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Show Me Diversity

How layoffs have impacted Latino journalists

By Adrian Carrasquilllo

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There’s hope for the rest of 2024, but first we have to recap the devastation that befell the news business in the form of mass layoffs earlier this year.

A recent report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which specializes in career transition services, found that 538 journalists in print, broadcast, and digital media were laid off just during the first month of the year. Shockingly, the report did not include the more than 300 employees laid off at The Messenger on January 31, where I worked at the time, which abruptly shut down without warning after financial mismanagement, leaving reporters finding out the company no longer existed from news reports, with no severance, health care, or even clips still online to show prospective employers.

The cuts affected real people with families, but I was additionally struck by the loss of Latino institutional knowledge that comes from sustained local and national Spanish-language coverage from networks like Univision, which announced 200 layoffs of its own in mid-January. Or at the Los Angeles Times, which shed 115 jobs on January 23, with its Latino Caucus losing 38% of its members and its Latino vertical, De Los, hit significantly hard.

Hispanic communities across the country are like lots of other communities: there are birthdays and tragedies, concerns about the economy, as well as Latino executives and elected officials doing their jobs. And at a time when it’s easy to hit the media or dismiss the importance of journalists, there is no question that communities suffer when there are less people keeping leaders accountable.

It can be a little hard to pinpoint what is lost at times like this, particularly for news executives who are doing what they can to keep the areas under their control financially afloat. And as a journalist for the last 15 years, a decade of which has been spent as a national political reporter, I know the Latino community is not only defined by how it votes in presidential elections. But because the Latino vote is of immense importance in news in 2024, I think it provides a window into how media coverage sometimes suffers pitfalls covering Hispanics, and how it can be improved during a pivotal election cycle.

I spoke with experienced Latino journalists who have worked at news organizations including the Los Angeles Times, Univision, The New York Times, Washington Post, CBS News and MSNBC, as well as a couple experienced political operatives who put partisanship aside for a moment to offer some advice. Some of these journalists have been laid off now, or in the recent past, while others work at some of the most influential news organizations in the world, but know that coverage of Latinos is often inconsistent, both within their networks and outside.

Julio Ricardo Varela, an MSNBC columnist and founder of influential independent news site Latino Rebels, said he still sees Latino 101 coverage from major news sites that would have been more at home after the 2010 U.S. Census when many news organizations and networks rediscovered the growing impact of the Latino community. He referred to repeated articles about how Latinos do or don’t identify (Latino, Hispanic, Latinx, oh my) instead of forward-looking coverage of where the community is actually going. In his view there isn’t a dearth of coverage, just simplistic takes about Latinos, running rampant, and getting published.

“It feels like the mainstream has woken up to our community, but is making stale conclusions that are 15 years old,” he told LATINO Magazine.

A star reporter for a major news brand said one way to understand the current problem in the industry is the desire by managers and editors to deliver the definitive Latino vote piece, when in many ways it’s an unattainable fallacy.

“Stop thinking there’s one story that will tell you everything you need to know, stop thinking you’re going to write the Latino voters story,” the source said. “You have no problem writing 1000 different stories about white voters, rural women, suburban women, young men, so why not look at Latinos as if they’re the same?”

The political operatives covered some important ground. Chuck Rocha, a former senior advisor for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2020 and author of Tio Bernie, said immigration figures into every Latino vote story, which isn’t what he has heard in focus groups for years.

“When I talk to Latinos, the ones truly moved by immigration are the ones watching FOX News, and on the wrong side,” he said, comparing it to basic stories about the Black vote that act as if African Americans only care about criminal justice reform. “During COVID, Latinos were talking about vaccines and getting the government back open. When the price of milk and eggs went through the roof, Latinos were the first hit by hardship.”

What Rocha is describing, along with the journalists, is a deeper, more respectful, less stereotypical, and ultimately more accurate portrait of Latino voters, who are Americans just the same as other voters.

Mike Madrid, a longtime Republican operative who broke with his party after the rise of Donald Trump during the 2016 election, and is the author of the upcoming The Latino Century out on June 18, is talking to donors to see if there is interest in getting a Latino vote media project off the ground. He is bothered at the moment by the term “racial realignment,” which he says is spurred by white pollsters, based on 90% of the interviews and discussions led by Black experts on the Black vote, which leads to pundits wrongfully extrapolating information on both Black and Latino voting blocs. Such conflation of different groups isn’t helpful to either and doesn’t accurately capture Latino sentiment.

“The biggest institutional problem is we don’t have language for anything other than Black or white,” he said. “There isn’t a realignment, there’s an emergence of an entirely unique voter, one Republicans don’t understand, and Democrats have been getting de facto support from.”

Kristian Ramos, a Democratic consultant, echoed many Democrats, and some Latino journalists, who are worried with how the mainstream media is covering high stakes polls by slicing and dicing tiny sample sizes to make grand assumptions about the Latino vote. He noted that a sample size over 400 Hispanics in each battleground state is “legit,” where you can draw “real conclusions.”

“But when people say it’s a representative sample based on less than 200 voters total, that’s crazy,” he said, “and then they don’t do Spanish-language interviews on top of that.”

Robust polls of Latinos this cycle, and in past cycles, have shown Democrats like President Joe Biden do better with Spanish-speaking Hispanics, while Trump and Republicans perform more strongly with English-speaking Latinos. Miniscule sample sizes, however, leave out enough information to drive a truck through. And as news organizations face coming decades where Latinos will go from one in five Americans to one in four, getting information like this wrong is the worst combination of disrespect for a growing audience and inaccuracy.

“Stop thinking we’re these mythical creatures, a different, otherworldly group,” the star reporter said. “Latinos care about jobs, education, the economy, and immigration is one of many issues.”

It doesn’t have to be coverage done by Latino reporters — it’s obvious that would be impossible — and since Hispanics are part of the US, it makes sense that journalists of different backgrounds would cover the community.

But there are levels to how the work can be done successfully. One veteran reporter cited a story they saw on a different network where Latinos were framed in the story as important but the coverage felt surface level, “very 2012, 2016 to me.”

They cited an CBS Evening News story where an Asian-American correspondent, Weijia Jiang, interviewed three Latino voters and no one hesitated to do the story because the importance of those voters in Arizona was crystal clear for the audience, and the newsroom. “White producers and an Asian correspondent did the piece,” the CBS source said. “I was proud of that.”

It brings me around to my contribution to this discussion, as a reporter who covered and broke news on immigration in the Obama administration in 2014, before becoming a national political reporter covering the Latino vote and the increasing influence of Hispanics in American politics in every election since. This cycle I’ve written for Vanity Fair and POLITICO Magazine — the importance of this coverage is unquestioned.

But as I spoke with my peers, colleagues, and sources, I was reminded that “Latinos are not monolithic” began as a critical and important part of Latino vote stories many cycles ago, but now feels like news organizations are checking a box by including it. In my time covering Latinos, I’ve learned that it’s not about telling me Latinos are not monolithic — but showing me.

Show me the diversity of the community. Don’t just go to the cafecito window at Versailles in Miami, or knock on a couple doors with the Culinary Union in Las Vegas before going home. If you really cover the community with curiosity, you might even notice when things don’t add up.

My last major scoop before The Messenger crumbled began with me wondering about the Hispanic community centers the Republican National Committee touted throughout 2021 and 2022, with positive headlines flowing. But as I marshaled my sources from Arizona and Nevada, to Texas, Florida, California and beyond, I learned most of the centers had quietly been closed with the RNC hoping no one cared enough to go looking for them. It was not only a big exclusive, but it presaged further negative financial news coming out of the RNC, before Trump cleaned house ahead of the general election.

That wasn’t a Latino story, it was an American political story. And my hope for the rest of 2024 and into the next administration is that despite cuts, news organizations remember that diversity within newsrooms isn’t something that is just nice to have — but is instead a journalistic and business imperative, and a competitive edge.

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