News

Good Journalism Builds Bridges, Does Not Burn Them

By Luis Gomez:

There is a moral lesson to be learned from a story out of Santa Barbara that is more relevant than ever and it applies to anyone who wishes to enter the field of journalism.

To paraphrase the words of my friend Josh Stearns, who writes about the future of news: Good journalism is the kind that is built with the community it serves, not just for it.

The unfortunate story comes from the Santa Barbara News-Press which has become a textbook example of how not to do this kind of journalism.

Santa Barbara News-PressAnd it all begins with a headline from its Jan. 3 front page, “Illegals line up for driver’s licenses.” With good reason, many of us journalists cringed. I certainly did.

letter to the News-Press from CCNMA executive director Julio Moran echoed the Associated Press reasoning for objecting such phrases like “illegals” and “illegal alien”: “Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person…”

The News-Press defended its use of the term, saying the paper has used it for years and called it “an appropriate term in describing someone as ‘illegal’ if they are in this country illegally.”

Legally speaking, the News-Press is well within its first-Amendment rights to use whatever language it desires. Ethically speaking, the News-Press’ argument falls short of meeting the standards journalists have set to conduct a profession that relies so heavily on trust and good faith.

American journalism is not just about first Amendment rights—it aims for higher standards of fairness, pluralism, civic engagement, and compromise. As someone who has worked in news for more than 10 years, journalism is a labor of love and not hostility.

Language that is hurtful to a group of people is language that does a disservice to its audience and its own community.

Regardless of the politics of the terminology, newspapers should be invested in the community they serve—it is not just part of their business strategy but it is also part of building a legacy. The people you write about are the very same people who advertise in your paper; they are the very same people who talk to your reporters; they are the very same people who read your paper and depend on the information you provide.

Fighting the very same community you serve is counterproductive and may prove fatal for an institution that relies on trust. Once it is lost, trust is extremely difficult to gain back.

Say you want to defend your first-Amendment rights to free speech? Refer to the Society of Professional Journalists or any legal organization to remind you that free speech comes with responsibility and consequences.

Legitimate news organizations don’t defend free speech to use irresponsible language. They do so in the interest of informing the public, without bias, and foster civic dialogue. Anyone can cower behind the protective mantle of the first Amendment, even hate groups.

The problem at the News-Press is not an isolated one, but rather a systematic one. The purposeful use of hurtful language that alienates a community shows how great a need there is for organizations like CCNMA and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Members of both organizations should demand better from the News-Press.

With that said, let’s take this as an opportunity to revisit the SPJ Code of Ethics:

  1. Seek truth and report it
  2. Minimize harm
  3. Act independently
  4. Be accountable and transparent

Luis Gomez is a CCNMA board member and a business editor at the Investigative News Network. Follow him on Twitter @RunGomez.

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Looking forward: New CCNMA board members share their goals for new year

The new year is a time of reflection and a time for setting goals. We looked to our three newest CCNMA board members for their goals on making newsrooms reflect the people they cover.

Luis Gomez

My goals for CCNMA are to promote diversity in journalism by working as a “connector” between job-seekers and news organizations.

—Luis Gomez, Business editor at the Investigative News Network

Yvonne Villarreal

I am eager to lead efforts in continuing to provide first-class quality news and information that serve and represent my community. I aim to tell compelling stories across digital platforms while adding value to readers. And I hope to inspire, in some capacity, the next generation of Latino reporters.

—Yvonne Villarreal, Reporter at the Los Angeles Times

 

Ignacio Garcia

My goal is to provide scholarships to outstanding Hispanic students across the country and help them realize their professional aspirations in Journalism.

—Ignacio Garcia, Coordinating producer at ESPN International and ESPN Deportes

How do you propose to make newsrooms more diverse? Write your suggestion in the comments below.

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Start the new year right: Support CCNMA’s work with a tax-deductible donation

Jennifer Medina of the New York Times. David Ovalle of the Miami Herald. Hector Becerra of the Los Angeles Times. Miguel Almaguer of NBC News. Cecilia Vega of ABC News.

