rightly so.

We know that there are people -- of all stripes -- who will generalize about an entire group based on the actions of a few. And that hurts.

It's also true that the explosive growth of the Hispanic community -- it's now 18 percent of the population and rising -- has captured attention, near and far.

The spotlight is on Hispanics, and that is a very bright glare indeed, one that occasionally may make people uncomfortable.

To some extent, these are growing pains. As a group, Hispanics have gone from being mostly ignored to suddenly famous, thanks to Census 2000.

As an editor and columnist, who happens to be Puerto Rican, I am in a spot.

The community sees in me an ally because we share similar background and experiences. This puts me in a unique position to articulate a point of view that often goes untapped.

But here's the rub: Columnists write about not only what they know, but also what they see and hear. It's not always positive.

One week, I may write about the beautiful beaches of Puerto Rico, as I did recently. And the next, I may write about Hispanics not showing up at an education forum coordinated specifically for Latinos, which I also wrote about.

Guess which column upset people?

Yet, both columns are accurate, and each reflects a different side of me. The education column, however, served an additional purpose.

It gave readers the opportunity to (1) learn what happened (remember, few of you were at the meeting), and (2) do something about it. Not to write about it would have been a disservice.

I understand that the reflection in the mirror may not please everyone. I wasn't happy about it, either. But please don't ask me to look the other way or to keep it "between us Hispanics" because of embarrassment.

That cuts real deep. You may not be aware of it, but what you are asking is that I not do my job as a reporter.

Now, there are people in the Puerto Rican community who say I must choose: Either you're Puerto Rican or you're a reporter.

I say, por favor or puhlease.

I am both, and I do not aim to choose between the two now or at anytime in the future.

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