Mark Schultz

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Interview Text and Audio


The interview was organized around a few major themes, particularly as they apply to Raleigh and Durham, in North Carolina. These include Mark Schultz’s background information, his experience working in the journalism field, his work with the bilingual column “Nuestro Pueblo,” how the Latino population has been portrayed in the media, the struggles of covering minority groups, how the media decides what is news worthy, why the Latino population is not covered frequently in Orange County, N.C., how the media has been impacted by the recession and how that has hurt news coverage and where people get their news. The interview contains a brief description of Schultz’s background. Schultz states his opinions on the topics listed above and goes into great detail about how the downturn in the economy has impacted the journalism field.



Caleb Wittum: This is an interview with Mark Schultz an Editor at The Chapel Hill News for the Southern Oral History Program’s series “Latin American Immigrant Perspectives.” The Interview being conducted Sunday April 15, 2012. The interview is being conducted at The Chapel Hill News’ conference room and the interviewer is Caleb Wittum. Ok to start out can you tell me a little about yourself? Where are you from?
Mark Schultz: I am from New York. I graduated from Cornell University and Columbia University, where I got my Masters in Journalism. I came down here in 1988 to work for the Herald Sun and then worked for them for 16 years and about 5 different jobs. And about six years ago I came over to the News and Observer.
CW: You’ve worked in the area with the News and Observer, have you worked anywhere else?
MS: Yeah, I worked in New York. My first paper was a regional paper kind of like the N&O, based in Syracuse, New York which is in central New York. Then I worked for a weekly paper, the Ithaca Times, which is a member of the Association of Alternative News Weeklies like the Independent, like the Voice is a big one that people have heard of. I came down here worked for the Herald and now at the N&O and the Chapel Hill News. So I guess that is four Newspapers also worked in small town radio for a number of years.
CW: Can you talk a little bit about how the main stream media covers immigration and immigration issues?
MS: Well you know there is a big difference between how the big main stream media covers immigration issues and how a local newspaper covers these kinds of issues. I think generally you’re right we tend to cover people when they get in trouble, but we also tend to cover people when there is a good picture, when there is a spectacle. One of the conferences that I went to said that there is a tendency to cover Latinos as zoo animals. What he meant was they were on display. So you get good coverage of them at festivals, you get good pictures of them at some rituals, some customs like Dia de los Muertos or…well that was the big one because it is the equivalent of the Hispanic Halloween even though that is not what it is at all. That’s how people perceive it. But it has lots of pictures with the skeletons and skulls and usually alters that people create for their loved ones which make very good pictures. So this speakers point was we have to get beyond covering the display to tell the stories of peoples real lives. So I can’t remember exactly when it was, I’d have to look up the date for you. But some time ago the editor at the time of the Herald Sun, his name was Bill Hawkins, he realized that Durham and the triangle but specifically Durham was seeing a tremendous influx of Hispanic immigrants. And it was only probably 15 years ago, it was in the later half of the 1990s and the early 2000s and you saw it with the tiendas. You really saw this influx of a group of people who hadn’t been here in those numbers before. So he wanted to start a series and he enlisted a young reporter from Colombia named Miriam…..who was bilingual obviously. She was a native born Colombian and she wrote this series over the summer. And it was great, a great look at this immigrant community and then when this series was over he wanted to keep it going so he had her write a bilingual column. And I was her editor because I was the assistant city editor at the time and I spoke some Spanish, I studied it. And we kept that going for a while and then I asked him if we could do a page. And so some time after her column ran for several months or maybe it was a year, we decided to dedicate one page a week in the Herald Sun to a bilingual page which was unique at the time. And we did that and quickly said well let’s get some other voices. Let’s get some immigrants voices, or some Hispanic, Latino voices in the paper. So we kept that going for a couple years and then we said this is great. It is in the paper for people who are reading it which is primarily educated Latinos and white people or primarily white people who want to brush up with their Spanish. We said if we really want to reach the immigrant community we have to put it in the immigrant community so we got permission to publish the articles that had been bilingual publish the Spanish versions. And we put this out in a very small little newspaper called “Nuestro Pueblo” which we put in tiendas, and libraries, and community centers, and health clinics. And we probably did the page for 8 years and I think we did the monthly newspaper for 5 years. The monthly newspaper ended when the herald sun was bought by Paxton and the bilingual page ended when I left to come to the News and Observer.
CW: Do you think this area is missing out that they have lost Nuestro Pueblo?
