Daniel Hernandez' piece in the LA Weekly on Latinos and the L.A. Times hits the mark in a central thesis: the newspaper has never adequately covered the Latino population. I take issue, however, with Hernandez’ characterization of the Latino Initiative. He gets carried away with some lively quotes contained in the archives of the late Frank del Olmo, and he misses the point. Regardless of the internal bickering and second-guessing among staff members—much of it par for the course in a newsroom setting--the Latino Initiative produced some first-rate coverage.
For example, Hector Tobar became a roving national correspondent and wrote fascinating, groundbreaking stories about the growing Latino presence in the Deep South and in the nation’s heartland. Because of the Latino Initiative, Del Olmo and I argued successfully for restoring the labor beat, long dormant at the Times. A beat covering small businesses was added along with 10 other coverage areas. Outstanding arts coverage and profiles of Mexican Americans, Salvadorans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and others finding their niche in L.A. were featured.
Was the Latino Initiative perfect in concept and execution? No. But for a short period, it provided an extraordinary level and quality of coverage. And to me the coverage provided to the reader—not whether an initiative has unanimous consent in the newsroom—is the bottom line.
I would argue that many of the efforts launched at the Times to enhance coverage of local Latino communities were successful editorially. But because of short-sighted shifts in priorities and changes in editors or publishers, the efforts languished and momentum ground to a halt.
Clearly, the responsibility for news coverage of Mexican Americans and other Latinos—who together make up half of L.A.’s population—should fall upon the entire staff. But Latino reporters, photographers and editors are a critical resource in that mission. As Hernandez points out, the number of Times staff members of Latino origin is declining--down to 6%---even as the Latino population surges in the city and nation. The number of African American journalists on the newspaper is also decreasing. The newsroom total of journalists of color has dipped from nearly 21% to about 18%. As an advocate for greater diversity in staffing and coverage, I found those declines painful as I exited the Times after a 35-year career there.
I hope that things will change for the better and that Latinos and all communities will get the newspaper coverage they deserve. That challenge now is in the hands of the new Tribune-appointed publisher and editor.
Frank O. Sotomayor
A longtime editor at the Los Angeles Times, Sotomayor took a voluntary buyout in March and now is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism.