Diversifying online journalism is the next frontier

BuzzFeed Latino editor Adrian Carrasquillo addresses 2014 NAHJ conference-goers in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Adrian Carrasquillo)

BuzzFeed Latino editor Adrian Carrasquillo addresses 2014 NAHJ conference-goers in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Adrian Carrasquillo)

By Dennis Romero:

The lack of diversity in the online journalism world has often dodged criticism by minority journalism groups focused on traditional broadcast outlets and dead-tree media. But, to be sure, it is a serious issue that has been ignored for far too long.

We should be pleased that BuzzFeed, one of online journalism’s shining stars, has announced to the world that it is making the diversity of its workforce a priority.

The operation noted that its editorial staff is about 10 percent Latino, and it’s clear that this percentage is only going to increase.

BuzzFeed Latino editor Adrian Carrasquillo, who is based in New York, said this was not a flash-in-the-pan move to get some quick hits from America’s growing audience. His employer sees the writing on the wall: Latinos already comprise California’s largest ethnic group, and the United States could be a so-called majority-minority by 2050.

It’s a business decision, Carrasquillo said. Editor Ben Smith said the number of Latinos in BuzzFeed’s younger-leaning audience was huge. His publication needs to speak to its audience, or the effort is futile, he indicated.

At CCNMA, we hope news organizations like Yahoo News, Google News, the Daily Beast, TMZ and even trade publications like the Hollywood Reporter and Variety get the message and follow Buzzfeed’s lead.

It’s time to reflect your community — particularly if your operations are based in California and, more importantly, in Los Angeles, where half of your potential audience is Latino.

Dennis Romero is a CCNMA board member and news writer at LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @dennisjromero.

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Latino pipeline to journalism, liberal arts drying up

By Joe Rodriguez:

(Photo by Kelly Chang // Mosaic Staff Photographer)

(Photo by Kelly Chang // Mosaic Staff Photographer)

Every new year should ring in lofty goals, not a sense of dread. But that’s how its been lately for a high school journalism program I help run in San Jose. We mail dozens of application packets to local high schools, visit classrooms in person, and beg journalism advisors to press talented students to apply. Every year it’s the same: We’re lucky if only a handful of Latino students turn in applications.

The Latino pipeline to journalism is drying up in high school and we can’t blame it solely all on campus journalism cuts or teaching to the test. I thought we were just bad recruiters until I spoke with two Latino professors at San Jose State University who see the same problem from another vantage point — fewer and fewer Latino students are majoring in the liberal arts or humanities.

“I can count on one hand the number of Latino English majors in my seven years here,” said Associate Prof. Magdalena Barrera, who teaches Mexican-American studies.

“I think they have a lot of pressure on them to major in something that is more practical, like business or engineering. They’re asking themselves, ‘What can I do with this degree?’”

Only 6 percent of Latino college students major in the humanities, Barrera said. That should raise a red flag for journalism because quite a few liberal arts and humanities graduates become professional journalists. With a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, I’m one of them.

The irony is that the Latino flight from the liberal arts is happening just as more Hispanics enter college. According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanic enrollment among 18 to 24 year olds at four-year colleges increased 20 percent from October 2010 (1.0 million) to October 2011 (1.2 million).

Carlos Sanchez is one of only four, tenured Latino philosophy professors in the United States. Every chance he gets, he talks up philosophy to Latino students at academic conferences and informal gatherings. He said they usually respond first with “puzzled looks.” Funny, I get the same looks when I visit high schools to talk about the wonderful world of journalism. Still, Sanchez soldiers on.

“I can say my batting average is .300,” he said, using a baseball metaphor for success in hitting. “I can tell you right off the bat that what you’re seeing is a symptom of something more menacing for Latino students in general.”

Now, journalists don’t usually look to philosophers to explain the news. Instead, we favor social and political scientists who churn out gobs of research numbers. But in the case of the endangered, young Latino journalist, I think Sanchez is onto something. Family hardships and economic anxiety don’t fully explain the flight of Latino students away from liberal arts (and, I would add, journalism). He sees something insidious — a modern, technological culture that values superficial information and snap judgement.

With the Mosaic Journalism Workshop, we thought we could make up for the slaughter of journalism programs in Latino and minority high schools by offering a high-quality, intensive summer program. Students don’t pay a dime. And it works.

