My response to The Hartford Courant’s “Spanish-language strategy” with Google Translate

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Web Journalist Blog.

“Como una cortesía para The Courant, por demostrando ignorancia y falta de respeto a su propia comunidad, déjeme decir: lo cagaron.”

If you were to translate this using Google Translate, guess what… it would be wrong. Anyone who is bilingual wouldn’t be surprised. But they would be surprised in hearing that a news organization would solely depend on using this primitive service as their “Spanish-language strategy.”

Sadly, this isn’t a joke: Hartford Courant’s Spanish site is Google Translate by Poynter.

But, instead of just being disgusted or insulted by The Courant’s “strategy,” let me offer some tips for an actual strategy:

  1. Hire a diverse staff, and in this case, a Spanish speaker. Listen to them. Anyone in their right mind would have told you this was a bad idea.
  2. I know resources are tight, as an affordable alternative to hiring more staff, partner up with the local Spanish-language news organizations. Believe me, they are there. And they’d love to help you inform the community. (Hey Courant, have you tried working with Connecticut’s Latino News Source:
  3. No Spanish-language news organization in your town? Look again. Think radio, newsletters or neighboring towns. Any of these will be better than an automated site.
  4. Still confused? Reach out to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to find local members in your area, including Spanish-language news organizations.
  5. But, let’s say there are no Spanish-language news outlets. Partner up with the largest, Spanish-language local business. They know their community and are fully aware of the information network that is functioning now.

Lastly, apologize to the fastest growing demographic in your community for treating them with such little respect. It’s not a smart business move to belittle them, especially if you want to tap into their growing influence.

I preach experimentation, risk taking and embracing failure. You experimented and took a risk… and you failed. Oh, did you fail.

Learn from your big mistake and start genuinely engaging with your own diverse community.

Do you have any tips for The Courant or any other news organization trying to serve its Latino community? Please share them in the comments.

Oh, and if you are wondering, here’s how I’d translate my statement:

“As a courtesy to The Courant, for displaying its ignorance and lack of respect to its own community, let me say: you f&*#d up.”

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail ([email protected]) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

What if we are part of the voiceless community?

I hate hypocrites… especially when they’re journalists.

I’ve been a bit disappointed with how some journalists have been writing about Jose Antonio Vargas‘ recent announcement that he is an undocumented immigrant. Many are questioning Vargas’ journalistic credibility because he had to hide his immigration status.

As if journalists – including columnists and editors – have never lied before or broken any laws. (Just think about your college years.)

Jose Antonio VargasLike the communities we cover, newsrooms are filled with sinners and saints… perfectly flawed human beings.

But lies have different degrees, don’t they?

It wasn’t long ago that people had to hide, or lie about, being gay. They had to conceal a part of their true identities to avoid discrimination or to get a job, including one as a reporter.

While they felt forced to hide a part of themselves, something tells me they still made strong journalists and did not lie in their reporting.

If I recall correctly, when the gay marriage issue erupted in San Francisco, The Chronicle pulled a gay photographer off the story because editors assumed a conflict of interest. What Chronicle editors failed to note is that straight people also have opinions about gay marriage that may also pose a conflict of interest.

The bottom line is, as far as I know, Vargas never lied in his stories. And just because he had to hide about being part of a certain community, it doesn’t automatically nullify his journalistic credibility or achievements.

Being a part of a community does not disqualify him as a journalist.

Just like Diane Sawyer, for example, isn’t disqualified as a journalist because she worked in Republican Party politics before, during and after President Nixon’s administration and subsequent resignation. Same as George Stephanopoulos isn’t disqualified after working for President Clinton’s administration.

They are just two of many examples.

What has bothered me the most, really, is how journalists are treating Vargas as “other” … as if his reality is not a common one. As if undocumented immigrants, or illegal aliens or whatever label you use, aren’t part of our communities.

We are all made up of different communities, and these often are the same communities we attempt to cover through our journalism. Some communities we praise, others we tolerate and others go unacknowledged.

I, like many others, believe that a diverse newsroom – comprised of different communities – makes for stronger, more relevant journalism. But the sad reality is that not all communities are seen as equal – or as newsworthy.

