September 24, 2012

DAY 10: Hispanic Heritage Month 30 Day Challenge

Afro Latinos/Latinas in the Media

I scratched the “Afro” portion of this question because although I am part Puerto Rican, I’m not familiar with my island culture. I also think it’s strange to focus on Afro-Latinos for this topic when all the previous topics in this 30-day challenge haven’t asked about a particular segment of the Latino community.

Latinos in the media.

I’m not sure if this means Latinos as the subject of media or Latinos who work in media. What sort of media? Broadcast media? Online? Print? What is the focus of that media? Entertainment? News? Academics? Research?

Since Latino actors are the focus of another topic in the 30-day challenge, I’ll wait until later to discuss Latinos in front of the camera.

I’ve been the subject of media. Heck, I’ve been the media. One thing I’ve learned about the media is that it needs more diversity not just the professional ranks but in the training grounds. I’ve usually been the only Latino in my media classes, on staff in student media, and in my internships.

I wasn’t always the only minority. Sometimes there’d be a Black guy or an Asian girl to keep me company. We’d look at from the corner of our eyes when an editor said something stupid. Most of the time, the majority of student journalists were white. That meant most of the sources for stories were white and the focus of articles came from a default position of a white person’s experience.

I remember attending a few conferences of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to work in their student media projects. When we’d have some down time, the students would talk about the future of media and essentially it came down to this: We have to wait for the dinosaurs to die. And while the conferences left me with new friends and great experiences, I’d leave a bit frustrated because newsroom hires for Hispanics declined as did promotions for Hispanics already in the business. We continued to build our skills and do the work, but inside we all knew that we were simply waiting for the dinosaurs to die.

Then the journalism world started to collapse in on itself. It was the end of media as we knew it. Young Latinos and Latinas I met at journalism conferences abandoned their dream careers for PR jobs – or any job. Professional journalists also left newsrooms (willingly and unwillingly) as slashed budgets translated into fewer staffers. The numbers of Latinos that had made it into the newsroom were continuing to shrink.

Many fault social media for the decline of journalism but that’s not true. Social media simply accelerated it. Social media helped exposed flaws in a very old and very white system. That system is trying to fight back and consolidate its power.

But what old media doesn’t understand is that Latinos are early adapters. Our social media presence is helping redefine media. We aren’t just media consumers -- we’re becoming its content creators.

Now, we can surrender this advantage and let old media continue to sell us its outdated perceptions of who we are and let it dictate our limitations. Or we can be innovative enough to create the content ourselves and sell it to old media or, heck, we can compete against it.

Only then will we truly be Latinos in the media.