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Originally published Wednesday, December 6, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Keep America's ethnic media thriving, dynamic and independent

I am the co-owner and CEO of ColorsNW, Inc., a local, family-owned company that publishes ColorsNW Magazine — a magazine dedicated...

Special to The Times

I am the co-owner and CEO of ColorsNW, Inc., a local, family-owned company that publishes ColorsNW Magazine — a magazine dedicated to exploring ethnic diversity in the Northwest — and ColorsNWCareers.com, a job portal to connect job-seekers of color to employers looking to hire people of color.

ColorsNW Magazine was born in 2001 in the most improbable of circumstances. With not much more than an idea, a staff that believed in the mission and a relatively tiny amount of start-up capital, we were able to eke out the first few issues by the skin of our teeth. No one was quite sure what to make of us. As a multiethnic ethnic publication, we didn't fit into the mainstream model or even the ethnic media model. While we had no shortage of powerful story ideas to work with, getting revenue to grow the business was always an uphill battle. Many advertisers could not see the benefit of advertising with a small, start-up publication, preferring to make group buys with larger publications or publications with large parent companies.

Like many ethnic publications, we have had to do a lot with a little. For the first three years, we worked out of our homes, having no offices or infrastructure to speak of. This kept costs down and allowed us to weather rocky financial times like the period after 9/11.

The voice ColorsNW brings to the local media landscape is unique and independent. We are not beholden to shareholders or the market and we keep our advertising and editorial departments strictly separate. Despite our small staff, the journalism we produce has been recognized with numerous awards, including this year by the Society for Professional Journalists as the best overall magazine for the region. Some notable stories have dealt with the effect of federal detention policies on immigrants, the relations between African Americans and African immigrants and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on people of color.

I say all this to say that the ethnic media landscape is one that is dynamic, thriving and growing. According to a study by New America Media, 45 percent of people of color prefer ethnic media to mainstream media. People of color are fully a third of the U.S. population and are slated to grow even further. Non-whites are expected to be the majority by 2050. Yet, in media ownership, this demographic power is not present.

According to "Out of the Picture," a Free Press study, people of color are dramatically underrepresented in media ownership, with only 3.26 percent of all TV station owners non-white, although people of color are 33 percent of the population. This low rate of ownership would be compounded by the increasing push for media consolidation by the FCC, whose regulations have kept media conglomerates, which have long been tempted by the moneymaking potential in the ethnic market, from buying up the few small ethnic media organizations. The loosening of these rules would add to the pressure companies like ours have in staying independent and family-owned.

This disparity in ownership exacerbates ongoing exclusion of people of color in society. Nancy Zirkin, of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said, "This should be a national embarrassment. And the fact that some on the recent FCC have been more interested in giving more power to those who already have too much, rather than addressing decades of discrimination and ensuring that the little guy will get a chance, should be a national scandal."

We strongly encourage the FCC commissioners to consider the negative downward pressure from media consolidation on ethnic and independent media. As Malcolm X said, "The media's the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses."

It is independent media — mainstream and alternative — that are needed to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." This is the crucial and precious duty of the Fourth Estate, and its freedom from consolidation for profit needs to be protected.

Robert L. Jeffrey Jr. is co-owner and CEO of ColorsNW, Inc., publisher of ColorsNW Magazine, www.colorsnw.com, and ColorsNWCareers.com (online job portal). This guest column is from his statement prepared for a Seattle hearing last Thursday on rules governing media ownership, attended by Federal Communications Commission members Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

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