NPR’s Hinojosa considers role of journalism in Scripps talk

Celene Vargas
Editorial Director

NPR’s “Latino USA” host Maria Hinojosa discussed the struggle of being a Latina journalist and what the role of journalism should be in the United States Tuesday in the Garrison Theater at Scripps College.

Hinojosa is an award-winning journalist who focuses on stories not usually covered in the mainstream media. She spoke at Scripps as part of the university’s Scripps Presents series. In her “Owning Your Voice” presentation, moderated by Southern California Public Radio’s Alex Cohen, she also talked about the Rwandan and Kenyan media and what America can learn from it.

“I was the first Latina at NPR besides the cleaning ladies,” Hinojosa said.

She said that she was the first Latina several times, especially at the beginning of her career. While it used to scare her at first, it soon stopped. She said she understood her experience growing up as “the other” was valuable because it allowed her to be a better journalist since she can identify with people who also feel like they are “the other.”

“Your experience is not more valid as an American than mine is. If anything, given the demographics, it’s my experience you want to know about because that’s what the future looks like,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa spoke about the presidential debates and how the people behind them made a decision not to include Latino journalists despite having a candidate who has made Latinos one of the target points.

She said there were rumors that the commission felt like maybe it wouldn’t work if Latino journalists were invited, giving the hypothetical example of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump saying no to an interview by a Mexican, female journalist under the claim that she will be biased, which would result in no debates.

She said it is disempowering to say that where someone was born or the kind of background someone has somehow takes away from who he or she is as a journalist.

“That’s what self-censorship looks like,” Hinojosa said.

She asked hypothetical questions like what would it look like if the debate commission let Latino journalists participate and made Trump sit down, or what would have happened if fellow journalists had said, ‘Let him speak,’ when Latino journalist Jorge Ramos was made to leave a campaign event by Trump’s security.

“Reality is that Latinos are a growing population,” said senior University of La Verne sociology major Jacqueline Perez Valencia. “You never know, in a few years maybe we can see a Latino running for president. It’s just because that’s how it’s shifting, how it’s changing. I liked hearing that from somebody that has done her research.”

During the presentation, Hinojosa also spoke about how she did not think the United States has had a deep, national conversation about the role of being a journalist.

She referenced Kenya and how they should have learned from what happened in the civil war in Rwanda in the 1990s, considering they are neighbors. She said Rwanda had a Hutu-dominated media on the air instigating aggression toward Tutsis, calling them cockroaches everyday.

“If Donald Trump wins, are we going to have the time to come back and say, ‘Woah, what happened here? Were we a part of it, allowing this or making this happen?’” Hinojosa said. “If Hillary wins, we may not have the bandwidth to say, ‘Let’s go back and see what happened.’”

Hinojosa said the journalists in Kenya were actively releasing information that was increasing a separation of candidates that lead to a very bloody period after the 2007 presidential election. However, the executive producers and news anchors that she met in Kenya advocated peace journalism, where they understood that their role as journalists was not to instigate.

“You don’t get to see a lot of Latino journalists or any brown journalist in mainstream media at all,” said junior Pomona College economics major Pablo Ordonez. “Her work is so incredibly powerful and really important that it’s a really great opportunity to watch her talk about her experiences.”

She asked how people would feel if everyone had a conversation about American journalists operating as peace journalists. She didn’t think it would go over well, and asked if there was a problem in wanting the outcome to be peaceful without journalists walking away from debate or conflict, and whether this was a political agenda.

“I have been targeted because of this and criticized,” Hinojosa said. “I have been told that I’m unpatriotic, that I have an agenda, that I’m biased, that I’m an activist, that I’m an advocate and all of these things that are very disempowering to any journalist.”

She emphasized the need for journalists to listen in order to understand. However, not passing judgment did not mean a journalist should not ask the tough questions.

“Good journalism is about reporting on the America we are, not on the America we think we are,” Hinojosa said.

Celene Vargas can be reached at

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