Journalists Of Color Discuss Disparity In Latinx Coverage For Northeast Georgia, Nationwide

Whoa, what do you mean by others?”

This is the question that came to Gianncarlo Cifuentes, Regional News Director of Univision 34, after the release of COVID-19 numbers that showed how many tests had been administered and the number of deaths related to COVID-19 in Georgia. 

These numbers were released by the Georgia Department of Health when the pandemic first started. 

In March of 2020, Univision dedicated a front section of its website to inform viewers about the spread of the virus. Univision also created a Facebook group page to be closer to their audience. 

It was analyzing the numbers released by the DPHGA that Cifuentes noticed something was missing.

Click on the speaker icon in the upper, left hand corner of the image to hear more from Gianncarlo Cifuentes. Cifuentes was on a Zoom call on March 2, 2020, and he is the news director for Univision34 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo/Dalia Perez)

“Why are we not getting the Hispanic numbers?  How many people have been tested?”

 “The numbers were there for White Americans, the numbers were also there for Black or African Americans and others, any other I guess were Hispanics, Asians, and everything else,” said Cifuentes.  This raised a very important question to Cifuentes, and his newsrooms began to investigate. 

 Why it’s Newsworthy: Georgia is home to nearly 1 million Latinos, this is 9% of the state population. Georgia is among the top 10 states with the largest Hispanic population. 

 

Underrepresented Communities in Mainstream Media

Ok, so how do we tell our viewers that they just got locked into a big number that is of an unknown ethnicity?” Cifuentes said.

This is a problem that Cifuentes along with his team had to face and solve. Reporters at Univision 34 began questioning the DPHGA and the DPHGA answered. 

Univision 34 is a Univision-owned and operated television station that serves the Atlanta television market. Univision is the No. 1 Spanish-language network and ranks among one of the top five broadcast networks.

“So right now they are telling us that it’s because when they do these testings they are not filling out the forms properly. They must fill out these forms properly so that it can reflect those numbers in the big number,” said Cifuentes. 

They refers to the DPHGA.

The DPHGA has informed Univision that they are currently working on getting the greatest application and making Hispanic a required field on the application.

It is the pressure put on by Univision that made this change possible.

“But if we don’t do that, ask those questions, no one will. No one will even care about this, but because we are the voice of our community, we are going to pressure the institutions,” said Cifuentes. 

According to Cifuentes, this is one example of the underrepresentation of communities in the mainstream media. 

Registering for a COVID-19 screening at the DPHGA website includes a race and ethnicity section. The other tab is included under the race section.

 

 

Ethnic journalism exists, but ethnic communities are still underrepresented in journalism.  Diversity Reporting is another term used to describe this type of journalism, it is objective, truthful, unbiased, sincere, and professional reporting on differences between groups of people. 

Terms such as diversity reporter or race reporter are a few that fall under this “umbrella of journalism.” 

Ethnic journalism is a term used to define the group of outlets that cover news directed to an audience of immigrant and ethnic communities.  Mainstream journalism, aka Aglo newspapers, are forms of media that influence large numbers of people and are likely to represent generally accepted behaviors and beliefs.  Legacy newspapers fall under this category; they are also the handful of publications that have figured out how to make their journalism profitable. 

“It’s publications like The New York Times and The Information and a couple of other publications that have found out how to make journalism profitable. That handful is not reflective of the news media and district at large,” Hanaa’ Tameez, a staff writer at The Nieman Journalism Lab, said. 

Those that are not legacy newspapers, like local papers must find a different business model. In 2020, there are 17 news organizations in Northeast Georgia. As of right now, 11 out of these 17 news organizations are owned by large companies. The remaining 6 of these 17 organizations are privately owned and are the only ones where the owner is someone who resides in the community. 

The Hispanic Media or the Mainstream Media?

Okay, so when we say the coverage? Do you mean in the Hispanic media or the mainstream media?” Cifuentes said. 

When asked how he felt about the news coverage of Latinx communities in Northeast Georgia, Cifuentes identified two different groups. 

