To viewers of “CNN Headline News” or readers of Internet news sites, the story might sound or look like this:
“Census Bureau Reports Huge Rise in Hispanic Population”
“Hispanic Population Increases Faster Than Experts Predicted”
“Hispanics Challenge African Americans as the Nation’s Largest Minority Group”
A few facts later, as these bites of news are digested, more bullets of information rush to replace them. Yet, for reporters and editors, these nuggets of news aren’t the end of the story. Instead, they signal the beginning of an essential journey of discovery as journalists engage in the job they’re obliged to do—to help citizens understand changes taking place in their communities and country and provide information needed to make decisions about civic life.
How is this rapid increase in Hispanic American population affecting communities? What are the economic, social, cultural and educational benefits and hardships brought about by this significant demographic shift? Will the numbers and force of Hispanic voters alter the nation’s political landscape? The questions to be raised and stories to be told vary as greatly as do people portrayed by the word “Hispanic.” Such exploration and coverage is vital to our nation’s well-being as citizens grapple with finding ways to live and work in a country whose complexion and composition is changing so rapidly.
In this issue of Nieman Reports, we explore what this reporting journey into Hispanic America looks like from the perspective of journalists already on it. And for the first time in our 54-year history, Nieman Reports will publish a special edition in Spanish that will include all of this issue’s stories about Latinos and journalism. This Spanish-language edition (along with the Summer 2001 issue) will be given to those attending this year’s conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). What makes this dual effort possible is the editorial and linguistic assistance of Urban Latino Managing Editor, Juleyka Lantigua, and the translating skill of Amanda Cruz. We are grateful for their willingness to share their time and expertise with us.
Cecilia Alvear, a producer at NBC News, currently serving as NAHJ president, begins our coverage with an article that assesses what has been for Latino journalists and what can be when Latinos become integral members of newsrooms. Marie Arana, editor of The Washington Post’s Book World, and Rosa María Santana, a reporter at The (Cleveland, Ohio) Plain Dealer, share what they wrote and edited for NAHJ’s “Latinos in the United States: A Resource Guide for Journalists,” providing an historic overview of Latino migration and a glossary of words used—and misused—by journalists. Cindy Rodríguez, a Boston Globe reporter, describes the pressures of being the first or only Latino reporter in a newsroom. Freelance writer Antonio López finds it difficult to report on the complexity of Latino culture when editors already know “the story” they want to publish. Oscar Garza, editor of the Los Angeles Times daily Calendar section, describes the double-edged sword of expectations on which Latino journalists reside. Urban Latino magazine’s Managing Editor, Juleyka Lantigua, urges her peers to “seek out the good and the bad [in Latino communities]. And…be willing to own up to both.” For Carolina González, education reporter at the (New York) Daily News, her ability to speak Spanish helps, but it’s her fluency in the “language of cultural subtext” that allows her tell stories with accuracy and fairness.
Photographer Delilah Montoya focuses her camera on a cultural icon of her Chicano heritage and invites community members to create new images with it. Ray Suárez, senior correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, observes potential and paradox in the plight of Latino journalists. And Pilar Marrero, political editor for La Opinión, the nation’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, observes the thin line on which Latino reporters walk as they move between espousing a community’s perspective and covering political issues. Veteran journalist Evelyn Hernández, opinion page editor at el diario/La Prensa in New York City, describes why she decided to switch from an English-language newspaper to a Spanish-language one. “I don’t have to explain why it’s a story,” she writes. And journalist Antonio Mejías-Rentas, who has always worked in Spanish-language media, explains the difficulties of reporting in a language that many sources don’t speak.
María Elena Salinas, co-anchor of Univision’s nightly newscast, writes about her 20-year career in Spanish-language television. “We’re no longer considered low power, low budget, and low quality stations that nobody watches,” she says. CNN Urban Affairs correspondent María Hinojosa spoke with Juleyka Lantigua about her work for National Public Radio’s “Latino USA” and at CNN. She focuses on storytelling about the Latino experience. “Those are not Latino stories,” she observes. “They’re American stories.”
Frank del Olmo, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Times, describes the paper’s “Latino Initiative,” how it is reshaping coverage of that region’s Latino communities, and why these stories are published only in English. From Miami, the reader representative of The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald, Bárbara Gutiérrez, explains why The Miami Herald has a sister paper, published in Spanish, which covers and targets Latinos as a reading audience. And the Chicago Tribune’s associate managing editor for foreign and national news, George de Lama, urges Latino journalists to think strategically about their career choices. “We Latinos also owe it to ourselves and to our mission as journalists to look beyond that niche [of reporting on Latino issues] and expand our professional possibilities. …we need more Latino journalists in leadership positions.”
At the Evansville Courier & Press, the influx of Hispanic workers led the newspaper to assign reporter Rich Davis and photographer Denny Simmons to inform readers about the changes occurring in their region. They share their experiences from work on a six-day series titled “Hola, Amigos.”
We also feature the work of photographers Joseph Elizer Cordero, Pablo Figueroa, Chris Johnson, Vanessa López, and Alejandra Villa.