MS: Well the thing about Nuestro Pueblo was two things. One is it kept a focus on Latino issues because you had to fill a page every week but it also helped us get deeper into the community. So one of the first stories we did was about the disproportionate number of DWIs among Hispanic drivers, among Latino drivers and why that was. And a lot of health issues related to Latinos and lesser known customs such as Quinceañeras or Las Posadas which is a holiday that recreates the travels of Joseph and Mary. So yeah I do think that the community misses out because this culture has slipped back into where they were before which is being reported on primarily when they get into trouble. It’s interesting I just came from the community dinner which is the 15th annual community dinner here in Carrboro. And it is put on by a couple of people and a lot of community groups and there were 650 people. And on the way out a visitor, a first time visitor, said that it was the most integrated thing she had been to in the south since she had been visiting. She is from California. But she noted that there weren’t Latinos there. There were black people, and white people, and some Asian people, and Burmese immigrants but for whatever reasons there may have been a few but there were not significant numbers of Latinos or Mexicans. So you know most of these immigrant communities that we have are insular, and unless there is deliberate outreach to get to know them and to involve them in the community they keep to themselves. Which makes it really hard to report on them if you are not regularly reporting on them.
CW: You just mentioned one challenge, but could you talk about some more challenges of covering this community?
MS: Well so there are all these levels of how you cover people right. The top level is your elected officials who are really good at talking to you for the most part and know what you need, and are accessible and give you sound bites. And the second level of person is the public figures. People who elevate themselves because they serve on boards or they appoint themselves citizen activist. They are spokes people for a group or cause. And then the third level is the hardest level and that is the average person. And that is really hard. It was not as hard once we got going because people we had writing the stories could speak passable Spanish and the people at the first two levels introduced us to people at the third level. But right now we are having the same issue with the Burmese population. This is a resettlement area for Karen ethic immigrants from Burma as well as some Burmese immigrants from Burma. And the language is impenetrable. I mean you just can’t you know. So you have to go with an interpreter to do any of those stories. So some of the issues we faced with Latinos ten-fifteen years ago we are facing now but even more so with the Burmese immigrant community. So that was a challenge, getting average peoples voices. I think another challenge is that just by focusing on this group you can be perceived as advocating for this group. You know why not have a page of African American news once a week, why not have a page of whatever? Why are you doing a page of Latino News once a week? So there are two issues that I think we probably encountered from time to time. The issue of making sure we are talking to enough people and enough different types of people, and making sure the reporting didn’t veer into advocacy and dealing with perceptions that perhaps it was advocacy journalism.
CW: Do you think that the public is well informed about immigration and the Latino Community around here?
MS: No. No I don’t. Sorry I want to ask you questions because that is what I do, but I won’t right now anyway. You know I think people don’t understand. Jim Johnson here at the University, you should read some of his reports on the Hispanic immigrant community, but James Johnson at Kenan-Flagler has done probably the most widely quoted study of the economic impact of the immigrant, Latino community here in North Carolina. And how it is actually is a plus, it makes money for North Carolina as opposed to being a drain on resources. I don’t think that is widely understood that Latinos pay taxes if they are on the books. Even now we don’t really understand a lot of the cultural patterns. Just a couple months ago there had been a widely quoted study or studies that showed the maternal health of Latinos when they come to this country is better than native born Americans, native born United States citizens. Their birth weight of their babies was better, they had better infant mortality, all this kind of thing. So the thinking was that well the longer they live here they start eating like Americans, they start being more sedentary, they become less healthy. And now just this year they have been questioning these long held studies. Saying well maybe that wasn’t the case. Maybe it wasn’t that they were healthier, maybe it was that they didn’t intersect, they didn’t interact with the health agency. So they didn’t really have a good representation of what the health was of these immigrant communities. So you know whether we are talking about the average person or people whose job it is to research these communities, no I don’t think there is enough understood about them maybe because the numbers are too small. I mean the reason we were able to do what we did in Durham was because it had the fastest growing Hispanic population between the 1990 and 2000 census of any North Carolina city. Of The fifteen largest metropolitan areas in North Carolina, or cities in North Carolina Durham was number one. Its Hispanic population increased 400% in that one decade. But when I came over here my initial inclination was let’s do a page over here. Well in Orange County it is less than 5% of the population. We didn’t have the resources at the time, and we certainly don’t have them now, to devote that much attention to such a small segment of the population. So we try to make contacts with the appropriate people and we try to do stories. There is an ongoing story about a day laborers gathering point, have you heard of that?
