Satellite-television and radio industry leaders gathered for the ninth annual T. Howard Foundation dinner late last month, to raise money for college scholarships and summer internship programs designed to draw more women and people of color into the sector.
Attending the dinner — which this year honored MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston — were many of the 18 interns from last year's program. Marcus Rowe, a graduating senior from Dartmouth College, spoke about his hopes of running his own company, hopes that were inspired by his 12-week internship with Playboy Entertainment Group last summer.
T. Howard Foundation executive director Cynthia Dinkins gave a public welcome to EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen — who was absent from last year's fundraiser — and invited him to develop stronger ties to the nonprofit group.
When Dinkins announced a list of the 18 companies that had committed to 2002 summer internship programs with the foundation, EchoStar was not included.
But later that evening, according to Dinkins, Ergen committed to sponsoring two T. Howard interns this summer — one at the company's Denver headquarters, and another in its Washington, D.C., government-affairs office.
"Charlie shook hands on it," Dinkins said. "That was a great endorsement."
The National Action Network, a civil-rights group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, has criticized EchoStar for not placing enough of a focus on diversity in employment and programming.
Irving Information Group president Larry Irving, known for coining the term "digital divide," challenged media companies to take bigger steps towards making their employee base more diverse.
He asked employers to widen the pool of applicants, and give students at historically black universities, community colleges and city colleges an opportunity to join the industry.
"Hiring people who have some affinity with people of color will help everyone in this room," Irving said. Media-company executives are marketing services to people that they know nothing about, he said.
"If you can't find people of color, send me an e-mail and you'll have 200 resumes by the end of the week," Irving said.
Freston argued that MTV Networks is both successful and diverse.
"It's great to be in a company where top management makes diversity a priority for all the right reasons," Freston said, with a nod to Viacom Inc. chief operating officer Mel Karmazin and chairman Sumner Redstone, both of whom were in attendance.
"Diversity is simply good business," Freston said. "We're living proof that that is the case."