Hispanic Media such as Univision, Telemundo, CNN Espanol, and Mundo Hispanico focus on providing Spanish newscasts and news to the Latinx community. “Hispanic Media is doing a great job in covering the topics in our community. As for mainstream media, I think there’s always room for improvement,” said Cifuentes. 

“The only moments that we see that we are covered in, or see topics or headlines that relate to the Hispanic community is when we have major events,” said Cifuentes. 

On Jan. 28, a liquid nitrogen leak in Gainesville, Georgia, killed six workers. This is one instance where the Hispanic community’s voice was heard. To Cifuentes, their voice was heard due to this leak being a major event in the community. 

Five of the six people killed were part of the Hispanic community in Gainesville. More than 40% of residents in Gainesville are Hispanic according to the U.S. Census. Gainesville is also a town known for immigrants seeking industry work. 

How Diverse Are U.S. Newsrooms?

I think they need to start diversifying the voices in the newsroom. I think that will be step one,” said Maria Alejandra Bastidas. 

In 2019, The American Society of News Editors released their annual Diversity Survey. Organizations that participated in the survey reflect the diversity of news and information outlets serving communities across the country. 

Out of the 276 news organizations included in the survey, The Wall Street Journal reported its staff to be 79% white and only 5% Hispanic. The Washington Post reported their staff to be 71% white and 5% Hispanic. One of the more diverse of the major news publications, the Los Angeles Times, reported its staff to be 64% white and 14% Hispanic. 

 

In 2018, The Radio Television Digital News Association  (RTDNA) reported that 10.8% of Hispanics/Latinos make up the standard TV newsroom. It also reported 75.8% of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents are represented by white (non-Hispanics), according to USA DATA. White (Hispanic) is the second-most common race or ethnicity in this occupation as of 2017, with 11.1% represented in the newsroom. In 2016, white (Hispanic) represented 10.7% of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents.

Although the numbers of journalists of color have increased, journalists of color and coverage of underrepresented communities are still at a disparity. This disparity in journalists and in news coverage can be seen nationally and seen in local communities, such as Northeast Georgia.

The Major Minority City

I don’t really love the term diversity or diversity reporting,” Tameez said.

Hanaa’ Tameez, a former diversity reporter at the Fort Worth-Telegram in Texas said her first job changed how she viewed diversity reporting. Tameez, now a staff writer at NiemanLab, believes that diversity reporting implies covering something very other and different from the norm.

“Diversity Reporting makes it seem like this is something niche and other when the reality is that the majority of people, like the larger percentage of the population, belong to a community of color. Right? So that’s not necessarily diversity, that is just the way things are,” said Tameez. 

This is the way things are in Fort Worth, Texas, a city with a population of 874,401. As of 2018, 36.1% of the people living there are Hispanic.  The second-largest group is African Americans in Fort Worth and they make up 17.7% of the population. This showcases what Tameez called, a majority-minority city, where 60% of the city is made up of communities of color and the other 40% is non-Hispanic whites.

Tameez was the only diversity reporter at The Fort-Worth Telegram in 2018 and the first one to truly cover this beat at the news organization.  The news coverage did not represent the community, according to Tameez, during the time she was in Texas.

During her time at the Fort-Worth Telegram, Tameez’s coverage of the community was dictated by what she believed would be helpful to people. Her goal was to make complicated issues understandable for people. 

This brings into question the number of diversity reporters that exist today. There is currently no study that shows reporters assigned to the diversity beat or race reporters in large newsrooms across the nation. The information that is currently available shows overall diversity in newsrooms. 

Several of the stories covered during her time in Texas were immigration-focused because of the concern of that specific Latino community. In 2018, New American Economy reported a total number of 1,413,849 immigrant residents in Fort Worth, which is 18.9% of the population. 

“Immigration was a huge issue. Fort Worth itself, in terms of policy, like at the city and council level is not very immigration-friendly. They had a lot of policies that worked against undocumented immigrants, this is what mattered to people and what guided my coverage,” said Tameez. 

The Coverage

The only times you will see a person of color in the newspaper is for a crime story or for a sports story, right.  So what does that reflect?”  Tameez said. 