CCNMA identified these people when they were college students as having the talent and commitment to be successful journalists. And they proved CCNMA right.

Help CCNMA continue its important work to identify and support promising Latino journalists with a tax-deductible gift.

A donation of any amount will be appreciated greatly. You also may make your contribution over time. If your company has a matching gift program, be sure to send any required forms.

If your membership has lapsed, renewing your membership also will help considerably. If you are not currently a member, please consider joining. If you are a current member, consider a lifetime membership. Annual membership dues are only $50 or $90 for two years. A lifetime membership is $1,000, and may be paid over time.

Kindly send a check payable to:

CCNMA, ASU Cronkite School of Journalism
725 Arizona Ave., Ste. 404
Santa Monica, CA 90401-1723.

Or, give online using PayPal.

If you have any questions, please e-mail Executive Director Julio Moran at juliomoran@ccnma.org

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Remembering Al Martinez: a teacher and student of people

By Henry T. Mendoza III:

The great thing about Al Martinez was the respect he had—for life, for his beloved wife Joanne, for the children they raised and nurtured, for his grandchildren, for good martinis, for Italian food, for cigars and for most of the people he encountered in his 85 years.

That was one of the best things about Al—when he met someone he reveled in bringing them to his readers. Mostly it was people, but it was also places and sunrises and sunsets. Even animals.

Al Martinez, longtime writer for the Los Angeles Times, died Jan. 12, 2015. He was 85.

Al Martinez, longtime writer for the Los Angeles Times, died Jan. 12, 2015. He was 85.

Al was a big personality who did not throw words around with his voice, preferring to put them on a page and write them in his eloquent style. That was our fortune.

I was lucky to meet him at the Los Angeles Times in 1980. When I worked there his desk was right in front of mine, so when he came in to pick up his check every two weeks he would say hello. I was in awe. Not for what he said to me, at first, but for what he wrote between those visits to the newsroom. Al preferred being out amongst people turning up their stories rather than sitting behind a desk in an office.

One time he was in the newsroom going through his mail, seemingly in a hurry to get out. The city editor called him, from about 30 feet away, for a meeting. Al sneered—he didn’t seem happy about that, but he walked up to the middle of the newsroom for the meeting. A few words were spoken and Al blew cigar smoke in the editor’s face. The meeting was short. (In those days, smoking was allowed indoors, even cigars.)

Those of us in the back of the room quietly smiled. After all, the paper had a reputation as a writer’s paper, and Al was as good as any, so we felt he was entitled.

Sharing a meal with Al was always fun. I felt privileged to be invited to join Al and his buddies for lunch—Jerry Belcher, Jerry Cohen, Bill Boyarsky, Steve Harvey, Bill Billiter and others. Al’s stories were often hilarious, always full of honest observations. I was a youngster with those writers, but Al made me feel like I belonged—as he did with everyone.

Years later, Al ran into me at an Italian restaurant we both loved. We then met there a few times and I was able to drag more writing lessons out of him. He also shared those lessons with my students at Cal State Fullerton. Everyone enjoyed that.

That’s why we all loved his writings and will miss new ones.

Al was a student of people, rich and poor and of every race and ethnicity. He taught us much about our Los Angeles and our world through his words and the way he lived.

In 2002, CCNMA honored Al with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and I was proud to introduce him.

Thank you, Al. We miss you already.

Henry T. Mendoza III is an adjunct professor of journalism at California State University, Fullerton, and a former executive director of CCNMA.

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Open letter to Santa Barbara News-Press on using “illegals” in headline

In response to Santa Barbara News-Press‘ conscious decision to use a word and phrase that even the AP Stylebook no longer sanctions, CCNMA has sent the following statement to its news director, Don Katich:

Open letter to Santa Barbara News-Press

The headline and story were first brought to CCNMA’s attention by newly instated board member Luis Gomez:

Contact the Santa Barbara News-Press news director directly: Don Katich – dkatich@newspress.com.

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