Some 400 students have passed through Mosaic since its start in 1993. Our follow-up surveys show 14 percent of our alumni have become professional journalists. About 30 percent entered related fields that emphasize writing and communication, including public relations and teaching. Considering that we’re working with 16 and 17 year olds, that’s a pretty good success rate.

We knew going in that finding young Latino journalists for Mosaic was never going to be easy. Of the 11 public high schools in East San Jose, the Latino heart of Silicon Valley, most have skimpy journalism programs or none at all.

I remember a deflating visit to a journalism class at San Jose High School, the alma mater of Rigo Chacon, the dean of Latino broadcast journalists in the Bay Area, past CCNMA honoree and member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame. The school today is predominantly Latino and working class. There were a few Latino students in the class but none were interested in Mosaic. For them, journalism was a “forced elective,’’ something to fulfill a graduation requirement. The instructor told me only one student was genuinely interested, an Indo-American girl.

So, we’ve resorted to asking English departments and yearbook staffs for good writers and photographers. That’s not working, either. After two decades, less than half of Mosaic participants have been Latino students, our target group, and they’re becoming more difficult to recruit.

Sanchez agrees that Latino students are bending to family pressure and economic anxiety to make “practical” career choices, but he thinks they’re deciding too early in high school and increasingly under intense peer pressure unleashed by today’s social media.

“Contemporary culture values the speed and quickness of information and the lack of attention otherwise necessary for contemplation, reflection, and well-thought out ideas that we’re used to in journalism and in the humanities,” Sanchez said. “Students, especially Latino students, who have witnessed the struggles of their parents and community, buy into the speed-apparatus and come to believe that their problems and crises will go away if they employ quick strategies for success–business degrees, engineering.”

One reason Hispanic students don’t take courses on Plato, he said, is because they check first with Twitter or Facebook and learn that their peers aren’t interested in Plato.

“So long as we don’t show them that journalism, philosophy, humanities are paths to success, and that success can be measured in many different ways besides who has the most followers, or the most money, then they will not major in them,” Sanchez said. “They will not spend the time, which seems to always be going faster and faster, in pace with material progress.”

Of course, today’s journalism can be equally wired, speedy and superficial. But Sanchez was talking about journalism at its best, when reporters are the first to get the news, sort through the confusing details or lies, and deliver the truth in a timely fashion. That doesn’t take long contemplation, but it does take critical thinking and good writing.

He said he’s not sure how to get Latino kids interested in Plato again, or Mexican-American studies or journalism, but it has to begin in high school or earlier.

CCNMA and a host of other minority journalism groups give away tens of thousands of dollars in college scholarships every year. But we have to ask ourselves what happens when fewer young Latinos apply for those scholarships? We could sit back and watch high-tech steal our best young writers, even if they aren’t cut out for writing code, and simply reward the few Latino students who manage to stick with journalism.

Saving journalism education in predominantly Latino schools will be much harder and more expensive than giving out scholarships. Still, there will be fewer Latinos seeking journalism as a career in college if we don’t offer those scholarships and programs, and the dream of having American newsrooms that actually reflect the makeup of this nation will become just a pipe dream.

— Joe Rodriguez is the CCNMA vice president for education and a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News.

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From homelessness to the ESPN newsroom: Latina talks about the importance of education


Charlene Riofrio with the NBA Championship Trophy. (Photo courtesy of Charlene Riofrio.)

By Charlene Riofrio:

On January 17, 1994, the Northridge Earthquake changed my life. My twin sister and I were sleeping together next to our parents’ bed in the one-bedroom apartment that we shared in Reseda, California.

Around 4:30 a.m., a 6.7-magnitude temblor woke us up by knocking a bureau onto our parents’ bed, nearly hitting their legs. A few minutes after we made it to safety, our apartment building collapsed. We had each other, but we had nowhere to go.

Our only option after that devastating experience was to sleep on the grass of our neighborhood’s local park, which went from being my playground to being my home. Eventually, we were able to find a temporary place to live, a friend’s garage.  For several months, the four of us slept on a concrete floor until we could afford a new home.  Throughout our time of adversity, my parents constantly reminded me, “When you least expect it, someone or something can take away your personal belongings like the earthquake did.  But no one can ever take away your education.”

