MH: I’m still trying to figure out my new job. I’ve only been at the Dallas Morning News for about seven months and writing opinions is a whole other world. I’ve always considered myself a storyteller, so it’s a leap to go from telling stories about regular people to building arguments around current events. I definitely want the kind of career where I can do a little bit of everything. I am attracted to challenging jobs, where I can stretch my writing muscles and experience some growing pains — uncomfortable, but always good for the soul and perspective. I’m experiencing some major growing pains here. It’s all good.


LCB: Speaking of blogging, I notice you’ve dabbled in media criticism in a couple of your blog posts. A few weeks ago you wrote as “a side note” that you’ve “been amused by the way newspapers are covering polls showing Mexican Americans are not all clamoring for leniency when it comes to illegal immigration — which only implies that we’d all feel the same way — a little more complicated than that.” And in February, you blogged, based on a journalism conference you attended:


“Seems like newsrooms all over are grappling with ways to write about Latino immigration, especially Mexican, a recent phenomenon in many states like Wisconsin, Iowa and North Carolina. … Immigration is a huge story, one that newspapers too often reduce to the American Dream thread.”


Can you elaborate on these two bits of criticism?


MH: Too often diversity for the media means covering Cinco de Mayo or sending the Latino reporter into the barrio. When I was growing up the only stories I read about Latinos involved a guy in an orange suit standing before a judge or the census numbers.


We do a horrible job of covering the Muslim community, which we had ignored until 9/11. Too many times, when we write about minority communities we write about them as anthropological studies. That’s why I think storytelling is a powerful way to braid all the universal threads together. We also have to mainstream all voices, in all sections — business, lifestyles, metro.


A few newspapers do a good job. But it’s tough if you don’t have bilingual, bicultural people on staff. And I’m not talking just reporters. All the layers of a newsroom need to be diversified, starting with management, who ultimately directs coverage.


LCB: You’ve written columns on topics ranging from Crash winning Best Picture at this year’s Oscars to the plight of Iraq war veterans. If you knew your next column would be in front of a national audience — say, carried in every paper in the country — what would it be about?


MH: No Child Left Behind. I spent a year teaching English literature at my old high school and my time in the classroom made me realize how we, the media, don’t pay enough attention to education issues.


LCB: Finally, on a lighter note — and because no interview with you is complete until Jayson Blair is mentioned (the former New York Times reporter who plagiarized several stories, including some of your work), let’s say you are stranded on a desert island with just two books, Jayson Blair’s Burning Down My Master’s House: My Life at the New York Times and Bill O’Reilly’s Who’s Looking Out For You. Which do you read first?


MH: I’d pray. I’d also ask for forgiveness for whatever brought this on.

 

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.