Latino Journalism Deserves Better

Newsrooms claim to want more diversity. So why do they keep shutting down Latino voices?

Melanie Pineda, Editor-at-Large

I grew up watching the news in Spanish. I would walk home to my abuelita’s after school every day, where Univision would constantly be playing in the background. Whenever a telenovela or courtroom show wasn’t on, the evening news would be. My — and just about every Latino’s — favorite anchor was Jorge Ramos.

Ramos, a pioneer in the journalism industry, has extensively covered Latino and immigration issues for more than 30 years. During his career, he has consistently blurred the lines between journalism and activism. He has been kicked out of press conferences by President Trump, was recently detained by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro while interviewing him on the country’s tense political climate and moderated the most recent Democratic debate in Spanish. All of this was for the sake of accurately portraying news for Latinos, from the perspective of a Latino.

Although journalism like Ramos’ is not common, U.S. news outlets are making it clearer just how insignificant they deem Latino journalism to be. Just a couple of weeks ago, The New York Times shut down their Spanish language site, NYT En Español, which catered specifically to a Latin American audience. The site was run in Mexico City and published original, Latino-led content every day. Many Latino journalists expressed their disappointment with the decision, calling it a great loss for Latino journalists and audiences alike.

The Times — one of the biggest news sources in the country — claimed in a statement that the site wasn’t making enough money. But the newspaper also reported earlier this year that they were on track to generate more than $709 million in digital revenue in 2019, a number that is expected to keep rising in 2020.

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This leaves the question of how there could not possibly be enough money in the Times’ budget for a site that brought them more than 80 million viewers, or if — like many other sources of minority journalism — the site was simply viewed as expendable.

In 1994, Hispanic journalists made up only 4% of both the television news workforce and directors. Now, more than 20 years later, they make up about 11% of the workforce, and 8% of news directors. These statistics are especially disheartening, as more minority journalists and news outlets centered around minorities are being laid off and shut down. Unfortunately, journalism like Ramos’ and NYT En Español is rare, even though accurate coverage of Latino issues is needed now more than ever.

As a Latina journalist, I am used to not seeing my face on the news — at least not in a positive way. When Latinos are actually given news coverage, it is more often than not linked to negative themes such as crime and “illegal immigration,” further perpetuating a false image that racist politicians like Trump encourage. I am used to going to Latino-run news sources in order to read content that I can actually relate to and that my family has access to. But for a site as influential as the Times to say content catered for me and others like me is not profitable is a slap in the face to all Latinos and journalists as a whole.

The Times claims that shutting down En Español will not affect their coverage of Latin America. But this statement in itself is contradictory — how could shutting down an entire Latin America-based team not affect Latin American coverage? It is blatantly obvious when a story centered on Latinos isn’t being told by a Latino team. A recent example of this is the graphic — and potentially triggering — coverage of the devastating story of a Salvadoran father and child who drowned attempting to cross the border into the United States this past summer.

While many of the reporters who covered the story are based in Latin America, articles on every major news outlet showed the uncensored image of the father and child dead in El Rio Grande, and almost all without so much as a content warning. While it is journalists’ job to share news and images that will evoke strong reactions from their audience, there is a line between truthful reporting and sensationalizing a marginalized group.

In their annual report on Latino news coverage, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists concluded that change in the decision-making process of news networks is needed in order for mainstream news to accurately represent Latino stories. It is hard to envision any newsroom with more than one Latino journalist or executive approving such a haunting image being shared without taking into consideration the very real traumatizing effect it could have on their Latino audiences.

I remember crying on the metro on my way to work when this story first broke. The horrifying image became ingrained into my mind for weeks on end. As the daughter of a Salvadoran immigrant, all that kept playing in my head was how easily that father and child could have been someone I knew, someone I loved, someone whose dead body was now on display for the whole world to see.

We need more teams of Latino journalists so that the misrepresentation and erasure of Latino news doesn’t continue to happen over and over again. The Times brands itself as a company committed to “fostering diverse staff that reflects the society we report on.” To shut down a site exclusively dedicated to the U.S.’s fastest-growing population not only goes directly against what the newspaper claims to stand for, but also sends a clear message of who is deciding what type of news coverage is worth fighting for.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 30, 2019 print edition. Email Melanie Pineda at [email protected]

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