Too often, Latinos are portrayed in the media as the reason for what ails America.
Reporters are supposed to be impartial and paint a well-rounded picture when writing their stories. This means reporting and getting as much information as possible to present the facts.
A recent article in the Boston Globe set out to find out why white, middle-class people are supporting Donald Trump. The article, “Being white, and a minority, in Georgia” written by Annie Linskey, answered the question – many long-time residents felt recent Latino immigrants were taking over their community.
But the way the story was written – the lack of context – was a source of consternation for some.
Monica Rhor, a Houston-based journalist and narrative writer, voiced her concerns about the story’s lack of context.
“I think the idea for the story – a look at why support for Trump is strong in that area and who Trump supporters are — is valid,” said Rhor, who previously worked at the Boston Globe as an immigration reporter. “But to me, the story lacked context. It allowed people to disparage Latino immigrants and to blame all their perceived troubles on that community without offering any real evidence to support or refute that. As a result, the story appeared to validate the image of Latinos as dirty, loud lawbreakers.”
Marisol Bello, a former journalist at USA Today and now a senior writer at the Center for Community Change, a national social justice organization, agreed that the piece is a completely valid and important story. However, the lack of context was the biggest issue with the story, Bello said.
“The problem with this story was that it gave voice to what these voters said including a very high level of bigotry and fear and anxiety about these “newcomers” without ever providing any context about what they were saying about these immigrants. The story would have benefited from more Latino immigrant voices among the new arrivals specifically,” Bello said.
This lack of proper context is not new — and it continues. Also this week, Internet controversy erupted when Philly.com published a story about a white family that enrolled their two sons in a virtually all-black elementary school in Philadelphia. Some readers thought the author of the story seemed amazed that the white kids seemed happy with their new surroundings and quickly made friends.
When the context on such articles is wrong, it can reinforce stereotypes, such as with Latino immigrants in Georgia.
Jillian Báez, assistant professor and graduate studies coordinator in the department of media culture at College of Staten Island-CUNY, said although the Boston Globe writer did explain why Norcross is an attractive town for immigrants, the reader is given little context to the myriad reasons why Latino immigrants are leaving their home countries.
“These reasons shift depending on the country of origin and can include war, political repression, and/or dire economic conditions,” Báez said.
In the article, Linskey quotes resident James Bell as saying that Latinos who live in the neighborhood don’t care about their property. He goes on to describe overflowing garbage cans and litter in the streets. Linskey appears to take him at his word and apparently did not go to the neighborhood to verify for herself what Bell described.
Bello also found this troubling.
“The story never challenges these really bigoted ideas by these residents,” Bello said. “Like this whole exchange: ‘The Latinos just throw it in your face. They’re here for the money. They don’t want to be American,’ Bell said. ‘They don’t care about America.’”
Linskey quoted two Latinos in the article – one an immigrant from Colombia who arrived in the community in 1999 and who now owns a construction business. The other was a Cuban immigrant who ran for local public office in 2010. Neither could be classified as recent immigrants.
Báez also noted the choice of Latinos that Linskey chose to interview.
“The immigrant sources selected are not representative of the larger Latina/o immigrant community in Georgia in terms of ethnicity and class. Most of the Latina/o immigrants in that area are Mexican from a poor or working class background. One source is a Colombian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1999 on a student visa. The source mentioned later in the article is Cuban and had enough cultural capital to run as an elected official. However, none of the sources is reflective of the larger Latina/o immigrant community–none are Mexican or overtly economically disadvantaged. In this way, the author flattens differences amongst immigrants,” Báez said.
Linskey starts her article describing a Latino man selling coconuts out of the back of his pickup,
but he is never interviewed. He seems to fit the profile of the recent immigrant to Norcross.
“On Twitter, she said she tried to talk to the coconut vendor but he would not talk to her. Yet she used him as an image representing the negative side of change in the opening and closing scenes. I wonder if she speaks Spanish? I suspect not,” Rhor said.
But there is another overarching theme that emerged from the reporting and execution of this article – would these concerns and issues been avoided had there been more diversity in the newsroom?
“This story points to the very critical need for why you need more journalists of color, editor and reporters, in the newsroom,” Bello said.
Added Rhor, “I think it’s important to note that this is just one example of why diverse voices are needed in newsrooms, and how lack of diversity can lead to inaccurate portrayals of communities of color.”