A Conversation with Maria Hinojosa
The Women’s Media Center’s recently released report, “The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018,” documents the systemic racism, the old boys’ network, gender bias, and other obstacles that have resulted in a severe underrepresentation of women of color in all news media. Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff.
The report includes interviews with nearly 30 women journalists of color who shed light on the challenges they face and offer solutions for media companies. Below is our conversation with Maria Hinojosa, president and founder of Futuro Media; anchor and executive producer of Latino USA; and anchor the PBS’ In the Thick.
WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER: You formed Futuro Media, your nonprofit, multimedia news organization, in 2010. Why?
MARIA HINOJOSA: I’d spent five years as senior correspondent for Now on PBS, doing long-form investigative journalism. Those were the happiest days of my professional life, and how I won my national Emmy. But they canceled the show. And though I was anchoring Latino USA on NPR, I wasn’t producing it; and I wasn’t, apart from anchoring Latino USA, filing any separate news stories for NPR. I was at a crossroads: Will I play the game of trying to make myself fit — as I did for eight years at CNN? Will I continue to look for work from other people? Plus, national media was shrinking. I was over 45, wondering if I’d hire an agent and figure out how to make myself relevant again.
Also, during that time, I had a meeting with executives at a very high-profile show. They ended up asking, “Could you wait until one of these old white guys gets sick or dies?” I think they meant it as a joke, but it was hard to hear. It broke my heart — am I really going to have to go and apply for unemployment? My friends said, “Maybe you can do something on your own.” But how? I’m a journalist, not an entrepreneur.
I have an angel donor, an amazing, wealthy woman philanthropist, who happened to also be my healer and performed Reiki [a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation] on me after 9/11. That’s how Futuro Media started.
WMC: Why’d you choose that name?
HINOJOSA: It’s a really easy word for anybody to get. Futuro — the future. I was reticent to name it Hinojosa Corporation; it was about much more than me.
WMC: The staff photo on Futuro’s home page shows 17 people, mainly of color and female. There are five men, including some White guys.
HINOJOSA: Our staff is super-diverse, largely millennial.
Futuro is run, day to day, by an African-American woman, Erika Dilday, from Harlem, with an MBA and a journalism degree; I was born in Mexico, grew up on Chicago’s South Side, and I knew our office had to be in Harlem and that our company had to be bilingual.
My senior producer for Latino USA is Marlon Bishop. My senior producer for In the Thick is a young dude from Cambridge. We had men and women apply. What we were deliberate about was hiring the best. It turns out that the people who understood what I wanted to do and rose to the top were women. And I think I was able to see in all these people things they might not be able to see in themselves.
We are really helping to shape the next generation.
I look at our staff and say, “They’ve got it.” That explains why the audience for 25-year-old Latino USA, which we took over from KUT, the University of Texas at Austin [NPR affiliate], creating a partnership with PBS, grew 45 percent last year, and we’ve been particularly good at bringing in a diverse audience. We’ve won the Peabody and a Robert F. Kennedy Award, and got nominated for a Webby. None of this would have happened if I had basically said, “Well, geez, I do not have a job,” and sat there waiting for something to happen.
WMC: What, philosophically, undergirds Futuro’s storytelling?
HINOJOSA: When journalists feel really comfortable in their skin, and their workplaces encourage them to get in touch with their own journalistic passions — and we are not easy about the news; this is a tough group — they know they’ve as much right as anyone else to pitch a story. Journalists who are afraid produce very shitty work. We try to create an environment where young and midlevel journalists are allowed to bring their authentic voice and work they believe is their best and work that they, frankly, love.
WMC: For you, a woman of color who is a journalist, what is good about these times in the news industry and in the world? What isn’t?
HINOJOSA: When I created Futuro, not a lot of us were creating our own companies or owning our very critical voices. Because of the nature of the national conversation right now, women’s voices are front and center in a way we could never have imagined before. The president himself, through his own words, has acknowledged that he is a sexual predator and won’t resign. Women journalists are in the middle of all this.
The bad part is that the playing field still is not equal playing. Sadly, we have seen that some of the people managing news coverage of sexual harassment were sexual harassers themselves. It’s a tenuous time for a lot of women. I’m particularly worried for women of color journalists who are working in places that don’t see them, and, as result, those women decide to turn away from journalism or move into independent journalism, which is really risky.
Then, on a very human level, I’m very worried about Black and Brown lives, particularly of women and children. And that inspires my journalism. There are immigrant children being held for no crime in our country. There are no standards on how they’re being fed, how much daylight they get, if they are being educated. The lack of humanity in what we are living through — and lived through as Obama deported two million people … and Bush greased the runway in many ways. There’s blame on many levels.
Forget about resting. For me, this is not about contemplating when I’m going to retire.
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