As the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants with a high school education, I learned to value the constant sacrifices they made to provide my sister and me with a private Catholic education.

After school, I would help my mother clean houses. The money went to my tuition and my parents’ citizen applications. When I finished sweeping the kitchens, my mother would have me study a new set of multiplication tables and read an article from National Geographic. I would then give her a written and oral summary of what I learned.  At the same time, I helped my parents prepare for their citizenship exams.  For months, I tested them in Spanish and helped them pronounce the answers in English.

Eventually, I realized that my mother did not understand the many articles she had me read. Neither of my parents knew what the answers to those 100 citizenship questions meant, unless I translated them.  This realization fueled my desire to not only educate myself and my family, but also others as well.  In college,  I discovered the perfect medium to do this: television journalism.

Television has played a pivotal role in my life since high school, when I landed my first internship at CNN. Television became my passion, but it was during my junior year at the University of Southern California that I first realized the lack of news stories about the Latino community covered by the student-run news station.

I decided to write, produce, and edit a story about Day Laborers, an issue that I only saw being covered by local Spanish news stations.  At six o’clock every morning for two weeks, I interviewed “Jornaleros” at a Home Depot in Los Angeles.  They were waiting for their raffle tickets to be called.  The first 10 called were the hired by drive-by-contractors to do anything from demolition to building stone fences, to gardening.  I learned that the majority of them had been at the center for weeks and had only found temporary work lasting three to four days.  For the short time they worked, many were underpaid, cheated of pay and abused.

I realized that many undocumented immigrants, including my mother, never defended themselves out of fear that they would be deported.  This experience rooted my commitment to effect some change in my community.

As a first generation college graduate, and former CCNMA scholarship recipient, I think it’s my social responsibility to dedicate some of my free time to mentoring Latinos that aspire to end their family history of lack of education.  I mentor students at Boys and Girls Clubs and at inner city high schools.  I guide them on how to fill out their college application, and I participate in workshops that explain to them how to apply for college scholarships, financial aid, etc.

Similarly, CCNMA was extremely helpful to me when I was in college.  I remember attending their job fair each year and learning how to make myself marketable when applying for a job in television journalism straight out of college.

I’m thankful for the mentors that I gained throughout my participation in CCNMA. If it weren’t for their guidance, I wouldn’t be working at ESPN with their international on-air promotions team.

Getting an education is what will define you in society and what will cause doors to open for you.  I have the responsibility to do for others what my parents did for me. I am not able to change my parents’ education, but I can help others who are unable to see that a better future is possible. Because when the world shakes apart, education is the key to putting it back together.  ¡Si se puede!

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Tips for landing and getting the most out of your next internship

Alex Corey, second to the left, participates in Chips Quinn training in Nashville.

This past summer I had the opportunity to intern as a general assignment reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada. I wrote 30 stories over 10 weeks on a span of topics from business to crime to politics. Two made the front page.

I think a lot of the success this past summer came from having learned from my mistakes at previous internships. Here’s what I learned:

Getting the internship

I landed my paid internship through a program started by NAHJ-Nevada. A professor told me to apply for it and wrote me a letter of recommendation. It’s worth noting that I had done a good job in that professor’s class, so she remembered me when this opportunity came up. Just another reason to do well in class.

There are paid internship opportunities out there, but you need to seek them out. Websites like are a start. Your college or journalism department might have a blog with internship opportunities. You can also ask your college professors about opportunities. College professors are sometimes asked by friends working in the field for input on applicants or recommendations.

Alex Corey, farthest right, poses for a photo with NAHJ-Las Vegas members.

Alex Corey, farthest right, poses for a photo with NAHJ-Nevada members.

Gatherings like CCNMA’s Journalism Opportunities Conference are also a great resource to build relationships with recruiters and learn about what opportunities are available. I met my mentor at the JOC conference two years ago. I had hastily put together a resume with work experience at ROSS and KFC. I had no idea where to begin, but I kept in touch and got feedback on my resume, clips and cover letter. It can be tough, but try to keep in touch with the professionals you meet. They are invaluable resources.

The Reporter Prepares

Most importantly, come prepared. Read the newspaper or media outlet that you are going to be working at and come ready with story ideas. Where are they lacking coverage?

