Declining minority representation in American newsrooms dominates discussion at convention of Hispanic journalists

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Charlie Ericksen

Hispanic Link News Service publisher Charlie Ericksen takes the microphone after being honored by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in San Antonio. Photo credit: Aaron Montes

SAN ANTONIO – The celebration of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ 30th anniversary was brought to a sobering pause last week when Hispanic Link News Service publisher Charlie Ericksen voiced his dissatisfaction with the progress mainstream media have made in diversifying the staffs of their newsrooms.

Hispanic journalists from all corners of the country made their way here to the NAHJ convention to celebrate its three decades of advocating for more minority participation in news media.

Much of the talk at the four-day NAHJ convention was on the diversification of newsrooms throughout the United States and that conversation became a strident argument.

During the convention’s final event – the Gala and Awards banquet – the association recognized news organizations that had “increased the visibility and accurate representation of Latinos in cable news,” including CNN, PBS, Buzzfeed and Fox News Latino.

Ericksen, 84, a founding member of NAHJ, was given a chance to speak when he was recognized for his lifetime of work in newsroom diversity.

He told the gathering that celebrating increased visibility and accurate representation of Latinos in the media by honoring a network such as Fox News was a “kind of a farce.” He also said that despite the organization’s 30 years of work on increasing newsroom diversity the number of Latinos in mainstream newsrooms has actually declined.

Newsroom gains lost in recent years

According to the 2014 ASNE newsroom minority survey, mainstream news media has lost 766 Hispanic news professionals since 2007, when the recession and disruption from online media sent legacy media profits tumbling. Put another way, the number of Hispanic news professionals has declined 32 percent during the last six years, or 2,403 in 2007 to 1,637 this year.

Over the last decade, the number of Latino journalists in legacy newsrooms has hovered between 4 percent and 4.5 percent of total newsroom staffs.

NewsroomMinorityChart.jpg

Source: ASNE.org

Due to the overall contraction of newsrooms, mainstream news outlets have lost 2500 journalists of color– Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans – since 2007 when they numbered 7400 ­ in the last six years, a decline of 34 percent.

Criticism brings scolding

NAHJ Past President Hugo Balta.

NAHJ Past President Hugo Balta.

Ericksen’s criticisms were not taken well by then acting NAHJ president Hugo Balta who earlier in the Gala evening had presented an award to Fox News Latino and other outlets and apologized for Ericksen’s statement. “I will not allow any of our guests to be singled out or be insulted in this way,” Balta said to Francisco Cortés, vice president of Fox News Latino. During the banquet, Cortés accepted the NAHJ award on behalf of Fox News Latino.

Balta said that Fox News Latino and the other outlets deserved their awards.

“They did not give awards to NAHJ members who achieved wonderful stories and assignments,” Ericksen said. “Instead they gave it to reporters who did not report on Hispanic issues clearly and accurately. Why award them when they continue to ignore and misrepresent the Hispanic community?”

Many NAHJ members applauded the Hispanic Link founder’s statements. One voice in the audience said that Ericksen was the only one with enough “ganas,” to tell the obvious truth.

Later, Ericksen said it was ridiculous for Balta to defend Fox and also praise himself and his administration. “I plan to propose to the new board that they set standards on whom they award for Hispanic community representation in their newsrooms,” Ericksen said.

Related link at Latino Rebels: Hugo Balta and Charlie Ericksen Debate NAHJ’s Award to Fox News Latino (FULL AUDIO)

According to a Pew Research Center report, journalists including reporters, anchors, photographers and editors of color have seen a decrease in numbers in media in the last two decades.

The report indicates that 40 percent of black journalists and 13 percent of Hispanic journalists have lost their jobs since the late 1990s.

MSNBC chief takes hot seat over diversity challenge

One day before Ericksen’s comment, Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s President apologized to the NAHJ membership during the convention for a Cinco de Mayo segment in the Way Too Early program hosted by Thomas Roberts.

Roberts had featured a man wearing a sombrero and taking swigs of tequila stumbling across the set. It is widely known that the holiday is celebrated mostly in the United States and not in Mexico. “I was horrified by it,” he said. “And, I never want that to happen again.”