CW: Yeah
MS: Ok, so this has been an issue in Carrboro for over a decade. Men gather there in the morning to pick up contract work and there have been problems associated with that. Public urination, harassment of women, just loitering. If you get deeper into it most people including the police will say that it is not really the men gathering for work but the other men who gather for whatever reasons that are causing most of the problems. But you have to go to that deeper level to really know what’s going on. So we do that story and we do that periodically because it comes up periodically but again to answer your question no I don’t think people really understand what life is like for immigrants here.
CW: Where do you think they get most of their information about this community?
MS: I don’t know that they do get any information.
CW: they don’t get any?
MS: No I think, I ask myself that all the time about just news in general. Where do you find out what is going on in Chapel Hill, Durham because our job is Durham here too. And I don’t know the answer. I mean I think people get some news off the first five minutes of TV, which is not very substantial. I think probably a good number of people are so busy that they don’t care, or don’t know what they are missing or don’t care what they are missing. I don’t know the answer to your question.
CW: The stereotypes that they get or the accepted truths that they think immigrants hurt the economy do you think that is just from politicians or from talking, interacting; where do you think those ideas come from?
MS: No I think you can see it at the University and in all kinds of things. Housekeeping which had been primarily been an African American department at UNC is now much more missed with many Latinos and Hispanics. Latinos and Hispanics taking jobs previously held almost entirely by black workers. If you look at the recent rows of habitat for humanity houses you are seeing more and more habitat houses going to people with Spanish/Latino surnames and years ago that was much more African American in this community. So it would be interesting to know whether Latinos are taking jobs away from blacks or if that is a perception. But you can talk to people and still hear that. I don’t have the facts to tell you why it is that this has changed over but we do know that the black population of Chapel Hill and Orange County is decreasing. The census figures show that. So it could just be that Latinos have come to take the history role of those people who have left.
CW: Do you think some sources of media give a better, more thorough coverage of Latinos?
MS: Well, I think that for people who want to seek out depth whether it is a 8 inch story in the Independent or a 40 inch story in the News and Observer you can sort of try to find those stories, but no one is really covering it as an ongoing issue. You know you don’t really see a lot of coverage of the Dream Act and all the kids who are going through school and then they graduate and then what. That should be, that’s a huge story that doesn’t get covered. So that is like your other question “where do people get their information” and I don’t think anyone is doing a lot of in depth stuff on immigrants. Certainly not what we were doing before. Not that our stories individually were so in depth, but overtime the number of stories, the quantity, the diversity of stories provided you a much better understanding than anyone is giving you now. And you know the issue has been eclipsed by the economy and the recession. I don’t know that people really care. When it was boom time and the immigrants were here mowing the lawns, and building the buildings, and working in the restaurants you know it was different. We had the luxury to cover the issues that we don’t now because our industry has sunk with the economy. I mean we don’t have resources, we don’t have the people, we don’t have the pages, we don’t have the advertising to support the pages print wise. And the online things that are starting up Reese News or some other efforts that might be underway, those don’t really have mass audiences. So I mean I’m not being pessimistic, I’m not trying to be cynical but I think they have slipped back into obscurity like probably a lot of issues.
CW: I’ve talked with another Newspaper that was in a rural part of North Carolina and they talked a lot about how much the economy and the shift to online had hurt their newspaper, and could you talk about how it has impacted the newspapers around here?
MS: Sure, I mean I can tell you that when I came to the News and Observer we had something like 240 people in our newsroom and now we have less than 100. When I came here six years ago we had 8 people assigned to cover Durham County and 8 people assigned to cover Orange County, and now we have one assigned to each county. And we use freelancers to help make up a tiny portion of what we lost and they are very good freelancers. A lot of them are former Herald Sun staffers. So a couple years ago where I would have said most of our freelancers were college students, today I would say most of our freelancers are full time professional journalist who are out of fulltime work. So there is that; there are fewer people and there are fewer pages. So even if you could get the stories you don’t have the room to print the stories. The reason I didn’t get your call back today was because I was out shooting something because we don’t have a weekend photographer. But if you want to reflect your community you can’t just cover board meetings during the week. You have to cover 650 people who go to a community dinner on a Sunday afternoon. So it’s a lousy time to be a newspaper reporter and it is a lousy time to be a newspaper reader. But every day we try to find the best stories we can and we can’t report as much as we do so what I tell my staff is to report the biggest stories, the best. And over time if you do that you can still make yourself essential reading to a number of readers.
CW: What are the biggest stories around here typically? What types of stories?
