Nestled in the heart of D.C. overlooking the White House, some of media’s elite gathered at the 3rd Annual “Our Voices: Celebrating Diversity in the Media White House Correspondents’ Weekend Reception” last Friday. The reception was held on the rooftop of the Hay-Adams Hotel, where guests were able to enjoy the evening’s festivities while draped in a scenic view of the city.
Maria Teresa Kumar, David Sutphen, and a committee that included the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart and CNN’s Geraldine Moriba planned the event that benefited Voto Latino, an organization aimed at empowering American Latinos to exercise their voting rights and help bring their concerns to the political stage. Since its inception in 2004, Voto Latino has used celebrity voices and the latest technology to register more than 120,000 young Latino voters, participate in the 2010 Census, and mobilize Latinos to speak out and take action on policies impacting their lives.
Hollywood actress and Voto Latino co-founder Rosario Dawson served as the honorary host of the reception that recognized honorary guests MSNBC President Phil Griffin, President and Editor-in-Chief of Huffington Post Media Group Arianna Huffington, and BET Networks Chairman and CEO Debra L. Lee for their contributions to promoting diversity in the media.
Dawson opened the festive night by acknowledging the diversity in the room, stating that it “wasn’t the average D.C. party,” but that it was done on purpose. According to Dawson, the room was packed with some of the most “powerful, prestigious, and innovative minds” in media. For many of the attendees, the path that they had taken wasn’t easy, and the odds they had overcome were steep, but Dawson pointed out a sobering fact: that in the time since many of them first began their careers, diversity in the media has not much improved.
For example, in their 2011 Diversity Census, the National Association of Journalists found that only seven percent of newsroom management is black and less than four percent is Latino. Of the entire pool of media decision makers, only 35 percent are women. In media ownership, women own a mere 16 percent of information businesses, despite women comprising over half the U.S. population, and less than one percent of TV station owners are black.
These statistics speak volumes of the importance of this weekend’s reception: It gave the opportunity to celebrate the hard fought diversity that we do have, to give praise to those who are working daily on the front lines to combat these statistics, and as Dawson stated, “to fight for a media that speak for all Americans and not just to them.”
Some of MSNBC’s elite, including Hardball’s Chris Matthews and NewsNation’s Tamron Hall, joined the boisterous crowd in congratulating Griffin and the other awardees in receiving the event’s first- ever “Diverse Voice Award.” Sutphen applauded Griffin for his stewardship of MSNBC and the channel’s proven devotion to diversity, especially the station’s 2010 Emmy- nominated town hall on American-Latino issues. Griffin graciously accepted the award and pledged that “MSNBC will reflect the diversity of ideas and people in America in the 21st century.”
Unfortunately, Debra Lee was unable to attend the reception, but graciously accepted her award through a message relayed by Sutphen. Although many were disappointed that Lee could not be there in person (she was hosting President Obama at her home), attendees were still able to revel in the momentous achievements that she and BET Networks continue to make for diversity.
The highlight of the evening was the speech delivered by Arianna Huffington, who gave the crowd her signature wit while accepting her award. Huffington remarked that she felt at home in the room, but “not enough [of them] still had an accent.” Huffington expressed her company’s commitment to diversity by not only citing its Black Voices and Latino Voices pages, but announcing the launch of a new Spanish-language page on HuffingtonPost.com.
All in all, the event was a tremendous success. The night brought together many like-minded people for an imperative purpose, promoting and celebrating diversity in the media, during one of D.C.’s most star-studded weekends. Hopefully, by next year’s event, America and its media landscape will begin to more closely resemble one another, and we can all celebrate in its progression.