Our job is to give voice to the voiceless… but what happens if we are part of the voiceless community?

That’s the position Vargas found himself in. And he, like others from different communities before him, decided to come out and remind people the “other” is really a part of “us.”

About a year ago, I actually wrote a post about this topic, but under advisement from my closest editor I deleted it.

The post was inspired by Harvey Milk‘s powerful message: “You must come out” to give a real face to a community that is under attack. This was around the time of Arizona’s SB1070 bill.

My editor thought my post could be taken out of context and hurt my career.

I don’t know how these words will be taken… and quite frankly, I’ve debated whether or not I should ever publish them… but I hope my editor is not right.

In light of Vargas’ story – one that took more courage to share than my story – I feel that I am obligated to share my experience.

Allow me, however, to frame the reason why I am sharing my story now:

  • I’m not asking for any political action. (Don’t call me an activist.)
  • I’m not trying to ride Vargas’ coattails. (Don’t call me a poser.)

I’m writing this because as journalists we can’t afford to forget that we are part of the “other” … that good journalism is truly inclusive.

I, like everyone else, am part of multiple communities: I am a father, a husband, a renter (former homeowner), college graduate, an educator, a Roman Catholic (but I often disagree with the church) and the son of immigrants from El Salvador.

While my mother entered the country by plane with the right papers, my father entered by crossing the border illegally in the 70s.

He quickly became a U.S. citizen.

But let’s be honest here, the act of an immigrant crossing the border without the right papers in pursuit of a better life often overshadows their accomplishments as legal citizens.

To clarify, I was born a U.S. citizen. But all my success as a person and as a journalist, I owe to my immigrant parents.

My father, like millions of other immigrants, reflects the story of America – whether we want to admit it or not. Coming to this land (by any means necessary) with nothing, working [expletive] hard and making a better life for himself and his family.

For the record, my father graduated at the top of his high school class in El Salvador, which earned him a scholarship to Germany. He worked there, but giving into the request from my mother’s family, he moved to the United States after marrying her.

My father ran several small businesses and was a homeowner for more than 40 years. He lost them in the bad economy, but had relaunched his auto repair shop early last year. He passed away in November and the outpouring of support from the local community was a true testament to his accomplishments. That man helped so many people… I had no idea.

My mother struggled and worked hard in her own immigrant story. She made a small living by cleaning houses and other service jobs, including working at the food court of Cal State University, Northridge. She joined my father as an entrepreneur until they separated.

I can tell you more about their story, but let me just say this: “Their” story is part of “my” story. And “my story” is part of “our” community. And all of that is part of journalism. To shun someone, even a journalist, for owning their story, their community, is bad journalism.

If you invalidate Vargas as a journalist for being an illegal immigrant, you are a journalist in denial thinking that he is not part of your community (the one you are trying to cover).

Again I ask: Our job is to give voice to the voiceless… but what if we are part of the voiceless community?

If you are part of a community that is being attacked or politicized, as a journalist it takes courage to step forward and speak up, not as an activist… but as someone who wants facts to prevail. Not talking points.

I applaud Vargas for his courage. He’s a reminder that the “other” is really within “us.”

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail ([email protected]) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

Crowdsourced tips to landing your first, paid journalism job

Okay, chances are this didn’t really happen.

I’m not sure how I heard this, but the story – false or not – stuck in my head when I was beginning my journalism career.

The story allegedly goes that a young Herb Caen, who later became the legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, walked into a newsroom and asked for a job.

The clerk asked Caen if he knew how to type.

Caen said no… but was hired anyway.

Whether this actually happened or not, getting a journalism job these days is a bit more challenging. When I started, aspiring journalists needed to have one, big internship to get closer to landing your first job. Now, you need three or more… or, you start your own publication.

As a flood of new journalists graduate from J-School, I asked people to share their experiences in landing their first, paying journalism job and what advice they have to offer newbies getting into this great calling.

The crowdsourcing led to dozens and dozens of responses, the majority anonymous due to an early decision I made on the Google form. You can see the unedited results here and read a collection of first jobs and earlier tips here. I did my best to try to break down the diverse responses into digestible takeaways.