NAHJ responded in outrage when the segment was aired and was quick to tell the news network that the segment was highly offensive.

Griffin participated in an open discussion with Alex Nogales, the President and CEO of National Hispanic Media Coalition, which was moderated by Univision’s news, anchors Enrique Acevedo. He later answered questions from NAHJ members who were mostly upset with the lack of representation of people of color in newsrooms.

Video: MSNBC President Phil Griffin tells NAHJ how Cinco de Mayo gaff changed him professionally and personally

Much work still to be done

In the Association’s 30-year existence it has seen only a small payoff for all its work. NAHJ members expressed the opinion that they are still engaged in an uphill battle that will continue until networks begin to hire more journalists of color, place them in their main newsrooms and not segregate them in “Latino” newsrooms.

Ericksen expressed the concern that until that happens the Hispanic community will continue to be misrepresented by the media. Nogales also pointed out that including Hispanics in newsrooms and in coverage and discussing Hispanic issues are profitable options that should be encouraged in a media industry that is suffering.

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  1. Roberto Perezdiaz
    Roberto Perezdiaz on

    The national news is a system dedicated to assimilation into the perceived national norme; local news is no exception. Submission is the price you pay for job security. It is an instrument of brainwashing sometimes not so subtle. Beware.

  2. Roberto Perezdiaz
    Roberto Perezdiaz on

    Hooray for Erickson and shame on Balta I guess Balta thinks if you lower the bar enough during his administration you will find somebody to honor with an award. If you’re in bed with the enemy you hate to be called out. Yeh, very embarrasing. NAHJ should set high agressive standards before giving a “seal of approval” to any news organization. It should also include “minimum” standards and publicly issue a list of those retrograde organizations even if no award at all is given at an annual convention and so state at an official news conference.

    It must include changing American public perception that Mexico ergo Mexicans can do nothing right. Americans (including journalists) believe that, therefore never look for any positive news.

    I presently have lived in Canada now going on two years where there is a lot of corruption public and private; gangs and drugs; increasing gun trafficking also. However, the American (US) coverage of events in Canada are always positive and Canada world wide comes off with a “squeaky clean” image. The 911 culprits entered from Canada but US seals off the border with Mexico.

    The conclusion is Canada can do no wrong; Mexico can do no right.

    In many indirect ways Canada does not even consider Mexico a part of continental North America thereby distancing itself from any association. Canada also discriminates Mexicans with its otherwise liberal immigration policy. Who reported on the recent meeting in Mexico between the three countries? Peña Nieto did not have what Erickson had, the “ganas” to publicly criticize Canada. He went into the meetings “hoping” the Canadians would eliminate the immigration barriers against Mexico. He could have threatened to retaliate agains the Canadian mining companies that are reaking havoc with the environment while his government looks the other way.

    NAHJ is myopic in many ways to focus almost exlusively on US news and US news agency objectives then whine and cry at each convention. NAHJ needs to step up to the challenge of anti-Mexican (yes I know, anti-Latino) sentiment in the US. Otherwise a brown face with a Spanish last name is merely a Spanish surnamed “Gringo.” There is a cultural war against us going on in this country that is being fought for us primarily by progressive Gringos (a shout out to them; they should get NAHJ recognition) while Latinos are showing timidity to save their jobs. Many journalists themselves actually apologize when identified as Mexican by quickly squirming into a category La Migra uses “ABM” (Anyone But Mexican). I actually heard this very denial on an NPR Latino USA interview. La Migra is actually more objective in its application of the term because the overwhelming majority of the detainees are Mexican. Millions of Mexicans (primarily) and immigrants from other Latin American countries are living in the US with and without documents. NAHJ should consider a point often lost at its convention and its mission that it fighting FOR us aw well as AGAINST the establishment media as to how we are represented in the US media. Mexican Americans resigned to assimilatio or willingly assimilating do not want to be reminded of the their Mexican heritage. The force of our future image is with those millions of hard working Latinos all across this nation. Get with it NAHJ.

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