Escobar has transformed CNN’s group of on-air reporters to one of the most diverse and bi-cultural in the business, reaching nearly 40% in 2018. And he’s invested countless hours in training the next generation of journalists to take over where he leaves off. The ever-shortening news cycle continues to be the biggest challenge he and his mentees face on a daily basis. “The proliferation of social media now allows unvetted, unconfirmed information to flow across media platforms like flood waters,” Escobar says. “Never before have we been so challenged in separating fact from fiction.”
A February 2018 UCLA study revealed that of the 45 new scripted shows approved for 2017-18 across broadcast, cable and digital platforms, only four were from creators of color, all of whom were black. What is your reaction to this report?
As an industry we clearly still have so much work to do. The “old school” Hollywood ways are still alive and well. It takes purposeful disruption to break through many of the institutional barriers that have kept out producers, show-runners, directors, writers and actors of color. The good news is those companies who chose purposeful disruption will reap the huge rewards of not just critical and artistic success but commercial success at the box office or TV ratings.
What’s a recent example of a step forward for diversity in the industry?
The success of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther” continues to underscore that diversity & Inclusion is simply good business. Statistic after statistic have made the case. So I believe increasingly the “business case” argument is now understood. That’s a big win and step forward! But now comes the hard part, what to do? As most companies have now accepted the business case, the next step is: You need a strategy, a plan. That’s where so many companies don’t have a clue. Literally they are in the “now what?” stage. They view the landscape as a field of landmines. And rather than risk a misstep they take NO steps. We need to show these companies the way forward!
In what areas should the industry step up its efforts with regard to diversity and inclusion?
Diversity & Inclusion must become a “core value” of company’s in our industry if we want it to be taken seriously. It must come from the top. Furthermore, it should be a metric measured in leaders’ performance reviews and it should be incentivized and be part of leaders’ incentive/bonus pay. We also need a STEM-like initiative to encourage, inspire, recruit and fund young people of color to pursue careers in the creative industry of Journalism, Digital, TV & Film.
What’s your best advice to someone just entering the video content/distribution industry?
Passion, resilience and optimism—in an industry facing transformational change and constant upheaval some days that’s all we have.
What’s been the most dramatic change in your sector of the business today vs. three years ago?
In the journalism profession the news cycle is now the shortest it’s ever been. One giant story can be replaced by another within minutes now. Given this new metabolism, our fundamental principles of journalism are being tested. “The proliferation of social media now allows unvetted, unconfirmed information to flow across media platforms like flood waters. Never before have we been so challenged in separating fact from fiction.