Veteran multimedia journalists Julio Ricardo Varela and Tim Estiloz sat down with Emerson College’s chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) to talk about their experiences working in the industry as people of color.
The panel, held Wednesday, October 4, in Piano Row, was the first of several that NAHJ plans on organizing throughout the year.
Emmy Award-winning TV host Estiloz told the audience that when he was starting off in the business working for WLVI-TV Boston in the late 1990s, he felt his hiring and presence at the station was primarily “to be that token reporter or anchor of color.”
While both Estiloz and Varela said that throughout their careers, they repeatedly felt their stories weren’t taken as seriously as they should have been, they urged the crowd to not let others’ opinions overshadow what they can do for their own communities.
Estiloz later reflected that his proudest achievement was not any of his positions held at El Mundo, Comcast, Boston Latino TV, or even his two Emmys. He told the the crowd that what made his entire career worth continuing was in 1998, when his news editor dropped a copy of the Boston Globe onto his desk opened onto an article in which a young man by the name of Pedro DeJesus said that the only reason he watched WLVI-TV Boston was because he finally saw someone who looked like him on the TV screen, an anchor and reporter by the name of Tim Estiloz.
“I realized that regardless of how I felt at that station at this particular time, it was reading that article that made me want to stick around for good and hopefully talk to my underrepresented community,” Estiloz said.
Varela is founder of international Latino media site LatinoRebels.org, digital media director for Futuro Media, and editor of LatinoUSA.org. He addressed the media coverage during the week that Hurricane Maria fell upon the island of Puerto Rico, emphasizing how it was similar moments like that in the past that urged him to found LatinoRebels.org.
“For the entire first week that the strongest hurricane in almost 100 years swooped over the place that I was born, displacing an entire population and practically wiping out the entire power grid, the only outrage and outcry there was in the nation was over NFL players peacefully protesting,” Varela said. “That was what the news outlets were deeming as a disaster.”
At that point, the conversation shifted to the notion of objectivity.
Estiloz recounted an experience where he was assigned to cover a high school teacher getting beaten by a student’s father. The parent landed only about one or two full punches, but when Estiloz and his news editor were writing the script, Estiloz realized she was trying to sensationalize the story, using phrases like “going berserk.”
“You know they try to sensationalize everything because they want the ratings; they want to be the first ones to report it,” he said. “But, dammit, take your time and don’t compromise the integrity of objectivity with smaller events such as this.”
Varela said the notion of objectivity is a construct to keep underrepresented voices in check when the stories address systemic issues that might directly affect the identity and community of the journalist covering it.
“Let’s say I’m covering the deportations under either the Obama or the Trump administrations,” Varela said. “Do I really need to hear the other side? If I ask the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents, their job is to cover it up.
“When it comes to deep-rooted issues of minority communities, objectivity is going to serve no one but the ones who are enacting and trying to shelter the suppression,” he said.
Samantha Avalos ’19, a Journalism major and director of WEBN, said she appreciated what Varela had to say about developing an ethic of nonstop writing and editing, and that though a multimedia journalist could start locally, they could also start on national digital media outlets if they’ve managed to amass bylines through independent outlets.
“It was something that genuinely got me thinking, like the dichotomy of a journalist starting in the local scene, as opposed to a journalist, if they have enough clips and bylines under their belt, starting out at an outlet like VICE, Splinter, the Huffington Post,” Avalos said.
NAHJ-Emerson President Jacqueline Menjivar 19, also a Journalism major, said she hoped the audience was able to take something away from the evening.
“Hopefully, we could be to the next generation of Hispanic journalists, and to journalists of color overall, what Tim was to Pedro DeJesus. That’s kind of why we’re here—to hopefully become the space that we rarely saw,” she said.