By Cara Kenefick
From print to television, in front of the camera or behind the scenes, CTLatinoNews.com spoke with many Latinos working in local media around the state and found that in addition to their journalistic credentials, many feel a personal responsibility to represent Latinos fairly to their viewers and readers.
NBC Connecticut anchor Stephania Jimenez couldn’t be more proud to represent her community and tell their stories. Growing up in a dominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., Spanish was her first language. She did not learn English until she attended school. Because of her experiences growing up, Jimenez said she is drawn to certain types of people and stories.
“I think everyone has a story. In this business, sometimes you’re told to stay away from certain types of stories, but I’m comfortable with that community,” she said. “Knowing Spanish helps me tremendously when I go into cities where people might be apprehensive or might not want to speak to people in front of the camera.”
That type of open and diverse attitude toward coverage of the Latino community in Connecticut is something Jimenez believes is “incredibly important.” There are voices within the Hispanic community that are not being heard because media often only go to certain areas when something bad is happening, but in reality, there is a lot of good happening as well, she said.
“I get so much joy going into certain areas. They say my name with the accent, I think that’s great, and it makes me so happy,” she said.
What’s more, she takes pride in being a positive role model for young Latinas. Jimenez said she hopes they see her and become inspired to pursue their own successful careers.
When it comes to striking a balance on Latino coverage overall, Jimenez said she does not think anyone has achieved it — yet. But the issue is not cultural, but rather socioeconomic, she said.
“I don’t think it’s a racial thing, but more of a class thing,” she said. “I don’t think anyone thinks to single out Hispanics or blacks or any other ethnic groups, but when you go into certain areas that are dicier when something bad happens … It’s incumbent on all of us journalists to take a wider perspective in certain areas.”
At the end of the day, Jimenez just seeks to share the truth and tell people’s stories.
“I hope people feel comfortable with me and that I’m representing them correctly. That’s always something I’m worried about covering every story. Was I fair, did I cover all sides? I just hope that comes through.”
Unlike Jiminez, you won’t recognize Jennifer Piniero from flipping through the channels, but her role in the news process is just as vital. Working on the assignment desk for NBC 30, Piniero said she feels a responsibility as a Latina to educate viewers about the diversity of the Latino community and their culture.
“My duty is to educate them with the real truth about people,” she said. “There are a lot of myths about the community.”
She said feels that, at times, people have “unrealistic views” of Latino culture” and there are assumptions she and her fellow peers in media should work to curb.
She recalled “the taco debacle” with East Haven’s mayor when he said he would honor Latino culture by having tacos for dinner. When she heard his comment on television, she did not want to be biased, and instead wanted to educate and inform.
“Sometimes when you hear people talk like that about Latinos, especially being raised by a Puerto Rican family, and I hear stuff like that, it makes me feel like there’s not enough information,” she said. Often, she said, many people have negative connotations and think all Latinos are immigrants.
The key is balance of coverage – both the good and the bad – to achieve a sense of true reality, she said.
For Esteban Hernandez, a staff reporter with his first full-time assignment at the Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., his Latino roots give him a chance to bring a different perspective to some of his stories, especially those focused on Hispanics.
“There’s an inherent comfort in talking to someone that looks like you, and I can use that to help talk to people that my colleagues may not have thought to speak to,” he said.
Being bilingual helps, too. Hernandez, said that link to the Latino community makes it easier, and at times more comfortable, for sources to open up to him.
“It doesn’t really affect how I cover a story, but it definitely makes me want to go out and report stories that affect and are of interest to Latinos.”
Working in Torrington, which he described as having a “small but growing Latino population,” Hernandez is striving to put a spotlight on the community.
“I do feel a responsibility to tell stories about the Latino community, but that’s something that I put on myself. It’s not something my editors have asked me to do specifically, it’s something that I want to be a part of while I’m out reporting,” he said.
Hernandez thinks of himself as both a journalist and a storyteller, who shares the belief that everyone has a story. More importantly, he said, it is up to everyone to listen. “I want to be known as the guy who tells stories. And if that happens to be stories about the Latino community, as a reporter who knows and understands the Latino community, well that would be even better.”
Samaia Hernandez, a former reporter for Connecticut’s WNPR, spent many years at various media outlets before moving on recently to a public sector job, but she says she always relished her role as sometimes being the only Latina in the news operation.
Born in Austin, Texas, she grew up in Los Angeles and after graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara, she made her way to the East Coast, first to New York and then to a job at the Record-Journal covering Wallingford, Conn. She moved on to work at the Hartford Courant before switching gears at NPR. But throughout her journey, her main goal was to write and tell stories.
“The biggest challenge is making sure minority voices are presented as story ideas in the newsroom,” Hernandez said, reflecting on the challenges Latino voices face in media. “When you’re a minority in a news organization – not that it is your job, but I liked to make it my job – that if there is an issue you’re aware of, bring it to the table.”
Pitching a story on a modern version of a local quinceañera at the Record-Journal and reporting on wrongful criminal convictions are just a couple of stories Hernandez worked on that brought a unique voice to coverage of the Latino community. She said she found people “respect and appreciate” the stories when new organizations make sure all sides of the community are represented.
On whether she felt that she has a certain responsibility as a Latina reporter, Hernandez said it is important to pull back at times and remain unbiased toward stories reflecting the Latino community.
“I think you have to force yourself to do that, and that’s what editors are for. As journalists, you have to force yourself to ask [the difficult] questions, [and consider] the other angles.”
Latinos have “a long way to go” when it comes to their public perception based on media coverage, but Hernandez believes there has been progress. An important way to achieve that balance is to make independent media more mainstream, she said.
“I think it’s important, and it’s great that everyone is gung-ho now about Latinos. At the same time, everyone is coming to the table from a lot of difference places, countries and cultures. You have to make sure you’re digging deep and getting those stories. … Not looking at the community as one big clump.”
By Cara Kenefick