It's just a picture of a street sign, but the Houston Chronicle is pointing to it like it's the Mona Lisa.
Front of the Metro section, April 3, under the headline "In Tribute of Senor Chavez," there it was: a picture of what the caption called "a recently mounted street sign" for Cesar Chavez Boulevard, right in front of a taco stand. There had been a parade "during the weekend" in honor of the renaming of 67th Street, the caption said.
But the picture is more: It shows the Chronicle cares. Executives are pointing to it desperately to answer Hispanic activists who are angered at what they say is the paper's constant ignoring of their community.
The parade April 1 is the latest flashpoint. Mayor Lee Brown, U.S. Representatives Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, and three Congressional Medal of Honor winners all marched. Despite being pestered to cover the event, the Chron sent nobody.
And it wasn't because that Saturday was such a busy news day. The next day's Metro section was all but bereft of breaking news, but it did include stories on the Earth Day Festival downtown, the eighth annual Japan Festival in Hermann Park and the third annual Crawfish Festival in Tranquillity Park.
Hispanic activists raised hell with the paper, and the street-sign picture mysteriously showed up Monday.
A group also picketed the Chronicle Tuesday, criticizing what its press release calls "the Chronicle's continued insensitivity to Houston's Hispanic communities and the minimal amount of coverage of Latino community events and activities."
Also angering some of them was the paper's special issue of the Dining Guide that was published in connection with the opening of Enron Field. The story on downtown dining options for baseball fans listed restaurants by location, from establishments three blocks away from the stadium, to five blocks, to eight blocks, all the way up to 17 blocks away. But only if the restaurants in question were on the tonier west and south sides of the stadium.
"The East End area and Navigation areas have been completely ignored," says restaurant owner Yolanda Black Navarro, referring to the nearby neighborhoods and their many Mexican restaurants. "We supported the stadium.Once again, we feel we have been ignored and left out."
On Tuesday a group of a half dozen or so picketers met with senior vice president and executive editor Tony Pederson, who underwhelmed them with his response.
"He asked us if we were subscribers. I thought, 'What the hell does that got to do with it?' " says Marcario Ramirez, a longtime firebrand for Hispanic issues.
Pederson referred questions to the Chron's marketing coordinator, who issued a written statement saying the paper really, really loves all the multicolored rainbow of minority groups that put the "You" in Houston. Or words to that effect.
At least that's how the statement was described to us. The Chron's PR person promised to fax a copy, but didn't.
Ramirez says that Pederson told the group to write an op-ed piece on Chavez (one headlined "Cesar Chavez a Hero for All Houstonians to Revere" dutifully ran the next day). Pederson also said he could make no promises, but that the group should "just watch us" and they'll see results.
Ramirez promises to keep the heat on. "Crunch their goddamn gonads, that's all these people understand," he says.
As this is written on April 7, the fax machine at the Press has just spit out a press release from the University of Houston's Center for Mexican American Studies regarding a conference April 13-14 titled "Hispanics in Houston."
We're guessing that's going to be one well-covered conference, at least as far as Houston's Leading Information Source is concerned.
Milk That Sucker
You can have your Elian Gonzalez stories. Let the other TV stations cover severe weather and murders. Channel 2 has the real Story of the Year, if not the Millennium. At least if you rank such stories by the amount of time devoted to them.
The earthshaking, historic event: One of their reporters, Ron Stone Jr., caught the first home run hit at Enron Field.
This was indeed a newsworthy item on the night of the opening exhibition game, and it was pleasurable to see the other stations bite their tongues to pieces by showing only a quick clip of the first homer and no ensuing interview with the guy who caught it.
It was perhaps less newsworthy the second day, when Stone went around interviewing people about whether they thought he was crazy for throwing the ball back on the field, in honor of a nonexistent Houston tradition. (We hoped someone would answer, "No, that wasn't too crazy, but this interview is whacked.")
It grew increasingly tiresome as the subject came up again and again, but when the Astros left town to begin the regular season, we thought we were safe.
Not so. One day the week of April 3, the teaser came: Coming up -- What the police chief thinks of Stone's decision to throw the ball back!
We didn't tune in.
Taking Their Ball Home
The winner of The Press Club of Houston's Sore Loser Award is the Houston Chronicle.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Last year the paper got in a snit because there was no first-place award given for Spot News Reporting. Since the awards are limited to local media, the Spot News category for papers over 100,000 circulation is pretty much limited to the Chron. Judges handed out second- and third-place awards, but deemed no entry worthy of a top prize.
The Chron's classy reaction: This year it boycotted the category. No entries were submitted. No award was given.
That will teach the bastards.
E-mail the News Hostage at firstname.lastname@example.org.