The Times' Latino problem

HernandezDaniel Hernandez, a former Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times, goes long on the paper's dearth of Latino journalists and disconnect from the community in today's LA Weekly (and in a new blog — see below.) "The paper feels as though it’s written about L.A. and not for it," he writes in a piece that uses the Frank del Olmo archives at Cal State Northridge to cover failed past attempts by the newsroom to absorb some of the city's Latin DNA. Even those stopped with the Tribune's takeover in 2000. At this year's retreat for top editors to brainstorm ideas to reconnect with readers, Latino issues did not come up.

The del Olmo archives tell only part of the story. In more than 30 interviews with current and former staff members of various backgrounds, as well as many longtime community leaders and newsroom-diversity advocates, a portrait of the Los Angeles Times emerges as an institution that remains incapable of adapting to the city’s changing faces. Year after year, the paper still feels like it’s manufactured for the recently arrived Anglo Westsider. Who wishes he were in New York.

Meanwhile, as editors and staffers busy themselves with memos and position papers, crucial chapters in the running novela of the city at its doorstep are left out. Take, for instance, last spring’s immigrant-rights march and rally at City Hall.

The March 25 event is now credited as the largest demonstration in Los Angeles history and the spark for a wave of marches and rallies that brought millions of people to the streets across the country for several months. It was the start of a movement that permanently shifted the debate on immigration reform. Yet the L.A. Times, situated in the most immigrant of immigrant cities, appeared unprepared to effectively cover the march or grasp its historical significance. The top of its next-day story read like any other standard demonstration summary and was padded with material from the Associated Press. There were no sidebar profiles of the organizers or next-day analysis — standard packaging elements when a daily covers major events. It took the paper three days to complete a profile on one of the main architects of the march, top-rated radio personality Eddie “El Piolín” Sotelo, and weeks before the tone of the coverage adjusted once the editors understood how big the movement was becoming.

Hernandez — who launched a personal blog yesterday with a post about this story — also talks a little about his personal experience in three years at the Times. He left earlier this year for the Weekly:

Older Latino staffers would warn me against doing too many “Latino stories” because I might be pigeonholed. And when I approached a Latino story with a critical eye, Latino readers criticized and scolded me. The whole time, I felt the paper was holding on to a worldview that was clearly no longer relevant to the city.

Frank Sotomayor, one of the Times editors mentioned in the piece, replies.

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