For decades, journalism groups have pressured news outlets to hire more minorities, particularly Latinos in Southern California. The idea, says the American Society of News Editors, "is to have the percentage of minorities working in newsrooms nationwide reflect the percentage of minorities in the nation's population by 2025."
The results have so far been a mixed bag. While minority representation in the Los Angeles Times newsroom, for example, is at 21.4 percent, the number of Latino reporters and editors at the paper is a sad 7.7 percent — even as Latinos comprise one of every two people in L.A. County and now outnumber whites in California. Still, even that's better than the 5 percent or so newsroom representation Latino journalists see on a national level.
Online news outlets have been gaining on print when it comes to getting minorities in their newsrooms. There, one in five journalists is a person of color. One publication, BuzzFeed, says it's showing the way forward when it comes to covering Latinos in the United States:
The site has gone on a hiring spree this year, adding about a dozen Latino bylines to its staff, although about three of those people are temporary fellows. (See editor's note below.) A majority of those folks are in BuzzFeed's airy Los Angeles office on Beverly Boulevard.
The growth represents an explosion, as BuzzFeed employed only a pair of Latino reporters before its hiring spree this summer and spring. Already this month, BuzzFeed received a National Association of Hispanic Journalists Media Award for "truly humanizing stories about Latinos fighting, protesting, fasting for immigration reform."
The driving force behind the stories, and the man directing BuzzFeed's Latino coverage, is its new Latino editor, twentysomething Adrian Carrasquillo. Appointed to the position in April, he's been covering the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, reporting on the child immigration crisis on the border, and sorting BuzzFeed's Latino content so that it gets to the virtual front-pages of the site.
"I want to respect the audience and I want people to feel we come from an authentic place," he says.
Carrasquillo has corralled a team of young, hungry reporters for BuzzFeed, including Juan Gastelum. Interviewed along with a half-dozen other Latinos at BuzzFeed's L.A. office, Gastelum says that the site has had to reconcile the fact that the dominant Latino faction in the U.S., Mexican Americans, reside mostly in the Southwest, even as the news industry has a strong northeast bias.
"To have people who are Mexican American here is very important to us," he says.
Though BuzzFeed's Latino coverage isn't without the site's trademark listicles ("29 Signs You Grew Up In A Mexican Household"), it has also gone in-depth on immigration and pop culture.
A key philosophy, explains editor Ben Smith, has been to integrate the coverage into almost everything BuzzFeed does.
"Latinos represent one in five people of our generation in the States," Smith says. "It's not a niche. It's a big part of what we do. Our largest share of readers are 18- to 34-year-olds, and lots of them are Latino."
Smith has so far resisted the temptation to segregate Latino coverage as part of a special, BuzzFeed Latino section. One reason: Like most publications, the site sees the bulk of its traffic come not from its homepage, but via social media sharing.
"The thing we think about first is not where on our site will content live, but how it will travel on the internet," he says. "We see the stories of interest to Latinos as core, front-page stories."
Still, some of the focus on diversifying news organizations has shifted from coverage to "parity" in newsrooms—the concept that publications and TV stations should reflect their communities through hiring. And BuzzFeed has about 150 editorial employees in the United States, which means its 12 mostly new Latino hires, plus those fellows, still only comprise about
eight 10 percent of its total writers and editors. That's a drop in the bucket in the drive to achieve better representation in newsrooms.
Julio Moran, executive director of CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California (where this writer is on the board of directors), says:
While there is still a lot of work to do in mainstream print and broadcast media, which still do not reflect the diversity of this country in their workforce or product, websites are even worse. Yes, they generally have smaller staffs, but that is not a good excuse for the dearth of journalists of color at those places.
... In greater Los Angeles, where nearly half the population is Latino, you can't write about education, housing, employment and government without including Latinos.
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Carrasquillo says BuzzFeed is on the case.
"This is just the beginning," he said.
** Editor's note [Added at 1:12 p.m.]: The folks at BuzzFeed now say there are 12 Latino staffers and about three fellows, meaning about 10 percent of the editorial crew is Latino.