EL PASO — Patricio Espinoza and other journalists have been facing a storm: a change in media and an economic depression that has left thousands without jobs. According to unityjournalists.org, at least 33,623 journalists have lost their jobs since September 15, 2008.
Espinoza, who was the chief investigative reporter for Univision in Houston, TX, was let go in 2005. His investigative unit, “En Su Defensa,” tripled the station’s ratings, received 10 Emmy nominations and won four Emmys. However, the need for budget cuts also meant cutting the unit.
“Univision went up for sale, and they needed to present a company that was good financially so they cut 25 percent of the work force, and unfortunately one of the units that was eliminated was the investigative unit,” Espinoza said. “As an investigative unit, even though we were able to deliver three or four stories a week, we couldn’t deliver two or three stories a day because [the investigative pieces] require more time and dedication.”
Although Espinoza lost his job, he said he is more concerned with the effects that losing the unit had on the community. “When there are cuts in the Spanish Language networks, they are not just cutting jobs or news sources they are actually cutting channels of information for the community,” Espinoza said. “In English if they let a few journalists go from a newspaper or a news station there are still three other stations you can watch and there is still a newspaper that is being published. In Spanish, that does not happen. If your local station cancels their local news or if the local Spanish newspaper stops production, that community doesn’t have another option.”
There are two Spanish Language networks in the United States that provide local news, Univision and Telemundo. However, in 2006, NBC Telemundo announced it would close down several local stations and instead broadcast news from a regional bureau. The Fort Worth, TX hub would service audiences in San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, Texas as well as Arizona, and the west coast.
In 2006, Univision was sold to a group of investors for $12.3 billion, according to the Associated Press. “When Univision made those changes a lot of journalists with a lot of experience were let go and were replaced with journalists that didn’t have a lot of experience because they cost less,” Espinoza said. “Telemundo did the same but they went even further. They didn’t just let journalists go, they also canceled the local news. Unfortunately our community doesn’t seem to have that strong of a voice to be able to challenge some of these decisions. If that were to happen in English I think there would be uproar.”
Video: “Ylse” Unapologetically Latina! by Patricio Espinoza
English Language journalists have also been affected. Roy Ortega, who worked for the El Paso Times in El Paso, TX for 10 years, was let go in March 2009.
“Newspapers are contracting. The circulation levels have gone down dramatically in the last few years because people are accessing their news, not necessarily form newspapers, but online and other digital sources,” Ortega said. “When my position was eliminated, I fully understood it. I was in the unfortunate category of one who was at the higher end of the pay scale. They are trying to save money and regardless of the level of experience that one might have if you happen to achieve a certain income level at that organization, you are going to be the first one to be targeted for elimination.”
In addition to the economic depression facing the nation, Ortega said the shift in media has caused many journalists to lose their jobs because it causes circulation numbers or viewership to decline, which then leads to less advertising money.
“We are seeing these massive shifts in the way people are accessing their news and information and where they are getting that news and information from,” Ortega said. “It is probably the biggest change we have seen since the color television came about in the 1950s.”
Ortega, who went to the El Paso Times in 2000 from a news station, was a business reporter for a year and a half before he says the newspaper began realizing they needed to make changes to keep up with the technology.
“Newspapers began building into developing their websites, recognizing that a lot of people were soon going to be accessing most, if not all their news and information online. The El Paso Times, which was owned by Gannet at the time, dove first into that world,” Ortega said. “I was part of helping develop the website and making sure that the elements on the webpage were strong journalistically and that we were going to provide as much as news as we could on the Internet. “
According to The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, in 2008 40% of people get their news about national and international issues from the Internet, compared to 35% who get their news from newspapers. However, for people younger than 30 the Internet is the main source of news. 59% of young Americans say they get their news online.
“In the eyes of a lot of people there is no point to go out and buy a newspaper or subscribe to a newspaper and pay for the news when you can get just about anything that’s in the newspaper and more if you go online,” Ortega said. “Young people in particular are not inclined to go out and purchase the newspaper, so as a consequence you end up with a lot lower circulation levels. Newspapers are doing everything they can to try and stem that erosion.”
Kevin Olivas, NAHJ Parity Project Director, also believes the means in which people are getting their news has severely affected journalists, particularly in traditional media outlets such as newspapers, television and radio stations.
“Several newspapers have severally cut the number of employees working in their newsrooms. At Least, three traditional English Language Newspapers have either ceased print productions or completely gone out of business,” Olivas said. “The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, which was one of our most successful partners, ceased operations after almost 150 years in business in February this year. That paper was founded even before Colorado became a state.”
Although many traditional journalists have lost their jobs, the shift in media has brought with it new tools such as social networking, websites, and blogs. Espinoza believes these new tools are beneficial to journalists who learn to use them. Espinoza’s reports on Hurricane Ike in 2008 were broadcasted on his webpage, which he started as a hobby. The reports earned him a 2009 Emmy for Advanced Media, beating out several major networks.
“It was just me and camera shooting the stories but they went online immediately,” Espinoza said. “I had an opportunity to do live reports, but I didn’t need to use $500 thousand satellite truck. That is a clear example of today’s new digital media world. One journalist can do and compete with a whole media conglomerate.”
Espinoza and Ortega believe that journalists need to learn how to use the new technology and adapt to the changes in the media. “You might as well quit today, if you are not willing to learn the new tools. There is no future for you,” Espinoza said. “Many journalists look at things like Twitter and Youtube and dismiss it as horrible content and videos. There is a lot of bad content, but if a journalist takes his or her experience as a journalist and uses the new tools, you can do wonderful things, like reporting on hurricane Ike with one laptop and one camera and win an Emmy.”
Ortega said that although there are many new tools that journalists can use, the need for good writing and reporting will never change. Espinoza agrees.
“You have these great tools but the tools are only as good as the person who uses them. Technology and the way a story is told may be changing but the values of journalism remain the same,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza said the change in media has also shifted the way journalists do their work. “In a way, it is making journalists go back to basics and go back to what we were supposed to be doing to begin with, which is serve our communities. That’s why we have many local journalism efforts that have started. Many journalists that have lost their jobs have started local publication, he said. “While journalists have been deeply affected by all these cuts, at the same time it is an opportunity for journalists and the media to find new ways to connect with our community.”
Although Espinoza has not been able to generate a steady income off his website, he said he will continue to do his job as a journalist and encourages other journalist to do the same.
“I really believe in what I do. I believe in being a journalist and in making a difference. To me it’s something that is in my blood,” he said. “If you are truly committed to your craft and you lost your job yesterday or today or are going to lose your job tomorrow, don’t give up. You don’t need a TV station or a newspaper to do journalism. You can do it on your own.”
Video: Adapting Journalism New Newsroom Ecology by Jannet Walsh
Mr. Roy Ortega now writes for NewsPaperTree.com.