The disparity in the newsroom is something that happens nationally, not only in Fort Worth, according to Tameez. She attributes disparity in coverage to the downfall of the newspaper industry, leaving fewer resources and fewer people going out in their community to meet people. 

The disparity in coverage of people of color is something that Maria Alejandra Bastidas, vice president of digital content at Mundo Hispanico, has also noticed. Bastidas first came to Mundo Hispanico, the third-largest Spanish news site in the U.S., 16 years ago in September of 2004. As Mundo Hispanico started to grow their digital presence, “the stories we were writing were being read by Latinos in New York, in California, in Texas,” said Bastidas. Cox Media group saw this and decided to invest in Mundo Hispanico 10 years ago, and the coverage has not stopped.

Today Mundo Hispanico is America’s No. 1 independently owned Spanish-language digital media company and engages 8 million Facebook followers with up-to-the-minute news and live video coverage of major events. There are 50,000 physical copies printed weekly and nationally; their digital presence reaches 10 million viewers, according to Bastidas. Their target audience is Georgia and its surrounding area’s Hispanic community. 

Clarke County is one of the many sections reached by Mundo Hispanico. Clarke County is also home to the University of Georgia and is 36% communities of color.  In 2019, The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 10.8% of the population was Hispanic or Latino in Clarke County.

According to the analysis of 2012-2016 American Community Survey Data, 77% of newsroom employees — those who work as reporters, editors, photographers, digitally and in broadcast — are non-Hispanic whites. The majority of them are also men.

Maria Alejandra Bastidas is the vice president of digital content at Mundo Hispanico. (Photo Courtesy/Maria Alejandra Bastidas)

You know, it doesn’t matter where the story of a mother that is about to be deported happens, it matters that it’s happening. As Latinos we feel like a family, we all feel a connection, and we all feel the same thing,” Bastidas said. 

The Bubble

I don’t think creating a bubble for the Hispanic community is helpful at all. Why, because there are not going to be a lot of people living in that bubble. They need to know what is happening in their communities,” Cifuentes said.

Cifuentes is referring to the term ethnic media; in his eyes, this bubble will only limit the community when in reality they are more than this subsection. 

Stories that are personal and resonate with the Latinx community are what is pursued at Mundo Hispanico. This is very different from what mainstream media covers and brings up the idea of ethnic media versus mainstream. 

“No, I don’t think that the content they produce for their audience, which is largely mainstream, reflects the community. When you see a story of a Latino in those newspapers, like the New York Times or the Athens newspaper, you only see something about a Latino when a bad thing has happened. You know when there is a crime or something related to drugs,” said Bastidas. 

The disparity in coverage is clear and important stories remain untold. Depiction of Latinos in print stories was analyzed by Erik Bleinch in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Researchers used computer-assisted coding to analyze print articles to gauge how often negative themes about Latinos appeared in news coverage. 

“My time as a reporter has solidified my belief that journalism has to be in service of the community, first and foremost,” said Tameez. 

In the eyes of these journalists, there is still work to be done. Diversifying the newsroom and bringing Latino journalists to the table to discuss Latino issues is something that must occur, Bastidas believes. 

Closing the bridge and disparity in coverage of Latinx communities starts with Latinx Journalists. 

The only ones that are going to know more about our community are ourselves, we know how we work we need to think, what we need, the stories that we like, the stories that are important to us, immigration, taxes, things that relate to our countries,” said Cifuentes.  

For others, like Tameez, the solution isn’t as simple. 

According to Tameez, diversity should not be seen simply as a quota system or checkboxes to the newsroom. It should be about creating an open newsroom that works towards solving the issue. 

“Adding more people of color to your toxic workplace is not the answer. Creating better pipeline programs within newsrooms and closing the wage disparity among your white staff and non-white staff is one step in the right direction,” said Tameez. 

The consensus is clear; more representation is needed.

“The crime story doesn’t discriminate. The fire doesn’t discriminate. The Urban engagement doesn’t discriminate. The COVID topic doesn’t discriminate. So our job is to translate what’s happening in your region, to our Hispanic community,”  Cifuentes said.

Dalia Perez is a senior majoring in journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

 

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