Closing the Information Gap: McGraw-Hill Program Brings Financial News to Minority Communities

Apr 182011
  • Elizabeth Ostos at the New York Stock Exchange.

  • Xavier Serbia with participants of the McGraw-Hill Personal Finance Reporting Program.

  • Jose Melendrez created LaAlcancia.com, devoted to financial topics.

In the middle of the credit crisis last August, Elizabeth Ostos published a story in Mercado de Dinero, a Spanish-language financial news site, on how Latinos could best manage their mounting debt. “I received many positive messages from people who were able to reorganize their debt and consolidate loans,” Ostos says.

Ostos wrote the article "La consolidación de crédito en la era de un país endeudado" ("Credit Consolidation in a Country in Debt") as part of a six-week online course on personal finance journalism, run by the International Center for Journalists and sponsored by the McGraw-Hill Companies. Since 2007, the McGraw-Hill Personal Finance Reporting Program has trained more than 100 journalists from minority communities in the United States.

The program has had tremendous impact. "Frankly, a lot of the stories are better than what I’m seeing in personal finance publications, because these journalists are tackling real world, hard-hitting, current issues," says University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill business journalism professor Chris Roush, the English-language trainer in the program.

Ann-Marie Adams, for example, wrote a piece for The Hartford Guardian on the disproportionate number of African American and Latino borrowers facing foreclosure in Connecticut. Soon after her article ran, Bank of America Home Loans decided not to foreclose on the home of Liberian-American Yassah Wynne, the story’s subject. "The city and state have taken notice of our story," Adams says.

There is a huge gap in financial information for minority communities. "People want financial content, but there is no strong independent media outlet to provide information that is both relevant and free of conflict," says syndicated personal finance columnist Xavier Serbia, the Spanish-language trainer in the McGraw-Hill program. Serbia, a former program participant himself, recently became the host of a CNN Spanish program on financial matters. He credits the program for his success.

Univision reporter Rafael Cores, a McGraw-Hill program graduate, filled the gap by providing an informative guide to "remittances" – the billions sent to Latin America from Hispanic workers in the United States. The guide generated robust web traffic and plenty of user comments. “With this information I feel more secure sending money to my country,” wrote one reader.

Some participants are now working as financial reporters. Former El Sentinel reporter Enrique Flor had no experience covering personal finance before the course. As part of the program he published an article on free legal aid for those facing foreclosure, and people in the community began to call to tell him about their problems and give him ideas for stories. Now, Flor works at El Nuevo Herald and routinely covers financial issues for the Hispanic community. After he took the course, Jose Melendrez left Hoy, a Spanish-language New York daily, to launch LaAlcancia.com ("the piggybank"), a multimedia site devoted to financial topics from daily budgeting to investing.

The six-week online program culminates with a trip to New York. Top participants visit the New York Stock Exchange, leading economists and investment banks. The journalists with the best stories are also honored at a reception at The McGraw-Hill Cos.' headquarters. As part of the curriculum, ICFJ also created an interactive online tutorial called "Personal Finance Reporting: A Guide to Connecting with Hispanic Audiences" in Spanish and English. It offers financial reporting basics and resources on topics from the stock market to mortgages.