Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NAHJ President Reflects On The Multicultural Power Of Media

As the U.S. population continues to become more ethnically diverse, the call for diversified newsrooms becomes greater as well. This week, the Morning Facts focuses on issues related specifically to Hispanic and Latino journalists — today with an exclusive interview with the president of the National Association of Hispanic journalists.

Hugo Balta, 43, grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, but his native roots are planted more than 3,000 miles away in Peru.

“I self identify as a Peruvian American. I’m very proud of my roots in South America and the United States,” Balta said. “As a child, you don’t really understand or value it until you are older.”

Balta currently serves as president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and as a coordinating producer for ESPN. He said his parents’ desire to stay connected to their native Peru inspired his interest in media at a young age.

“They gravitated, like all immigrants do, to mass communication,” Balta explained. “They viewed Telemundo and Univision as a connection to their homeland,” Balta told the Morning Facts.

“I remember them saying there wasn’t a lot of variety in the newscasts — it was very Mexican focused. They’d watch to see if there was just one story from Peru.”

Balta said his parents had a tremendous work ethic and often worked thankless jobs. While this taught Balta the importance of hard work, he said his father’s effort to help other immigrants acclimate to life in America left a lasting impression.

“The best way I could think of to help my community was through television,” Balta said. “I took an internship at Telemundo, and it turned into a part-time job during school, and then a full-time job when I graduated.”

Mentors: critical to development

The internship launched a 20-year (and counting) career in media for Balta. From Telemundo and WCBS in New York to MSNBC and now ESPN, he said he never could have succeeded without a mentor.

“Find someone you can have a personal relationship with who will be a second set of ears and eyes,” he said. “Early on I had two mentors guide me and help me make better-informed decisions about my career.”

Insisting that young journalists need guidance, Balta added, “The day you think you know everything is the day you take a dive off a cliff.”

Balta said he’s witnessed the power of journalism to cross cultural boundaries. This is a big reason why he’s made a personal commitment to mentor young journalists through NAHJ.

“For me, journalism started with me being a witness to my parents’ experience,” Balta said. “They worked in sweatshops and on automotive assembly lines. They both worked more than two jobs. So for me, it was how do I empower?”

For Hugo Balta, journalism is not about being a pseudo celebrity or getting your name out there and being popular.

“It’s our duty to empower and give voices to the voiceless,” he said. “We are the defenders of democracy, and no other industry can say that.”

Jillian Petrus
CA and Internship Coordination
Frank N. Magid Associates

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