Securing a future for Latinx journalists

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, frustrated by lackluster coverage of the Latinx community in mainstream outlets, is taking matters into its own hands. The thirty-five-year-old organization recently launched palabra., a news site that will do what it says other outlets have failed to: treat Latinx communities as mainstream and not niche, and offer job opportunities in an increasingly stratified media industry.

“It’s by journalists of color and for communities of color,” says Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, the public editor at PBS and managing editor of the new outlet. “The goal is to be a platform for speaking to a community still on the fringes of mainstream news coverage.” 

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For more than half a century, the number of Latinx and other people of color working in the American press—particularly in leadership positions—has remained essentially stagnant, never coming close to representing the racial diversity of the public it serves. And even when stories about the Latinx community are covered, harmful stereotypes, both overt and subtle, still crop up too often. palabra. intends to fill in the gaps—and offer job opportunities to the increasing number of NAHJ members who, whether by choice or not, are currently working as freelancers.

“The reality is that we are the mainstream. We are America now. But our industry does not reflect that,” says Sandoval-Palos, who has spent the bulk of his forty-year career in journalism as an investigative journalist.

palabra. will publish three digital “issues” before transitioning to a daily website posting reported features, essays, and media criticism, all engaged with a single theme and written by NAHJ members. Its inaugural stories focus on what Sandoval-Palos calls “the state of Latino communities” in the context of growing anti-Latinx sentiment across the country.

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Among those articles is a report by Dianne Solis on the twin realities of north Texas, an economically thriving region that is at the center of the nation’s immigration detention crisis that is ripping families apart. Romina Ruiz-Goiriena writes about how the national press mishandled coverage of the anti-Latinx mass shooting in El Paso in August. Sandoval-Palos interviews Hansi Lo Wang, national correspondent at NPR, on the importance of the 2020 census to Latinx communities. A documentary project by Kael Alford features images and stories about immigrants and refugees in north Texas that challenge the stereotypes and misunderstandings that too often creep into news coverage. Eventually, every story on palabra. will be available in both English and Spanish. There are also plans to launch a weekly podcast that will offer journalists of color a space to comment on the news; Latinx journalists are often left out of the weekend talk shows, says Sandoval-Palos.

The second issue of palabra., forthcoming in late January, will feature stories concerning the role of Latinx voters in the 2020 presidential election. A climate-focused package will follow in the spring. Sandoval-Palos tells CJR that the goal is to work with publishing partners, making the stories available to local and national press outlets in an arrangement similar to that of ProPublica. Solis’s piece about the detention crisis in north Texas, for example, also ran in the Dallas Morning News.

Sandoval-Palos says that palabra. is also an attempt to help struggling freelancers find work, “preserving their place in the business” as staff jobs at newspapers and magazines continue to disappear. The outlet offers $1 per word to experienced journalists; photographers can expect rates of about $350 per day for their work. The site will also publish short profiles of NAHJ members in an effort to expose assignment editors to new freelancers. 

Ultimately, Sandoval-Palos hopes palabra. will “publish its way out of existence” as mainstream outlets begin to better understand that reporters with bylines in palabra. belong on their staff and in their freelancer contact logs.

“We want to show legacy and mainstream media that there is a whole population of resources to hire and who accurately reflect society,” says Sandoval-Palos. “I want to show the industry what we can do if given the chance to do it.

“And we don’t all cover immigration,” he adds.

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Alexandria Neason is CJR's Staff Writer and Senior Delacorte Fellow. Previously, she was a reporter at The Village Voice and covered education for the Teacher Project, a partnership between Columbia Journalism School and Slate. A team she worked on won the 2016 Education Writers Association award for news features. Follow her on Twitter @alexandrianeas.