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Los Angeles Times columnist sounds alarm about mass layoffs of Latino journalists

The layoffs cut the staff of De Los, the newspaper’s digital edition to Latino coverage resulted in 38% of its Latino caucus members receiving pink slips

The facade for the Los Angeles Times newspaper building in downtown Los Angeles, California
The facade for the Los Angeles Times newspaper building in downtown Los Angeles, California | Shutterstock

January 29, 2024 9:12am

Updated: January 29, 2024 12:21pm

A Los Angeles Times opinion writer who was one of the latest casualties in the mass layoffs taking place at the Southern California newspaper says that the timing of the reorganization could disproportionately affect the Latino community during a critical election year.

Los Angeles Times opinion writer Jean Guerrero, known widely in Southern California as the newspaper's only Latina opinion columnist, was laid off last week as one of 115 other editorial staff members who lost their job.

She is now speaking out about the consequences of the Times layoff, which comes in the wake of other reorganizations that occurred at other major Hispanic American news outlets such as CNN, NBC News, NPR, Telemundo, and Univision.

The Los Angeles Times layoffs cut 38% of Latino caucus members and is eliminating its digital news site for Hispanic Americans

According to a statement issued by the “L.A. Times caucuses,” in-house groups representing Hispanics and other journalists of color, the Times decision to cut the staff of De Los, the newspaper’s digital edition to Latino coverage resulted in 38% of its Latino caucus members receiving pink slips.

“The cuts include innovative initiatives that Nieman Labs have covered in the past, like Latino focused vertical De Los and 404 ‘meme team.’ Both projects to attract new and younger audiences,” according to NiemanLab, a publication distributed online by the Nieman foundation at Harvard.

The De Los section, which was launched during the summer of 2023, comes from the longer phrase “de los dos lados,” which means “from both sides.”

The De Los section was aimed at Latino youth in Los Angeles and gave open access to readers without a paywall Nieman Lab reported last year.

The newspaper’s editorial director for Latino initiatives, Fidel Martinez told Nieman last July that the new vertical arose after some raised concerns about the newspaper’s coverage.

“The Los Angeles Times, while it has produced amazing, fantastic journalism about the Latino community, has also actively maligned it or has been historically ignoring it,” Martinez said. “One of the ways in which we’re hoping to rebuild trust is by putting everything that we do in front of the paywall. It didn’t feel right to be like, ‘Hey, we know we’ve ignored you for so long, but we’re building this thing for you and in order for you to access it, you have to pay for it.'”

On Sept. 27, 2020, the Times published a column by Gustavo Arellano about its over coverage titled, “For Latinos and the L.A. Times, a complicated past – and promising future.”

The column chronicles the rise of the Los Angeles Times Guild Latino Caucus, saying that over the past [then] 139 years “Los Angeles Times readers have seen the best and worst of how American media have covered Latinos.”

Arellano pointed out how at one time the Times, now considered a liberal newspaper by many, once referred to Mexicans as “wetbacks,” “ “border jumpers,” and greasers.”

“Yet despite this disturbing record, Latinos at the Los Angeles Times have also helped to change American journalism for the better,” Arellano wrote.

“Today, Latinos at the paper are writers, columnists, designers, social media managers and editors. But there are not enough of us. In a city that’s almost 50% Latino, only 13% of the newsroom is Latino. In a state where Latinos are a plurality, only 11% of Times editors and managers are Latino. Too many of us leave for other jobs, frustrated at the lack of opportunities here.

That was more than three years ago.

The 2023-2024 De Los news vertical followed other past initiatives to reach the Hispanic American community.

In 1984, the Times won the Pulitzer Prize for its 1983 series titled, “Latinos” in which Mexican American journalists brought the city’s Hispanic communities to the forefront of news.

In 1999, Frank del Olmo, a 1988 Nieman Fellow, known for heralding Hispanic American based journalism was hired as the associate editor for the Times to oversee its Latin Initiative. As a result of that project, the California newspaper hired a dozen bilingual reporters in the newsroom to hunt down stories of interest to Hispanic readers.

