THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Adrian Walker

Translating the message

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / January 22, 2011

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The day of a snowstorm is a busy day in any governor’s press office, but Josiane Martinez wasn’t really watching the weather forecast yesterday afternoon. She was too busy trying to explain the nuances of state insurance policy to foreign-language journalists — and their readers and listeners.

Martinez, 35, holds a newly created post in the Patrick administration known, in a classic example of government-ese, as “director of specialized media.’’ Her job is actually long-overdue recognition that state government has a communications problem, especially when it comes to people whose first language is not English.

Simply put, the focus of the communications operation has always been placed on dealing with traditional outlets like, well, this one. But a large and growing community, dominated by immigrants, often uses other means to learn what their government is up to. Martinez’s job is to keep those overlooked communities in closer contact with Beacon Hill.

“I think there is a recognition that we really want to open government up to those markets,’’ said Alex Goldstein, the governor’s press secretary.

The bubbly Martinez is a natural choice for the job. She has worked as both a journalist and an activist, most recently for La Alianza Hispana, one of the city’s oldest Latino nonprofits. Her new role grew out of her work for Patrick’s reelection campaign, where she acted as a liaison to community groups and ethnic media.

Language is not the only barrier to covering government, and sometimes it isn’t the biggest one. Small publications simply do not have the staff to follow the governor around or to attend Beacon Hill press conferences on short notice. Acting as their liaison can include anything from translating press releases to delivering film or sound of events. Yesterday, Martinez was busily trying to translate a release on insurance for public employees for foreign-language media outlets.

“The idea is to meet these outlets where they are,’’ Martinez said. “We have to get the information to them in a way they can use.’’

This effort, of course, is not just about helping the media. It is about improving relationships with groups that make up a key part of Patrick’s constituency. It makes sense to strengthen ties, especially with a politically taxing fiscal crisis.

“It’s really important to explain decisions about the budget,’’ Goldstein said. “We need to make sure everyone is aware of what we’re doing.’’

While Patrick has been hugely popular among people of color — a point underscored by the support he has received in both of his campaigns — that does not mean that these communities have not, at times, felt neglected. Goldstein noted that Martinez’s position replaces a first-term office of “social media.’’ The Patrick administration has mastered how to release information online and how to speak the language of Facebook and Twitter. But a glaring weakness remained in how to communicate with people who do not get their news from the Globe, the Herald, or major television stations.

Whatever the motivation, ethnic media outlets welcome the new outreach, according to Manolia Charlotin, editor of the Boston Haitian Reporter. “We’re not the ones who are benefiting. It’s our readers and communities that are getting the respect they deserve.’’

Marcela Garcia, the editor of El Planeta, the city’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, said that her paper already enjoys good access to Patrick. Nevertheless, the new post will be welcome, and not just to Latino media. Before joining the government. Martinez was an occasional contributor to El Planeta. “I think this position is going to allow her to build bridges with different communities,’’ Garcia said.

The role is a natural extension of her work as an advocate, Martinez said. “I think it’s important for all of these communities to receive information on things that will affect their lives,’’ she said.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.