The role of Latino Columnists discussed by NAHJ p.

By: Debra Gersh MANY NEWSPAPERS RUNNING or planning to start columns written from minority viewpoint consider hiring black writers the place to start.
A handful of Latino journalists, however, have gone against the wave to earn and maintain regular columns in their newspapers.
Lori Rodriguez, columnist at the Houston Chronicle, said she got her column only after giving notice. Her managers asked how they could keep her on staff, and Rodriguez asked for a column, which she said was not given to her willingly.
"The Chronicle had in mind that its first minority columnists would be black," she told those at a workshop session of the annual National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in Washington.
Rodriguez said she had to keep insisting that her column appear on the front of the Metro section, as editors tried to squirrel it away in other parts of the paper.
In addition to maintaining her visibility, Rodriguez said she has tried not to let her column become "homogenized." Rodriguez stressed the importance of a columnists finding a voice, no matter what the viewpoint.
"Your voice may not be left of center," she pointed out. "just because you're Latino does not mean you have to be radical. It has to be your viewpoint. You'll be able to take the heat if it's your viewpoint."
Growing up in New York City, Juan Gonzalez remembers only one Latino columnist among the city's dailies.
There has been virtually no progress," he commented, adding that there is till tremendous resistance to opening up those pages."
The role of a Latino columnist is like a "balancing act," Gonzalez explained. "You need to meet the needs of people who feel their voice it not being heard while proving to white and black [colleagues] that you're not a one issue columnist."
Noting that managers tend to "promote people in their own image," Gonzalez said it is difficult to maintain your viewpoint and maintain your vision, [but] if you persevere and stick to where you came from, you will succeed."
Myriam Marquez began her path to becoming a columnist at the Orlando (Fla.,) Sentinel as an editorial writer, which gave her the opportunity to learn to write opinions.
Still a member of the paper's editorial board, Marquez said she has had a great deal of encouragement from the board head, a woman, and has benefited from the fact that its members are relatively young and more progressive.
George Ramos, on the other hand, was a Los Angeles Times metro reporter for 20 years before being offered a column.
After attacks on its building and reporters during last year's rioting, the Times "was in for a rude awakening. It had to step back and take a long look at itself," said Ramos.
One thing it learned, he continued, was that 'the old rules don't work anymore. The Los Angeles times was seen as part of the white establishment. That's why we were attacked. The Los Angeles Times suddenly realized it was seen as part of the problem."
That's when editors approached Ramos about writing a column.
Although "the paper doesn't know what it wants," Ramos said, he just tries to "talk about what it's like trying to live in a city and deal with the basics of life."
For Latino columnists, he also pointed out, "You have to be strong in your convictions. The paper may not back you up."
Moving from Chicago to Minneapolis was a bit like traveling back to the dark ages for Jennifer Juarez Robles, columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Her column, which started with an op-ed piece and now is on its way to becoming a full-fledged column, began because of what she saw: Minnesotans who thought they were progressive but who harbored a deep-seated racism.
"I don't think I'd be writing a column at all if I didn't live in a city with injustices," she said, noting that being a gay Latino columnist "pushes even more buttons. They get real nervous." *E&P


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