Fellowship investigates discrimination against Latino journalists in the U.S.

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute awarded seven fellowships for the 2020–21 academic year for projects that address the increasing challenges in covering climate change, unpublishing, harassment of marginalized journalists and more.

A team from Fundamedios wants to gain a better understanding of the challenges and threats facing Latino journalists living in the U.S. in their work, during an RJI Fellowship, as they seek to promote journalists’ safety and freedom of the press.

The fellowship project was prompted by the 2019 El Paso shooting where Latinos were targeted and 23 were killed, says Dagmar Thiel, USA director of Fundamedios. There has also been regular anti-media and anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from President Donald Trump. Then shortly after the fellowship was awarded, more than 25 Hispanic journalists were negatively involved in incidents including being hit by rubber bullets or being detained during coverage of the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death.

Fundamedios is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that is “committed to promoting freedom of expression, monitoring aggressions and risks faced by journalists, and uphold human rights.”

The Fundamedios team has some concern that journalists impacted by discrimination or harassment start begin self-censoring or stop reporting and as a result reduce the amount of coverage flowing to Latino communities, says Theil. There’s also some concern surrounding how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting Latino communities and the role played by Hispanic journalists and smaller local Latino news outlets to bring crucial information to those communities. 

More about the fellowship

During the fellowship Thiel, in partnership with Frank LaRue, advocacy and human rights director, is conducting research to answer questions such as “Are Latino journalists being discriminated against? Do they have the same salary or contracting conditions as their peers? Do they have opportunities to grow in their workplace? Are their suggestions or ideas accepted? Have they been harassed due to their identity, physical appearance or accent? Do Latino journalists have equal access to information sources to answer relevant questions of the community they serve?

The team began the fellowship asking members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists these questions, but didn’t get much response. Thiel says some of this is a result of some being afraid to speak out as the survey included questions about discrimination in the workplace and some may fear retaliation. In response to this, the team is doing an empirical study on referred cases and have already interviewed 35 journalists. The team has additionally documented the arbitrary detentions or assaults of journalists of Latino origin during the George Floyd protests.

They’ve also been able to recruit journalists to help by promoting the surveys during their recently launched digital discussion forums, Journalistas Conversando, says Thiel. Although the forums, which are now held every other week, began before the fellowship, they’ve become a good way to discuss the challenges Latino journalists face in their daily work in the U.S. and promote the project.

After gathering information from the survey questions, the team plans to analyze the threats and difficulties Latinos are facing as a way to learn about how their freedoms are being impacted.

They will use what they learn to develop a network of support for Latino journalists who have suffered discrimination or harassment and begin training media outlets how to develop safety protocols and support in their newsrooms, says Thiel.

Eventually the team would like to create a hotline where Hispanic journalists can call regarding harassment and be referred to national networks for resources and help.

“In some cases these journalists don’t speak English,” says Thiel. “So we want to be kind of translators and connectors, to refer cases that don’t see the light of the bigger organizations, because these journalists may not know the best way to reach them and have the support they need.  The aim of our organization is additionally to build bridges among journalists in the U.S. and Latin-American and connect them. This project is embedded in this aim. For now, we are documenting the reality many Hispanic journalists in the U.S. face to start with this baseline, raise awareness and connect support networks for the different situations.”

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