MS: Well they are not immigrant stories you know although we have made an effort this year to cover the Burmese community more. And we have spent more attention and we have done quite a bit more with them. The biggest stories here are Growth. Chapel Hill is growing exponentially downtown and not everybody is happy with it. The town has embarked with a community planning process and there are people who are saying that it is going too fast and that it is rigged. So growth is a big one. I think that the town, both Chapel Hill and Carrboro, have dealt with painfully this past year the issue of public protest and what is the appropriate level of police response. And it has led to a number of, well this week we covered a committee that was formed and it is looking at new police policies so that the police can handle things better. You know if you talk to folks like Ron Bogle you’ll hear him say that another untold story is underage drinking and the toll it takes on kids who drink. We are lucky here our unemployment here in Chapel Hill is 6% so it is much better than the state and better than the triangle as a whole. So we don’t really have that as a huge story although people are working probably are not making as much money or are taking lower paying jobs. Let me tell you about where the immigrants fit in. Because when I give talks in the community I often talk about how we decide what news is you know you pick your news probably. I don’t know if you still learn this way in J-53, or your first journalism class but you learn these elements that make a news story. Prominence, timeliness, and one of them is conflict. The bigger conflict the better, but really if you are going to cover a community accurately it is not the big clashes that you have to look for. But it is the smaller tensions that you have to look for. And those are the tensions that I think we were able to mine successfully in our immigrant coverage at the Herald Sun. You know the tension of standing in line when someone in front of you doesn’t speak English and you get frustrated. and why is this person here. And is that person legal? Those kinds of tensions. Why is it taking me so long to drive on I-40 to where I have to go? Tensions of growth but as it affects you personally. Another cell phone driver, it will be very interesting to watch and see if the town actually enforces that. So the tensions if you want to replace that big conflict with this other a smaller word tensions, that is something that the N&O I think has always been very good at identifying and trying to teach reporters to look for. And at the Herald Sun I didn’t have that word tension drilled into me but it certainly was what I was looking for and what I was doing and what I was asking people to look for and look at. So you say what are the biggest stories, I don’t think the biggest stories are immigrants but it may just be because we don’t know enough what’s happening to the immigrants now to put them on the list of biggest stories.
CW: You worked in Durham can you compare, I know you mentioned it is much smaller here, but compare the communities: Durham to Chapel Hill?
MS: Well sure, Chapel Hill is affluent. Chapel Hill has one of the highest housing prices in the state. So it is a much more homogenous community certainly economically. It is diverse because of the University and we have a lot of Asian people here, a small African American community, and a small Hispanic community. Durham is much more diverse and much more working class. It is something like 55% white, 45%…Let me get this right here. Its somewhere in the nature of 10 to 15% Latino, and 50 plus white, and 30 something or 40 something black. So it is much more diverse than here. The housing stock is much more affordable, there is much more affordable housing in Durham. We had reporters who left here to live in Durham because they couldn’t afford anything here. I don’t know enough about the job base to know where the incomes are but it is not a college town. It is not dominated by the university and the hospital the way this community is. The issues there are much more stark. There is tremendous poverty in Durham so a lot of the public conversion takes place around poverty issues, and crime, and drugs. And what happens is a lot of the activity, the news, the bad news happens within a small circle around downtown. And if you live in Southern Durham, or if you live in the rural north, or if you live in Southwest Durham I’m not sure if that discussion about what happens in downtown really reflects your life. You may not go downtown except for a ballgame or for a movie, not a movie but a D pack. So you drive in and drive out. But if you drive from the East you’ll come through east Durham and you will see that poverty and you will see the boarded up houses and you’ll see the places where people get shot on the street. We just did a story today about a, it has been a year since this 13 year old girl was killed in Eastern Durham on her driveway. Unsolved crime, that doesn’t happen here. So the issues in Durham are much more life and death.
CW: With those different demographics and different situations did that make the tensions, did that lead to tensions with the Latino community and make them more news worthy?
MS: It was the numbers. It was just the numbers. Durham was the number one, it had the number growing Latino population in the 1990s and far outpaced. I think the state wide growth was something like 240% but in Durham it was 400%. We had an editor who decided it was worth something, we had a bilingual reporter and we took advantage of that, and we had an editor, Me, who was willing and eager to take it on.
