Emil Guillermo: The shattered mirror of mainstream journalism, Cesar Chavez Day, plus more "Emil Amok"

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Illustration by Natalie Peeples/Axios

Over the last few years, I’ve taken my columns and turned them into springboards for my comic memoirs that I’ve taken to the stage.

The newest iteration of my live Amok monologues features a new story about my conversion therapy as a transdad.


See the show in New York City starting April 5. I'm donating a portion of the profits to AALDEF in honor of its 50th anniversary of service to the community.

I first began writing my weekly “Emil Amok” columns on Asian America in 1995 in Asian Week, at that time the largest English-language publication geared toward AAPIs in the U.S.

When that publication folded in 2010, I began writing my weekly amok columns here on the AALDEF website. And now it’s been almost the same amount of time at both places for a combined period of nearly 30 years.

I mention this simply to indicate how much journalism has changed in that time. The “ethnic media” was always separate from the mainstream, serving audiences that felt neglected by the white media. If you didn’t see your Black, Brown or Asian story, idea or thought reflected in places like The New York Times, you could always get it in the ethnic media.

But now as our country has grown more diverse, all media has taken the condition of the ethnic media.

The perfect mirror that I had hoped to see in mainstream media is becoming a pipe dream. Instead of trying to serve all, journalism has become fragmented, communicating to specific audiences that exist in “news bubbles.” At least that’s the latest take by Axios, which since its inception has dealt with the changes in journalism in its own way. It established a slightly more intellectual USA Today meets “Cliff Notes” style it brands as “smart brevity.”

But now, in our current divided America, diversity has proven to be too polarizing to create a mass audience that sustains mainstream media. Profits are smaller than greed demands.

Big Media is discovering that fragmenting into news silos is the only capitalistic thing to do. For its bread and butter, media is going for the niches among whites.

It’s an unfortunate turn because profit is now the arbiter of truth.

If there is no one set of facts that we as Americans can agree on, the news media will now gladly serve up whatever an audience wants, not what it needs to know. This is the mentality that gives us Fox, NewsMax, and One America. One is right, the other righter, the other righter still.

This is the new news environment for an algorithmic America.

It only seems worse in an election year because we now have narratives galore to choose from, all claiming to be truthier than the other.

And the truth can be customized just for your group because each demographic, organization, class, age, and religious sect will have its own news source that it prefers and relies on.

We are closer and closer to the day when yes, not only are you entitled to your own opinion, but you are also entitled to your own facts.

This is a detriment to journalism and our democracy. What’s true? We’ll just have to debate ‘til the death, I suppose. Maybe literally.

Mind you, this is reported news. I’m not talking about opinion, the analyzed facts that have always been separate from straight reporting. Now it’s all together.

This new journalistic landscape was not the diversity in news I imagined when I started in the biz in the ‘70s and went into the mainstream, first in radio, then TV, then newspapers.

I should have anticipated this change as I ultimately found my calling writing opinion columns on race matters, first in the mainstream, then in the ethnic media.

But as society has become more diverse, mainstream news media seems ripe for an “ethnic media” approach of its own.

“America is splintering into more than a dozen news bubbles based on ideology, wealth, jobs, age and location,” writes Axios today.

Notice Axios didn’t say “race.”

Because this is the breaking up of the white media into the new “white ethnic media.”

It’s the way Asian Americans have always seen the mainstream since we arrived in America and were forced to publish our own media, many times in our native tongues.

And now just as America has evolved, all of media and journalism seems to have changed differently than expected.

Too bad. The mainstream was once seen as our common ground. What Axios is saying is in an America where there is very little common ground, this is what news has become. What we thought we had in common through media is now “shattered into a bunch of misshapen pieces.”

I’m still holding out hope for mainstream media orgs that still value being the comprehensive source of truth, democracy’s perfect mirror.

But it seems I’m in the minority again.


I’m speaking in advance of Cesar Chavez Day in San Francisco at the Glen Park Rec Center (70 Elk St.) between noon and 1 pm on Tuesday, March 26th.

I have spent most of the last ten years reporting on Chavez’ union rival, the Filipino American labor leader Larry Itliong. Chavez was far from perfect, but he did know when to listen to Itliong and when to merge their very different approaches to move civil rights and labor rights forward. How they forged a union could serve as an example of how to find common ground in our divided America today. Itliong smoked cigars, drank, and was a meat eater. Chavez, a vegetarian and a meditator, was practically a saint. And yet they both needed each other to achieve social justice for Filipinos and Mexicans in the fields of California.

Vegetarian food will be served. And it’s all free.

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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on