“The beats we focused on were neither new nor innovative — religion, entertainment, sports, small business, labor — but putting a fresh and different emphasis on them enhanced our coverage of the local community,” del Olmo wrote in a 2001 Nieman Reports article.

“The initiative at the time led to the paper hiring its first full-time soccer writer after covering sold-out matches at the Rose Bowl, sparked national coverage of a new labor movement led by blue-collar Latino workers in LA, and made the paper the first publication to put then-rising pop star Ricky Martin on its front page.

Former Times columnist says Hispanic media initiatives can help dispel rumors and misinformation

Guerrero says that the Times Latino initiatives helped dispel rumors on social media about fake cures to COVID-19 during the pandemic.

On May 2, 2021, she penned a column for the Times about “How conspiracy theories about COVID-19 prey on Latinos.”

Some of the theories she tackled arose from debates and discussions with her father. Citing a history of Latinos being denied proper medical care throughout the twentieth century, she expressed concerns that conspiracy theories were prompting too many Latinos to doubt the danger of the coronavirus or that it was part of a U.S. government conspiracy theory.

“Days after Papi texted me, my Mexican abuela, who lives in San Diego and speaks little English, sent me a WhatsApp message with a Spanish-language video claiming the virus was created by Big Pharma for profit. She was reluctant to be vaccinated because, she said, ‘they’re experimenting on us.’”

U.S. intelligence studies have revealed that conspiracy theories about the U.S. government spreading viruses such as HIV during the AIDS pandemic have often originated from the Kremlin.

During the 1980s, the KGB launched Operation INFEKTION, also known as Operation Denver, to spread the false notion the U.S. government was responsible for creating the HIV/AIDS virus as part of its biological weapons research at Ft. Dietrich in Maryland.

In December, ADN reported that a recent study published by the U.S. Office for the Director of National Intelligence found that the Kremlin was specifically targeting blue collar Hispanic Americans with disinformation while Tehran was targeting Democrats and Beijing was trying to push misinformation to close associates of Congressional members.  

ADN has also reported on how the U.S. State Department has revealed its own studies about how Moscow is targeting Latin America and Latin American communities by “covertly” spreading disinformation.

The Russian government is currently financing an on-going, well-funded disinformation campaign across Latin America. The Kremlin’s campaign plans to leverage developed media contacts in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, among other countries in Latin America, in order to carry out an information manipulation campaign designed to surreptitiously exploit the openness of Latin America’s media and information environment,” the report said.

According to a 2021 Nielsen study, Hispanic Americans are more likely to share misinformation.

A shortage of Hispanic journalists

“Latino journalists have long been few in major American newsrooms. As Hispanics’ numbers have grown to 62 million nationally, influencing everything from culture to religion to politics, the industry had seemed to recognize their exclusion,” writes NBC in their Jan. 26 summary of the issue.

The new layoffs at the Los Angeles Times could mean a significant step in the other direction. According to the newspaper’s Latino caucuses,

According to a statement issued by the L.A. Times caucuses, or in-house groups for Hispanics and other journalists of color, the Times is cutting 38% of its Latino caucus members and eliminating the staff of De Los.

ADN has reported that 2024 could be a record year for Hispanic voting turnout.

Recent polls conducted by UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Institute reports that the Iowa Caucuses have experienced a 375% increase from 2004 to 2020, and according to the Pew Research Center, there are nearly four million new Hispanic eligible voters since 2020 and five million since 2018.

In November, ADN reported that the U.S. Census revealed that Hispanics will make up one quarter of the U.S. population by 2060, a five percent jump from present numbers at 20%.

This year, according to UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group, 22% of Latinos will be voting in their first presidential election.

According to the study, three quarters of those voting Latinos are U.S. born.

While the Los Angeles Times layoffs effected journalists across the board, the seniority system resulted in the termination of mostly younger reporters, including younger Latino reporters.

To some, that could have a negative impact on reaching young people with news.

“Aging older audiences are dying, and if you want to stay relevant, you have to connect with these demographics and these audiences,” University of Southern California journalism professor Robert Hernandez told NBC. “If you want to be here for the long haul, you have to play the long game and you have to get them while they are young and build a relationship with them.”

“There will always be a need for journalism,” he said, “and it's a full-time job to get those answers.”

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.