Staged News Snafu p. 12

By: Dorothy Giobbe Manufactured news event at New York's El Diario
pushes two of its top editors out the door sp.

A STAGED CONTROVERSY, reported as a legitimate news item, forced the recent dismissal of two co-editors in chief at one of the country's largest Spanish-language dailies.
In early September, editors Aileen Gelpi and Juan Garcia were fired from New York's El Diario La Prensa.
According to people familiar with the situation, management at the newspaper was deeply disturbed by public criticism which came in the wake of a manufactured news event last June.
Publisher Carlos Ramirez acknowledged that the staged news event was a "contributing factor" to the firings. However, he maintains that El Diario and the editors parted company because of creative differences.
"It was because we couldn't come to an agreement over the direction of the newspaper," Ramirez said. "It had to do with formats, layouts, and editorial vision."
Garcia and Gelpi could not be reached for comment.
The 55,000-circulation newspaper has been the object of criticism over its handling of the staged news event. In early June, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) set up an on-the-record breakfast meeting with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for NAHJ members and invited guests. Sources say that Gelpi, an NAHJ member, sent an El Diario reporter, Angela Aquino, to the breakfast in her place.
Aquino brought along a disgruntled former city employee, Rafael Senci?n. During the question and answer period, Senci?n stood up and attempted to make a statement regarding the mayor's policies.
According to those present, Giuliani protested, saying that the breakfast was intended as an opportunity for journalists to ask questions, not a forum to voice political opinions. Senci?n was not permitted to complete his statement.
The next day, El Diario ran a front page teaser, "El Diario brings Senci?n to City Hall." Inside, a news story covered the flare-up, and the editorial page gave Giuliani a tongue-lashing for not allowing Senci?n to address the gathering.
In part, it read, "Yesterday, the Latino news media had a singular opportunity to hold a dialogue with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani . . . insofar as the dialogue is concerned, it left a lot to be desired."
The editorial insisted that Senci?n ? a non-journalist ? belonged at the breakfast. "But Mayor Giuliani, not exactly the epitome of flexibility, insisted that only journalists could participate," the editorial read.
El Diario, which bills itself as "Champion of Hispanics," soon found itself under attack by the leadership of NAHJ and by a competing Hispanic newspaper.
"It was unethical for El Diario to allow their reporters to create their own news story," said Martin Barreto, northeast regional director and national board member of NAHJ.
"They violated the public trust in journalists by being involved with staging the news," he said. "And what I find really appalling is that they created the incident to write their own editorial."
The staged event also was blasted in an editorial in Noticias Del Mundo.
The editorial accused El Diario of committing "journalistic terrorism" and of an attempt at "planting a journalistic bomb . . . that would effectively obliterate any rational discourse."
Barreto was quoted in the editorial, blasting the stunt as "an outrage," and editors at El Diario as "abusive" and "highly unethical."
El Diario publisher Ramirez acknowledged that the editors brought "another agenda" to the breakfast, other than reporting on the mayor's policies. "The cause had merit, but the method left a little to be desired," he said.
For some, the question begs a discussion of a larger issue in the journalism community.
"One of the questions is about advocacy journalism," Barreto said. "It's important to send a message that the Spanish-language media is completely accountable. We have to hold ourselves to the same standards that are set at the Washington Post.
"I am very happy El Diario did what they did to right a wrong, because [the reporters] were playing with the reputation of the newspaper," Barreto added.


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