Covering the Recall for a Spanish-Speaking Audience: The Political Editor of la Opinion Found-Herself Being Interviewed by a Lot of Other Reporters

By Marrero, Pilar | Nieman Reports, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Covering the Recall for a Spanish-Speaking Audience: The Political Editor of la Opinion Found-Herself Being Interviewed by a Lot of Other Reporters


Marrero, Pilar, Nieman Reports


From the beginning, minority communities in California, which by now are the majority of the state's population, were not part of the movement toward the governor's recall election, the tremor that shook the Golden State with a force reminiscent of periodic movements of the San Andreas Fault. The decisions involved in the recall of Governor Gray Davis emerged from a small but dedicated group of conservative activists and were later fueled by the suburban voter who worries about raising taxes and the proliferation of benefits for those less fortunate, including the largely faceless group referred to as "those illegal aliens."

This pattern is in keeping with Ronald Reagan's election as governor in the 1960's, passage of the anti-tax Proposition 13 during the 1970's, and the voters imposition of term limits in the early 1990's. Voter revolts haven't come from the less affluent and expanding minority communities where economic downturns mean loss of jobs, cuts in pay, closure of neighborhood health clinics, and anti-immigrant initiatives. They arise out of the anger of the mostly white middle class.

Informing Potential Voters

So it became our job, as journalists from the state's only Spanish daily newspaper, not only to inform our community about developments in this fast-paced political story but also to try to explain this odd election to our readership. Most of our readers had no knowledge of the recall process. Is there relevant historic precedent? How will the election work? What happens next?

Those who rely on us for news include a mix of recent immigrants, new voters, and older generation Latinos who'd never seen anything like this kind of political maelstrom and wondered how, in the end, this unique election might affect them. As the campaigns got underway, they also wondered whether it would devolve into a circus or showcase democracy in action. What choices would they have as voters?

Besides following the candidates, we struggled to explain what these campaigns were about. We dedicated a great part of our reporting resources to civic journalism, which is often a strategy used by newspapers that serve immigrant communities. By taking this approach, we are able to inform, explain, interpret and, at times, advocate for the interests of our readership. In this election cycle, we found this harder to do; even the experts often didn't know answers to our questions.

To help bring the community in tune with the developing political dynamic, we did some things we had tried during previous elections. We went out on the street and invited people to pose questions to candidates, which we used in our reporting on particular issues. We'd do articles explaining how the election would work--explaining what it is, its process and history. We encouraged political participation by letting our community members understand what was at stake for them in this election, pointing out the need to vote and reminding them of key dates for registering, requesting absentee ballots, and other details related to voting.

Journalist as Spokesperson

In my job as political editor for La Opinion, I was pushed to do more than just report, write, plan coverage, and edit--all of which I normally do each day given the smaller size of our paper. In addition to these roles, I became a source for other journalists, as more and more called to interview me. They were trying to better understand Latinos and to explain us, as Americans, to Spanish-speaking audiences throughout the world. Though this happens during every political campaign, the interviewing demands on me were especially intense during this election, and the time I spent doing them, of course, took away from my own reporting and editing hours.

But I recognize that wearing this other hat--and becoming a source of news--is now part of my job. Other journalists want me to present the Latino perspective on news shows; often I am asked to express the thoughts, feelings or trends in the Latino community, as if I can represent the thoughts and feelings of this large and diverse group. …

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