What are the top three skills you think journalists need to get a job now?

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Top three skills you think journalists need to get a job

Traditional skills dominated the list. A strong foundation on the basics like writing, reporting, ethics, news judgement… and a few mentioned AP Style.

“Don’t think your social media expertise or wildly-popular Hipstamatic photos will get you anywhere; AP style, strong English as both a writer and editor, research and fact-checking skills, and news judgment will make you stand out (you’d be surprised how many people doze through reporting 101 and 202 in favor of their multimedia courses, or what-have-you),” said one participant.

But of course, a close second is having basic technical knowledge. Know the tech, but more importantly know how to use it to tell a good story.

Attitude and work ethic is a quality that stands out.

“Everyone is doing more with less these days, you’ll be expected to work hard and fast and to do so with little hand-holding. You need to show a positive, enterprising, tenacious and competitive attitude.”

Another participant said: “Proving you’re willing to take on what nobody else wants to, and doing it well. (You don’t have to like it, but don’t complain.)”

These suggestions also stood out:

“Don’t just be a reporter or just a copy editor. Take some photos. Blog. Tweet. Blah, blah, blah. But, also, read the news. (It’s shocking how many young journalists I know can talk endlessly about the latest tools but aren’t caught up on what’s happening in the world.)”

“Bullshitting abilities (resume, website, etc — fake it ’til you make it)”

“You have no idea how much patience you’ll need for this job, it really is a skill that not a lot of people have.”

“Managing management”

What is the key to getting a journalism job?

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Key to getting a journalism job

Without a doubt, responders overwhelmingly said it’s all about who you know when you are trying to land your first – and future – jobs.

“Know the right people – networking is huge. Go to job fairs and journalism conferences, make appointments to see editors or reporters anytime you go on vacation, ask friends to introduce you, and keep in touch when you meet someone,” said a participant. “I once met an LA Times editor sitting next to me at the theater, I got an internship after keeping in touch even after I was rejected once, I got another internship by sitting in the lobby from 9 am to 2 pm asking to see the editor.”

Here are some networking tips from one participant:

You have to pursue opportunities to talk to people who do the work you want to do.
-Reach out to them on Twitter, look at who follows them and whom they follow and educate yourself about the subjects they discuss with colleagues in their tweets.
-Attend their public lectures and presentations, comment on their blogs and attend conferences they attend.
-Participate in chats they participate in
-Read blogs that address topics in your desired niche.

I can’t echo this enough. From visiting newsrooms to cyberstalking people, do what you can – within reason – to meet people in real life and stand out from the pile of resumes. Use your network.

That said, this journalist had a different take on networking.

“Knowing people. ‘Networking’ is for shills. But seek out people whom you admire and they will think you are so smart for recognizing their brilliance that they’ll want to hire you or help you out. People in our industry are vain.”

Another theme was to apply widely and have a thick skin.

“To get a job, apply to lots of news outlets, not just your dream workplace. Start small and work your way up from there,” said a participant.

And, perhaps most importantly, once you get your foot in the door, you have to have the skills you keep that job.

Other great tips:

“Know the territory. Don’t go into a job interview without doing research on the town/state/station/newspaper. The more you know the better off you will be. Don’t be cocky, be genuine.”

“Recommendations from people who have been blown away by your portfolio — and can testify that you did it yourself.”

“A willingness to question and push traditional journalism practices while still being willing to work your way up and learn from veteran journalist.”

“Know also that being a journalist means you NEVER stop learning. You need to always know a little something about everything to be at the top of your game. Even the best journalists still take some kind of classes or seminars to build their skills constantly.”

“Editors and other journos can tell a sharp blade from a dull one, and keeping your edge keen is what will get you your start and keep you employed.”

Give a one-word tip to aspiring journos trying to land a gig.

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One-word tip to aspiring journos

“Not giving up after 97 rejections,” advised one participant who was clearly persistent.

“The key is to get in the door. I don’t care if it’s a tiny weekly in Nowheresville. Just get that first job. The rest will follow,” said another.

We all made it – and are making it – in good times and bad. Journalism is a calling. And if you want to make it, you can never give up. Good luck and remember to pay it forward.