You need to be reading or watching news from the media outlet you work at. If something breaks and they need you to write a story or follow up on something you haven’t been paying attention to, then you’ll be in trouble.

Don’t wait for editors to assign you stories. That will happen for sure, but if you’re prepared when you come in, you’ll have your own ideas to pitch and those are usually the most rewarding stories to write. Ask other reporters if there are stories they can’t get to and ask your editor if you can spend some time talking to potential sources. When you go cover daily stories, keep an eye out for other ideas. Exchange information with people you meet and make sure to keep in touch. This is one of the best ways to show your value: Proving that you can build sources within a new community and report on issues that other publications aren’t paying attention to. That, and being able to do it in-between whatever else your editor throws your way.

Getting the most out of your internship

It’s important to be assertive in order to get the most out of your internship. If there’s something you want to do like shoot photos for a day or cover a different beat, you should ask. Your supervisor might say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. It also shows your supervisor that you’re hungry to learn and eager to take on anything.

Be willing to work weekends. Those are actually prime days to work at a newspaper, because if you get a good scoop or write a strong story, there’s a greater chance it could land on Monday’s front page. My biggest learning experience came when I volunteered to cover the NAACP conference on a Sunday. I was excited about it, then they told me it would be running front page the next day and that I wouldn’t be working with my regular editors since they were out. I also had a dirty deadline of 10 p.m. No exceptions, it had to go to print.

It was nerve-racking, but I prevailed and it was awesome.

Ask questions

It’s important to make sure you’re communicating with your editors. Sometimes we feel intimidated and think we should know something. We don’t want to feel stupid. Someone once said: “The only stupid question is the one not asked.” If you don’t understand something, then how will your readers?

Asking editors and reporters out to lunch is also worthwhile. It’s an informal way to ask for advice and learn more about what you want to do for the rest of your life. Ask them how they got started, how they got to where they are now.

Got your own tips? Share them in the comments below!

Alex Corey is a student at California State University, Northridge. He currently serves as president of the school’s Latino journalist club.

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Veteran reporter talks about leaving journalism after 25 years

Two longtime Latino journalists are leaving their posts at the Los Angeles Times within the span of one week.

Investigative reporter and multimedia specialist Robert J. Lopez left the Times on Friday, Sept. 5, after announcing on Facebook that he resigned to take a job as director of communications at California State University, Los Angeles.  Three days later, Hector Tobar, a book critic, announced on Facebook that he too will be leaving the Times.  Tobar, who has held key jobs as Metro columnist, national correspondent and bureau chief in Mexico City and Buenos Aires, has taken a job teaching journalism at the University of Oregon in Eugene. His fourth book is scheduled to hit the shelves next month. Tobar’s last day is September 12.

We spoke with Lopez about his decision to leave daily journalism after a career that spanned more than 25 years. Lopez offers up his view of the state of journalism today and what he really thinks of going to “the dark side.”

Robert Lopez accepting an award at the 2013 CCNMA Scholarship Banquet. (Photo by Minerva Canto)

Robert Lopez accepting an award at the 2013 CCNMA Scholarship Banquet. (Photo by Minerva Canto)

Lopez, who often made time to volunteer as a CCNMA scholarship judge throughout the years, says he got his start in 1989 with a summer program for minority journalists at UC Berkeley. He worked at the Oakland Tribune for three years before he was hired as a staff writer for City Times, then a new section for the Los Angeles Times that focused on areas that previously lacked coverage, a finding made following the 1992 riots.

After two years, Lopez moved to Metro, where he remained the rest of his career, developing expertise in investigative reporting, multimedia and breaking news. Among his many accolades, Lopez garnered the Pulitzer Prize twice as part of two different teams, one that covered the 1994 Northridge earthquake and another that exposed corruption among public officials in Bell, Calif.

While at the Times, Lopez also pressed for the release of law enforcement documents that would demystify the 1970 death of journalist Ruben Salazar. You can read about that on Lopez’s blog, LA Journo.

CCNMA: What prompted this career move? Was it the right job at the right time?

