I remember when I was a young girl dreaming about being a reporter, I used to pretend to be Rachel from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” because she was the only reporter I knew of. As I grew up, though, and began scouring bylines looking for Latino voices, I realized that I may as well still look up to Rachel, because the number of Latino journalists out there was few and far between.
And although more than 20 years have passed since I was running around pretending to be a pretend journalist, not much has changed if you consider newsroom diversity.
News Taco emerged in a large part due to the dearth of Latino journalists, Latino perspective or Latino reportage available in the mainstream media. And, based on the rapid growth and enthusiastic response from our readership, it seems we’re really onto something.
It’s gotten so bad, actually, that in January a bunch of online organizations — major ones like AOL, Salon, TPM, Yahoo and HuffPo — refused to complete a survey of newsroom diversity. The only window into this world were some staff photos from HuffPo, which showed almost no people of color. When I was laid off from my corporate journalism gig, there were several other Spanish speaking Latinos who went with me, so it’s no wonder that the American Society of Newspaper Editors reports that racial and ethnic minorities account for less than 13% of newsroom employees.
Note, that’s employees, not reporters.
So you might ask yourself, why does this matter? Isn’t the news just the news and so it doesn’t matter who reports it? Well, the truth is, it’s not that simple. News is generated by people, and people search for news based on their experience of the world. For example, I read somewhere once that the vast majority of people quoted in the media tend to be white because interviews often take place over the phone.
If you’re sitting in an office all day waiting for the phone to ring, it’s likely that other people sitting in their offices calling you are white. In a world where 1 in 6 of us are Latino, how do you get those Latino voices into the paper when, institutionally, they have not had access to jobs, promotion, marketing, education and a myriad of other resources to help them appear in the media?
And what about people who don’t speak English? People who work from home? People doing advocacy or important work in their communities without a spokesperson? I can tell you from experience that sometimes the best stories happen when you’re having a casual conversation with someone face-to-face, which in my experience is a context much more comfortable for most people, than when you’re waiting by the phone for a spokesperson to call you back with a canned response.
Including Latinos as creators of news is not just a “feel good” gesture that looks dandy on the diversity literature for your particular corporation. It’s much more important than that. Fox has launched a Latino news machine, as has The Huffington Post, and Univisión is set to launch an English service as well. Are all of these sites doing this work because they want to please some invisible PC police, or do they want to make money, to be relevant in the future, to sustain the business model that employs so many people?
Unfortunately, the most important part — the hiring and core inclusion of Latinos as reporters and creators of news — seems to be the last thing they consider as they fight for their own futures as our news outlets.
Follow Sara Inés Calderón on Twitter @SaraChicaD.
[Incidentally, News Taco is looking for an intern, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.]
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