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LA Times Building
LA Times Building

Why Latino Representation at The L.A. Times Matters

Representation matters…right?

Well, it must. After all, it’s a trending hashtag: #representationmatters. So it must be important. But when it comes to representation where it really matters – the media, government, academia, tech, etc. – no group gets as disproportionately shafted as the Latino community.

Specifically, when it comes to our participation in the decision-making at the news departments of the L.A. Times – the single most influential and powerful company in local media coverage in the second largest city in the United States of America. As I previously wrote about, neither Mexican-Americans (L.A.’s largest ethnic community) nor any Latinos at all, are represented among the no-less-than-fourteen editorial department heads. If it was three or four positions, then maybe our traditionally humble-to-a-fault community could swallow the omission, as we do so many other slights, dismissals, and insults…but fourteen spots?

The Latino Community has a major problem when it comes to representation and inclusion at the top levels of editorial departments at many major media companies across the country. But the situation at the L.A. Times stings the most, because it is the newspaper of record for the American city with the most total Latinos in its population – almost one in every two Angelenos.

Latinx writers on the inside are trying the best they can to improve on the issue. Several have reached out to me, but only one went on the record: L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano. He is a member of the Latino Caucus, a group within the L.A. Times Writers Guild, a union of editorial department staffers at the 140 year-old publication.

So I ask him, why are there no Latinos on the L.A. Times masthead?

“It’s one thing we have been asking ourselves and the bosses. In a city as Latino as Los Angeles, we [Latinos] have only had three people on the masthead. And for those that don’t understand what a newspaper’s masthead is, it’s the bosses, los meros meros. Right now we have no Latinos. And that is something of concern to the Latinos in the Guild. And management understands this, and they know that it is not right. So the next step is figuring out how the owners are going to rectify this and how we the Latino Caucus do something about it,” Arellano says.

Together the Latino Caucus, joined by members of the Black Caucus, published a letter that surmised the lack of Latinx leadership at the L.A. Times and demanded change. Arellano said that the issue is on the forefront of conversations between Latino staffers. But he dismisses any charges of racism.

“The best word to use tone-deaf. The people at the top are not racist. They get it. They realize we have to fix this. That’s the conversation we are having with these very people. The question now becomes how do you fix it,” Arellano explains. “And even though there are no Latinos on the masthead that is not to say are no Latinos shaping the news coverage. For example, the City editor is Hector Becerra, parents from Jalisco, born and raised on the Eastside L.A. He is in charge of covering Los Angeles itself…“

I interrupt Arellano to ask who Becerra reports to?

“He reports to Shelby Grad,” he answers.

Arellano continues, “…We are having the conversation. And we are going to do everything possible to make sure the paper goes in the right direction.”

Arellano points out that there is a prominence of Latino staffers at the ground and mid-management level – giving light to the otherwise bleak optics of this situation. Because when you look at the numbers of Latino editorial staffers below the glaring zero among the top level leaders, it’s not too encouraging to see only 13% Latinos among the writers, and only 11% among the editors, according to the Latino Caucus’ letter.

“But despite those figures we [L.A. Times] still do better than most media companies in the United States in representing Latino stories and issues,” Arellano says.

I don’t doubt him on that. But if that’s the case, then our community needs to do what other communities have done – focus on fair representation in the media. Latinos are not doing it enough. Plain and simple. As a Cuban-American raised in Miami, I can attest to seeing the results of a vociferous, united front. Cuban representation in Miami’s media companies is prevalent. Because we can be loud, dare-I-say obnoxious, and will never take “no” for an answer.

Arellano concurs, saying, “Yes, look at the Miami Herald, they have had Cuban editors at the top for years. We need to follow that example for the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles.”

I ask Arellano what his advice is for Latinos regarding what they can do to get this issue resolved at the L.A. Times. His advice was this:

“What we can do as a community is subscribe to the L.A. Times. That gives you a say in to how the publication looks. Demand more representation at the top. Call us out. But to blindly criticize while not to acknowledging the progress that is being made at the paper does not help those of us working from within.”

Repeated attempts to get a comment from L.A. Times management, including Norman Pearlstine and the head of the editorial board Sewell Chan, have yet to receive a response. We will keep our eyes, ears, inboxes, doors, and hearts open at LATV. We are always willing to listen and discuss.

And as the writer of these pointed pieces, I am always open to where I might be seeing things incorrectly. I look forward to evolving on this issue with my community and the media industry as a whole. But if this issue is not going away, then this conversation is not going away either.

More from LATV, The Latino Voices Redefining Culture

Photo Credit: Minnaert

License: Creative Commons

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