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Covering Latino community requires getting past labels

By Billy O'Keefe

The editor of the leading Spanish-language newspaper in Georgia said the media should treat Latinos like one famous alien in particular who came to the United States without papers: Superman, the comic book superhero whose spaceship crash-landed in rural America.
“Nobody really focuses on that because we’re more concerned about what Clark Kent does,” said Rodrigo Cervantes, editor of Mundo Hispanico.
Cervantes was one of three representatives from Spanish-language media organizations on a Thursday SPJ panel on how to break through the routine of covering Latinos within the context of immigration, crime and gangs. Latinos are the country’s largest and fastest growing minority group, said Gianncarlo Cifuentes, an anchor and reporter for WUVG-TV Univision 34 in Atlanta. By 2050, one in three people in the U.S. will be Hispanic, he said.
Journalists are often so wrapped up in what labels to associate with people that they don’t take the time to evaluate the whole person or community, according to the panelists. Latinos are Democrats and Republicans who have varying perspectives on immigration, religion and abortion rights, Cifuentes said.
Reporters don’t need to be fluent Spanish speakers to cover Latino issues, Cifuentes said. He advised journalists to network with local Hispanic media outlets. Ask them what issues are making headlines in their coverage areas, he said. He also recommended that journalists learn how to say three basic questions in Spanish, just in case there’s no translator handy.
Cervantes said it is important to consider several factors, particularly nationality, generation, economic level, area of residence, activity, race and language. For example, the Latino community in Oklahoma City mostly hails from Mexico, while Latinos in Chicago tend to be Puerto Rican or Dominican, said Roberto Pazos, assignment editor for CNN En Espanol, he said.
“If you are covering some story about ethnicity, it’s good to go to their roots,” Pazos said. “I know its expensive and sometimes you don’t have the time or money, but it is worth it.”
He said some media organizations suffer from label biases on the hiring end as well. TV stations sometimes hire someone who looks Latino or has a Latino name; however, the hire may not translate into someone who can effectively cover the local Latino community, Pazos said.
Cifuentes pointed to Sarah Parker, a white reporter for Atlanta CBS affiliate WGCL, who covers Latino communities.
“She educated herself into the culture,” he said.