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LAT Pulitzer Prize Winner Readying Hybrid Latino Database

When journalist-turned-marketing-executive Robert Montemayor was first referred by a friend to the dean of Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information to discuss a possible teaching position, he quickly realized that Jorge Reina Schement was once on his LA Times list of go-to academic sources. Now, several years after joining the faculty in 2008, Montemayor and Schement are preparing to launch the Latino Information Network at Rutgers (LIN@R). It is a database that in all likelihood will become a trusted source for a new generation of newspaper reporters.

“There are a lot of statistics floating out into the marketplace these days about Hispanics in the United Statics,” Montemayor (pictured) tells FishbowlLA via telephone. “I read these stories and a lot of them are, unfortunately, alarmist reporting. The numbers, the numbers, it’s always about the numbers.”

“Our goal in short strokes is really to tell the story behind the numbers,” he continues. “We have all these Latino experts around the country who certainly have the ability to explain sociologically, anthropologically, politically or educationally, why these numbers are the numbers that they are. I think that’s what’s missing.”

Montemayor jokes that his decision to leave the LA Times in 1984 after being part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team for Meritorious Public Service was sort of like Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at-bat. Convinced by a former mentor to earn his MBA, he did so at UCLA and then went on to work in the circulation and marketing department at Dow Jones. As such, he presided over launch of WSJ.com.

“The idea of putting Wall Street Journal content behind a paywall was very controversial,” Montemayor recalls. “In the marketing department, there were many discussions about whether we should or shouldn’t, quantity vs. quality vs. monetization. In retrospect of course, the newspaper business has been trying to replicate what WSJ.com has done.”

“In fact, years later, when I came back to Dow Jones [from 2006 to 2008], Rupert Murdoch had the idea of de-monetizing it and opening it up to everybody,” he continues. “Until we told him, ‘This thing is pulling down $100 million a year. Why do you want to step away from that?’”

There have also been stints for Montemayor with Business Week, McGraw-Hill, Billboard and his own consulting operation. As he edges towards a planned September launch for the Latino Information Network, anchored to 25 IUPLR-member universities across the country including UCLA, USC and several UC sites, he is most excited about the application’s hybrid foundation.

“Dean Schement and I said, ‘OK, let’s see if we can take some of this academic jargon and turn it into lay terms, explain it to journalists,” says Montemayor. “A lot of great stuff is being studied, but sometimes – as you might expect – it’s hard to read. It’s an academic language unto itself.”

“We want to try and put a new face on the data. It’s a database, but we’re going to create a website that will allow us to have this platform where we can basically do a hybrid kind of journalism along with academic treatises.”

Montemayor adds that the bigger play is to eventually get a portion of the 30 million U.S. Hispanics currently online to use the application. As well as members of another very logical demographic.

“Certainly part of the target audience is policy makers, as we’d like to also put this information in their hands,” he says. “When it comes to issues, whether it’s poverty or health care or education, before they make a decision, they should be informed about what impact their legislation might have. We have a wonderful opportunity here. It’s a concept that we want to see come alive, and to be very honest, it took a long time to get this hybrid approved.”

[Photo credit: Lauria Santiago]

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