Felix Gutierrez Gets Lifetime Award

The USC Annenberg professor and mentor has helped others by building bridges between the Latino community and the mainstream media.
By Kay Mills
Gutierrez has urged people to move into management where they can shape key decisions.

Photo/Maggie Smith
The National Association of Minority Media Executives is presenting Felix Gutierrez, professor of journalism and communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication with its lifetime achievement award as “a pioneer in advancing diversity in journalism education, employment and coverage.”

Gutierrez, who is also an affiliate professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and has taught at USC since 2002 and earlier from 1979 to 1990, will be honored at the association’s awards banquet on March 29 in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors meeting.

“It’s nice to have recognition and have people express appreciation for what I’ve done,” Gutierrez said, but he added that he couldn’t have done as much “without having good people to refer for jobs and knowing good people in a position to hire them.”

Gutierrez said that he had developed relationships with people in the news industry so that “I can be a bridge for students that I couldn’t find when I was getting out of college.”

He had been editor of an award-winning student newspaper at California State University Los Angeles, then received a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

“But I never got a job offer where I could either practice or teach journalism. I basically struck out trying to get a job where I could use my journalism education,” he said.

No one at that point some 40 years ago had ever told him that it would be good for a journalist to speak a second language, Gutierrez said, or to have gone to Mexico not as a tourist but to visit relatives, or to live in a part of town that wasn’t well covered by news organizations. His associates said that Gutierrez is a good part of the reason that outlook has changed.

Discussing Gutierrez’s contributions, Frank Sotomayor, associate director of USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism and print writing coach at the Annenberg School, said, “It was not until Felix came on as the first executive director of the California Chicano News Media Association that we grew and moved forward.”

Under Gutierrez’s leadership, for example, in 1980 the association started a journalism job fair for people of color “that was the first of its kind west of Howard University in Washington, D.C. It is still held every October and is now open to everybody. Recruiters come from all over the country. It has helped hundreds, maybe even thousands, get their first jobs and internships,” Sotomayor said.

“Felix obviously has a great mind, with a Stanford Ph.D., but he also has a very compassionate heart. He is able to reach out to individuals and think humanely,” he added.

Before teaching at USC, Gutierrez taught journalism at California State University Northridge and was assistant dean of students at Stanford University. He was senior vice president of The Freedom Forum, a privately endowed international media foundation, from 1990 to 2001. There, he did research for media diversity exhibits for the Newseum that will open later this year in downtown Washington, D.C., and also helped administer grants to advance the learning, teaching and practice of journalism.

“When Felix was at The Freedom Forum, he could not only give advice to groups, but he was in a position to help them get grants,” said Julio Moran, executive director of the Chicano News Media Association.

“He helped organizations that might not have gotten grants previously,” such as groups trying to increase media diversity, Moran said. “He was a mentor for a lot of people. He certainly was for me.”

Gutierrez “has always encouraged people to move up and to move into management because that’s where a lot of the decisions are being made,” Moran added. Gutierrez also helped establish the relationship between the News Media Association and USC, which gives the nonprofit organization office space. “It’s also given us credibility,” Moran said.

The National Association of Minority Media Executives, headquartered in Vienna, Va., was formed in 1990. Its mission includes increasing diversity in the senior ranks of the media industry and providing executive development to members.

Other awards being presented include the Robert C. Maynard Legend Award, given posthumously to CBS News correspondent Ed Bradley and the Award of Valor to Prerna Mona Khanna, contributing medical editor for KTVT in Dallas/Fort Worth.

Previous winners of the NAMME Lifetime Achievement Award include photojournalist Gordon Parks, publisher John H. Johnson, television newsman Bernard Shaw, Chairman Sue Clark-Johnson of Phoenix Newspapers and Jay T. Harris, former publisher of the San Jose Mercury News and now a member of the USC Annenberg School faculty.

Gutierrez “has distinguished himself as a scholar in the academy” as well as through helping students, Harris said. The book that he wrote with Clint C. Wilson II (and later Lena M. Chao) in an edition now titled Racism, Sexism and the Media: The Rise of Class Communication in Multicultural America, is “one of the seminal texts in the field,” Harris added.

When Harris and Gutierrez first met, Harris was running recruiting programs at Northwestern and “Felix was running the California Chicano News Media Association and building bridges between the Latino community and jobs in the mainstream media. He was attracting young members of the Latino community to the possibility of an important life’s career in journalism.” His critique of media coverage of the Latino community helped make it “more balanced, fair and insightful.”

The discrimination that Gutierrez met “when he finished his training at Northwestern and sought to enter journalism” did not embitter him, Harris said. Rather, “he came away with a deep determination to ensure that what happened to him did not happen to others. That speaks to the quality of his character.”