Newsrooms should reflect the communities journalists serve

By Maria Marta Guzman

At a young age, I never struggled to answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” My response was always a ‘periodista’…a journalist.

My earliest memory of journalism was when I was 11 years old watching Univision’s 5:00 p.m. newscast alongside my mother coming home from a long day of work at a local factory.

I remember flipping to the Univision channel and watching Latino anchors like Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas delivering the latest stories of the Latino community.

These moments were the foundation of my passion and interest for journalism.

For me, the afternoon newscast was more than just watching the news. Rather it was feeling represented in the stories that were told by other Latino journalists that looked like me.

Through Ramos and Salinas, I saw 11-year-old immigrant Maria from Nicaragua be represented in the news.

Ten years later, as a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and president of DePaul’s NAHJ chapter, I’ve come to learn the value and importance of proper representation in the media — and not only for Latinos but for different ethnicities as well.

A 2020 research case from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) organization shows that Hispanic Latinos make up 10% of newsrooms, while Caucasians comprise 73.4%.

You might ask yourself why the Hispanic Latino representation in the media matters, and it matters because the Hispanic Latino population has developed to be the majority of the minority groups in the United States.

According to the 2020 U.S Census, the Hispanic Latino population was the second-largest racial or ethnic group in the country. The Hispanic Latino population is not only growing nationwide but also locally. The Chicago Tribune reported that the Hispanic Latino population in the city surpassed the Black population for the first time ever.

As journalists our duty is to report on the stories of our community and those living in it.

Therefore, if our communities are made of different voices coming from all nationalities and walks of life, should newsrooms not reflect that as well?

Yes, they should. Chicago is made up of Whites, Blacks or African Americans, Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders and Hispanic Latinos.

As the population and demography of the U.S. changes, so will the stories and newsrooms need to be ready for that change.

This year alone, a wide range of Latino centered stories have made headlines.

From the mass migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border to legal challenges in DACA and anti-government protests in Cuba, newsrooms ought to be ready to accurately cover these stories by proper portrayal.

Journalists should be capable of covering any story that can arise despite one’s background differences. But the reality is that many journalists don’t know how to accurately and properly cover stories of different communities and backgrounds.

For example, a non-Hispanic Latino English speaking reporter might not cover communities of color like Little Village, Pilsen, Belmont Cragin or Humboldt Park as thoroughly as a Hispanic Latino Spanish speaking reporter due to the language differences and cultural awareness.

Think about it this way, you are a news director at a local station sending a journalist out to cover the border crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

You have one non-Hispanic Latino English speaking reporter who knows the basic information occurring at the border crisis but does not speak the same language as the migrants at the border do— Spanish.

While, on the other hand you have a Hispanic Latino Spanish speaking reporter who does speak the same language as the migrants and knows the in-depth story and challenges the migrants are facing from experience.

Who would you send? Most likely you would send the Hispanic Latino Spanish speaking reporter with an in-depth knowledge of immigration.

It’s not to say that the English-speaking reporter is incapable of covering the border crisis, they probably are.

But it’s the Hispanic Latino Spanish speaking reporter who has the advantage of directly speaking to the migrants with no translators needed. It’s the Spanish speaking reporter who has the benefit of getting interviews with sources that other news stations are unable to get.

This is one of the many occurrences and examples why Hispanic Latino representation in newsrooms is needed and matters.

Journalism is a public service. Appropriate Hispanic Latino representation is needed in our newsroom not only because there is a lack of it, but because better story coverage is needed.


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