RL: Yeah, it was the right job at the right time. It’s a great opportunity. Change is good. It’s a new challenge, the pay is better, and, quite frankly, the benefits can’t be matched by any media organization and so it was the best fit for me and my family. That along with the uncertainty in the news business. I mean the LA Times will always be around and will always be the LA Times. By that, I mean it will always influence people in Los Angeles and California. The right people will always react and the staff will always do good stories, but whether or not it will be able to maintain its current staffing is very questionable. The revenue is dying, you know, print, not just the LA Times, but everywhere. I need another decade of work. I wasn’t sure I was going to get that in journalism, but this will certainly give me a better opportunity at that.

CCNMA: OK, we’ll get back to that in a little bit. One thing I wanted to know is, in looking over some of your stories that you’ve written I see that you’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of important stories throughout your career. Is there one that you’re particularly proud of working on?

RL: I was very proud to be part of the Bell series. We won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. That was a highlight. We also did a big investigative piece in 2000 where we tracked down more than 300 members of the 1989 class of Belmont High School. We wanted to assess the social and economic mobility of immigrants. These students, these graduates of the class of 1989 in Belmont were pretty much immigrants and the sons of immigrants, Latinos, Southeast Asians. We did a big project. It was a special section. It was an amazing thing. We actually tracked real people ten years later. We worked with the Times poll and we developed a series of questions. We polled them, and so we had a scientific study based on real people. It came at a time when there was a real backlash against immigrants, post Prop. 187. It really showed that they had made some significant gains and it was very counterintuitive. It was real people, real stories.

CCNMA: You mentioned earlier the state of journalism. With so many journalists being laid off or leaving on their own, many if not most, are saying newspapers are dying. Do you agree or do you think newspapers are simply in the middle of massive upheaval?

RL: There will always be newspapers, but they’re not going to be like they once were. All you have to do is look at the demographics of who reads newspapers. It’s older. It’s not growing. Young kids don’t read newspapers, and so that demographic is getting older and it’s dying. So newspapers are going to have to figure out ways to collaborate and figure out ways to do things because they’re not going to have the revenue streams that they have now. Yeah, you’re just not going to stop that slide, so, to a certain degree, yeah, they are dying. Will they ever go away completely? I don’t think so, but they’re not going to be like they once were. I mean that’s clear.

CCNMA: You’ve been an active supporter of CCNMA throughout the years. What do you think that means for diversity and all the work that we’ve been doing?

RL: Oh, it’s a major blow. Look at the people who are leaving the profession. Look at the people who are getting laid off. Look at the ASNE reports that come out every year. Compare those to a decade ago. I don’t see much improvement.

CCNMA: Do you have any words of advice to young journalists today given the sort of gloom that seems to be hanging over the industry?

RL: I’ll be really honest with you. I’m not sure I could recommend for people to go into journalism. I might suggest something else. I surely did that with my daughter.

CCNMA: Any words of advice or words of wisdom to the veteranos still in the trenches?

RL: You know what? Yeah. Hopefully, they’ve innovated. Hopefully, they keep up with the trends because that’s what’s going to keep them their jobs, if they’re willing to multitask and do different things on the digital side. The more you know, and the more value, and the more you can do, the better chance you have of surviving. That’s what I did. I was an innovator. That’s what allowed me to thrive. The LA Times offered me a pay raise and to promote me to an editor to try to keep me. I mean they made a very sincere offer, a very respectable offer, but I just didn’t want to stay in journalism. I felt this was too good of an opportunity, so it’s not like I thought I was going to be laid off immediately. I just had longer-term questions. There was just nothing bad that could happen from this move and everything to gain. I can always go back into journalism.

CCNMA: It seems public service was really an important aspect for you in taking that job.

RL: It really was. I don’t begrudge anyone who goes into crisis management or the so-called “dark side” or things like that because you’ve got to do whatever you have to do to take care of your family. I totally get that. That kind of thing works out for me. This is public service. If somebody tells me, “You’re going to the dark side, I tell them, “This isn’t the dark side.” I’m out with the Latino kids, I’m out with the Asian-American kids and I’m out with African-American kids. I’m helping them go to school. I’m at a school that caters to them. If it wasn’t for this school, these kids might not have a chance to go to a university, to get a four-year degree. So, you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that at all. I’m excited.

— Interview by Minerva Canto

Editor’s note: This interview was condensed for clarity.


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