By Karen Cortés
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Washington D.C. based premier organization of Latino journalists from across the country, is being led by a Connecticut Latino working out of ESPN in Bristol.
The 2,000 member organization which boasts ABC’s John Quiñones, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez and even Geraldo Rivera as members, works to increase the number of Latinos working in the nation’s newsrooms and improving the coverage of Latinos and Latino issues in the U.S.
As NAHJ’s newest President, Balta, an Emmy award winning journalist, has focused on the recognition and professional advancement of Latinos in newsrooms in a rapidly changing industry.
Balta, the son of Peruvian immigrants, first decided to pursue a journalism career at Seton Hall University in New Jersey because of his parents. “Media kept them connected to their country and their adoptive country. I wanted to build on what they were seeing,” he says. “I am second generation Hispanic. I was my parents’ interpreter. I was witness to their struggles with language, the workplace, and culture.”
His first break in the industry came in the form of an internship with Telemundo, which evolved into a part-time job when he was still in school. He began full-time work in the broadcasting field straight out of college as an assistant producer with Telemundo 47 in New York, writing and editing newscasts.
A member of NAHJ since early in his career, he is now working to ensure that new journalists have professional development and mentoring opportunities, and that media companies can develop their bench strength to advance more Latinos into positions of prominence.
Balta says that young Latinos entering the journalism field sometimes fail to see the steps and years of hard work. He advises them to be focused and strategic. “It’s not buying lottery tickets. It’s using what’s between your ears,” he says. “You can achieve both short term and long term goals. A mentor can help. A lot of young people say they’ll do anything to get a foot in the door, but if you choose a path that is not faithful to your long term plan, you are no closer to your goal. Be strategic at the beginning; you’ll be successful at the end.”
“Many media companies see that to grow they need to focus on the Latino community, but some Latino journalists are not at the level they need in high profile positions,” says Balta, adding that he would like to see young journalists assigned to veteran mentors to help them get there.
NAHJ is looking at opportunities to grow, including investing in more staff and providing more services to members. Plans are underway for three regional conferences and the group’s 2013 national conference.
The NAHJ, through Balta, has also sought to inject itself into the presidential debates. Its membership was invited to submit questions to the association. Through Balta’s initiative they were then forwarded to the Commission on Presidential Debates for possible use by the moderators. The first of the three debates is this Wednesday evening, Oct. 3.
The group also spoke out about on the contentious local issue of The Hartford Courant using Google Translate to produce its Spanish language web page (first revealed by CTLatinoNews.com columnist Bessy Reyna in an opinion piece called Courant En Español – Have Fun, Get Angry.) Balta, as well as two vice presidents, its executive director, and its Spanish Language-at-Large officer, wrote a letter to Courant editor Andrew Julien and Rick Hancock, digital platform manager, saying, “While we applaud the awareness of Latinos in Connecticut … its Spanish-language readers deserve more than Google Translate.”
The Courant replaced the section with a web page called “Noticias” that is populated with Spanish language articles from Reuters and the occasional local piece written in Spanish by Courant staffers.
Balta has just wrapped up his first year with ESPN, where he is Coordinating Producer, responsible for the content and on-air look of studio and event related programs; driving creativity, accuracy, storytelling and entertainment of sports news shows– including SportsCenter, NBA Tonight and Highlight Express.
At ESPN, Balta is leading an initiative to increase collaboration between ESPN platforms– television, radio, print and online– to be more successful serving the Latino audience. He is also a member of ESPN’s Hispanic Initiative Leadership team; a committee of ESPN leaders that champions diversity strategies within the company.
ESPN has supported Balta’s passion for mentoring and volunteerism. Balta had been a longtime volunteer and project manager for ASPIRA of New York and New Jersey, which places role models from a variety of industries with at-risk middle and high school students. He hopes to bring the ASPIRA program to Connecticut. The message he shared with young people? “If I can do it, you certainly can.”
Prior to joining ESPN, Balta was managing editor with WCBS, senior producer with MSNBC, and vice president of news with Telemundo 47, working in New York City for more than 15 years.
“I’d been working in straight news for all of my adult life. Being in what I consider to be the middle of my career, ESPN offered me an opportunity to expand my career in specialty content. Sports is a universal language. We can all wrap our arms around a favorite team,” says Balta.