We had support for a long time to do this. In fact we gave out the paper on Fridays. When we had the bilingual paper we had a partnership with some businesses Glaxo-Smith-Kline was one of them at the time. It was called GSK at the time but was called Glaxo at the time. And they would provide us money to buy papers and we gave them out to any English or ESL teachers in the Triangle who wanted copies for their class. Because they were always looking for local material that was bilingual that they could use in their classes. So it was in the schools, and we won awards for that, an award for that. It was a great, great thing. We did a lot of great things back then, and a lot has changed since then.
CW: It is difficult to find bilingual reporters and are there many here currently?
MS: We are not in position to hire so we are not looking for bilingual reporters. We are trying to hold on to the reporters we have.
CW: Do you have bilingual reporters?
MS: Umm…no. I mean I could have a conversation with someone but it has been a few years and I am rusty.
CW: Is it difficult to report on a community if you aren’t fluent in a language?
MS: You have to do those steps I told you before. You have to find people to take you into the community or you have to take the time to learn passable Spanish so that you can conduct a basic interview. How long have you been here? Why did you come? You know tell me about your job? Tell me about your family? But you can do that with Spanish again it is much harder with a community like the Karen.
CW: Do you think that the Latinos in Carrboro, like in the Abbey Court Apartments, do you think that even registers on most the people. Do you think that they even notice them in Chapel Hill?
MS: I don’t know. I notice them. I mean we try to do stories about the issues that affect them. A few years ago when people were getting towed in Abbey Court we wrote about that. We wrote about the protest. We have written about the Human Rights Center that is based there or had been based there until recently and their efforts to serve this community. Certainly you see Mexicans, primarily Mexicans, when you are out and about. So in terms of level of awareness does the average person who might eat dinner at 411 West think about Latinos once a day? I don’t know, probably not. Should they? I don’t know. I’m not making judgment. I am just saying that they are not the first thing you think of when you think of Chapel Hill.
CW: You said that you worked with the Radio too?
MS: Not in this State, in New York.
CW: Did they talk about Latinos? How does radio compare or differ from Journalism?
MS: I don’t think there is any real local news radio except for CHL which does a very good job of covering the community. But it is very short you know. WNC does a good job with the intersection of immigrant issues and politics and certainly they have covered Dream Act stuff. But I don’t think anyone looks to radio for much coverage of local news you know certainly not local news about immigrants.
CW: Do you think they look more to TV?
MS: I don’t know. You are asking me questions about where people get their News and I just don’t know. I just know that we work so hard to give them the best local news that we can and even that you just never really know.
CW: Where do you see the future? Do you think the Journalism industry will regain strength? And do you think they will cover Latinos in Orange county more if the population grows?
MS: No, I don’t think so. I think the numbers are too small. I mean we had I think the first Latino immigrant elected to a local board in Carrboro: John Herrera. And I thought that issues would rise more with his presence and that didn’t really happen for whatever reasons. And he left politics, he didn’t seem to really enjoy it. So I don’t know. I don’t know if the Judith Blaus of the world or El Centro Hispano in Durham which is now running El Centro Latino here. What used to be El Centro Latino. I think that they are just trying to serve their folks, their clients with meeting some basic needs. As far as making the community more aware of them that is a luxury. Really the issue is just making sure these people are getting served adequately by Schools, Social Services, health care. No I couldn’t tell you what the 3, 4, 5 stories I’d like to do on immigrant issues over the next year would be because I haven’t had the time to think about it. Because it is crazy what we are trying to do. Trying to put out a paper. I mean all the people at my level at the N&O work 6 days a week. And I’m taking a photo class so I can take better photos because they get in the paper because we don’t have enough photographers. And you know the only thing that keeps me going is knowing that it is up to me whatever is in the paper and that is an awesome responsibility and it is a lot of fun. And it is challenging but it is ridiculous. The work is too much. You don’t have enough time to think. All the copy editors and designers are consolidated in Charlotte. So today I’ve got to try to make sure I have got most of my Wednesday paper planned. For Wednesday on a Sunday so that they can be designed in the timeframe that the hub of designers have, because they have to design ten community papers. When I came here 6 years ago we had two designers who worked full time on just the Chapel Hill News. So I am not optimistic because for whatever reasons our industry hasn’t figure out how to make money off what we do which is so valuable. But we can’t figure out a way to monetize it. And I don’t know what the answer is because I don’t see that turning around. We are just trying to cover the school board, and the city hall, and who got arrested. Cover the biggest murder trials. So immigrant issues are not a priority unless they intersect with the bigger community in some way.
CW: Well thank you for conducting this interview with me it was a lot of help.
MS: Sorry to end on such a depressing note, a really depressing note but that is what we do.