Representation of people of color has increased exponentially in the last decade. From prime-time shows to film and broadcast journalism, we're seeing more diversity in our screens every day. But the numbers don't lie — we still have a long way to go. As we conclude Hispanic Heritage Month, we have to ask, What do we have to do to get more Latinxs in the news?
Refinery29 broached this subject with CNN anchor Ana Cabrera, who is part of a wave of prominent Latinas who are leading TV journalism. The Denver-born reporter grew up in a family that celebrated diversity, so it's no mistake that she ended up in an industry that exposes her to people from all walks of life. Since March, she anchors the weekend primetime edition of CNN Newsroom.
But being a reporter that happens to be Latina can bring its own set of unique challenges — from being in an homogenous newsroom to staying calm when experiencing brushes with ignorance, in the newsroom and in the field. For example, when she was a young reporter in Spokane, WA, Cabrera was called a derogatory term while covering a wildfire. She was getting ready for a live shot when a nice local man came up to her to chat, and asked her what her name was.
"I told him, 'It's Ana Cabrera.' He said, 'Cabrera, Cabrera. What's the background of that?' And I said my dad's side of the family is from Mexico, and he said, 'Oh, you're a beaner!'" she recalled, laughing.
Cabrera doesn't believe the man had bad intentions, or even understood the impact using that word could have. After all, how could he? Spokane is a region where most people are white. She gives him the benefit of the doubt, that he had never been told why that term could be considered insulting. "It was unusual for people there to have experiences with diversity," Cabrera added, as a way of explaining why across the region some folks felt comfortable using that word.
She recalls that experience and "breaking through those kind of stereotypes" as one of the challenges in her line of work. But Cabrera also knows that on the flip side, being a Mexican-American reporter means that she brings a different perspective inside and outside of her newsroom. That only can make her coverage and contributions stronger, and it helps educate her viewers too.
"I've always looked at this job like a real public service," she said. "It's something that can make an impact in our communities, our states, and our country."
But media outlets have a long way to go if they want to to fulfill that responsibility in a way that's representative of everyone. Every year, the American Society of News Editors puts out its Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey. And the 2017 results were fairly similar to other years: Only 16.6% of employees in the organizations who responded to the survey were journalists of color and 13.4% were newsroom leaders. When it came to gender, women made up only 39.1% of newsrooms. (For the sake of comparison: Racial and ethnic minorities make up 38.7% of the population and women make up 50.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)
However, Cabrera believes media organizations, including CNN, are currently making a conscious efforts to cultivate all types of diversity — be it through identifying race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, among others characteristics when considering new hires. And that matters to her, because her colleagues can help her identify blindspots she might have.
As more minority reporters join media organizations, questions about whether they can be "objective" have increased. While typically no one questions whether white, male journalists (who historically have dominated newsrooms) are unbiased, the same luxury is usually not afforded to minority journalists who are perceived to have skin in the game. It's easy to find criticism against Latinx reporters covering the Latinx community, or queer reporters reporting about LGBTQ issues, or women writing about women's issues.
There are some issues that hit closer to home than others, but because of that, there's more passion in telling those stories.
So how does Cabrera, a Mexican-American woman and the granddaughter of immigrants, fight these assumptions? She says the key is to always asking questions, especially tough ones, to all parties involved. Even if she feels she's might be leaning towards one side, she always remind herself: How will the other side perceive this report?
"You have to think of it in a wholesome way, and bring that understanding," she said." Someone on the other side of an issue is not even going to listen to [your report] if you're doing it from a specific angle that is biased."
She also believes her experiences and beliefs don't necessarily detract her from doing her job. In fact, they can enrich it. "Of course, there are some issues that hit closer to home than others, but because of that, there's more passion in telling those stories. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to cover them with an agenda in mind," she said. "I'm going to do perhaps an even better job in telling the story in all its completeness."
And at the end of the day, that is the value of having more diverse newsrooms.
"We really should be owning that opportunity to provide perspective, provide a voice that might be lacking," she said. "For me it has always been about storytelling, a sense of purpose in my career path, and presenting stories that might make a difference in somebody's life."