In May, the Latinx journalism community celebrated Rolling Stone’s first cover story that was written and photographed by Latina journalists. Suzy Exposito, the magazine’s Latin music editor, wrote the article about Grammy-nominated singer Bad Bunny, and the musician’s girlfriend, Gabriela Berlingeri, shot the photos with an iPhone.
It only took half a century for this milestone to happen though. In her interview with Latina to Latina host Alicia Menendez, Exposito mentioned why it became important for Berlingeri to be the first Latina to shoot the cover photo. “Most of the people who shoot covers, and it’s not just at Rolling Stone, but it’s across the board in print journalism, most of them are men,” Exposito said in the Latina to Latina podcast. “And like, I think it’s amazing in a way how this worked out.”
The conversation about lack of diversity in media came to a head after people gathered across the world to protest the murder of George Floyd, one of the many Black men who died while in police custody. The recent uprising even provoked journalists of color (JOC) in media to speak publicly about the inequality they’ve faced inside the newsroom. Andrea González-Ramírez shared about the income disparity at Refinery29, and Alex Zaragoza talked about the toxic workplace she experienced at Remezcla.
“I think that’s a huge shift because we (as journalists) are not supposed to be news,” Tanzina Vega, host of WNYC’s The Takeaway show, said in a recent phone interview with Luz Collective. “We’re supposed to report on the news. To me, to see Black journalists and other journalists of color talking publicly and openly and in detail about the things that they’ve dealt with is a real shift.”
In The Takeaway, Vega covers race, media diversity and inequality in the U.S., centering the show on the three gaps in society: the wealth gap, the empathy gap and the truth gap.
“We’re talking about a lot of these issues because they’ve been forced into our consciousness whether we like it or not,” Vega said to Luz Collective. “That’s important, but this has to be consistent throughout. We’ve reached the breaking point here in this country.”
Why Diversity in Media is Important
Diversity and inclusion in media and journalism has always been an ongoing issue. According to The American Society of News Editors (ASNE), Latinx people made up less than 7% of the overall staff in 2018 with Latina journalists making up a mere 3.22%. There were less than 6% Latinos in leadership roles with Latinas filling almost 2.75%.
Los Angeles Times reporter Esmeralda Bermudez tweeted the newsroom diversity statistics that her bosses released. Out of the 502 journalists on staff, there are 194 journalists of color (JOCs) with 65 of them being Latinx.
An NPR article mentions that Bermudez repeatedly provided lists of 40 to 50 potential Latinx hires for editorial and leadership roles, but from what she knows is that only one was brought in for an interview and not hired. She participated in a recent digital town hall with her co-workers and bosses about racism, inclusiveness and diversity in journalism that lasted four hours and 30 minutes. Several Black journalists from the LA Times held a social media protest sharing their experiences at the newspaper with the hashtag #BlackatLAT. The newspaper has since moved to settle a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by six Black, Hispanic and female journalists contending that the “under-representation of people of color there is a result of longstanding discriminatory pay practices.”
Newsroom leadership is something that Vega thinks has a long way to go in terms of reflecting the diversity of this country. “I don’t see the leadership looking like that,” said Vega. “I think that’s the biggest challenge that remains because that’s really where the decisions are made. They’re made at the executive level. They’re made at the editor level. That’s another place that we need to see more change.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was one of the many JOCs who tweeted her disappointment after The New York Times ran an op-ed by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton that called for an increase in military force during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
NYT Opinions Editor James Bennet took to Twitter to explain why they ran the piece, stating they owe it to the readers to provide counter-arguments, but the newspaper later added an editors’ note in the article admitting faults in the editing process. Bennet has since resigned.
In its 2019 media diversity and inclusion report that was released before Cotton’s editorial, NYT noted that there was an increase in POCs driven by diversifying its new hires. Forty-three percent of those new hires are POCs, but 32% of their entire staff were POCs with 21% in leadership roles. There was a slight increase in Black and African-American reporters from 8% to 9%, but the Latino reporters remained the same at 5%.
NPR’s diversity shows a similar trend with JOCs making over 28% of the staff in 2019, but there was a slight decrease from 8.1% to 7.7% with the number of Latinx journalists in the past year. NPR reported that the actual number of Latinx employees stayed even at 32 and that this was the result of Latinx employees leaving.
There are new initiatives that provide education and funds to develop young JOCs. The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting Fellowship Program provides in-depth training on investigative reporting. San Antonio-based writer Shea Serrano partnered with the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists to set up a scholarship fund for Latinx students interested in pursuing a career in publishing or journalism.
Vega said the most visible way to see the change in the media diversity is by seeing who is reporting on camera. She has started to see that as more journalists of color s cover some of the larger national beats like the White House. She thinks JOCs should be encouraged to follow all types of reporting. “We are capable of handling complex beats and stories if we are given the opportunity to do that,” said Vega. “Really that’s what this is about. It’s about being given the opportunity and being given the support that’s needed to do that.”
Vega thinks the media industry will start to see more change as these public conversations continue. “I do think that people being more open about what they’ve experienced also shows that again as journalists, we’re not experiencing this in a vacuum. Many of us have similar stories that we shared amongst ourselves, but bringing those to light is also changing the conversation.”
Updated November 16, 2020
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