NAHJ president fears Vargas revelation will lead managers to ask, ‘Who is in our newsroom?’
While Jose Vargas intended for his revelations to ultimately improve the situation for undocumented workers in the United States, they will likely lead to increased scrutiny in newsrooms, which could harm diversity efforts, says Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Salcedo told me by phone that Vargas' admission "affords anti-immigration rights activists [the opportunity] to come forward to say to news organizations around the country, 'What are you doing to ensure that you don’t have a similar situation in your newsroom?' It will be difficult for news managers to say, 'We don't know, but we're not gonna check.' "
Newsrooms will be under increased pressure "to ascertain that their workforce in fact has the proper documentation to be working in this country," Salcedo says, and that pressure will likely be particularly pronounced for Spanish-language broadcasts and publications, where most of the personnel is Latino.
“ 'If this guy could work for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle without being detected, who is in our newsroom? Do we need to take a closer look at who’s there and who isn’t?' I think it raises all kinds of very serious implications for diversity in the newsroom and especially regarding Latinos, because we now tend to think of immigration as a Latino issue. We don’t look at it as people overstaying visas from Europe ... There’s already increased suspicion of Latinos in this country, and there is a sense that somehow Latinos are not Americans. And it’s getting worse."
In a conversation with San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein, Vargas reportedly said covering immigration was a conflict of interest, though by his own account he wrote stories on the subject for the Chronicle and later for The Washington Post. I asked Salcedo whether news organizations who published Vargas’ work should review it. She responded:
"I think it’s up to the news organizations to decide whether or not their editing process was rigorous enough in the first place to determine whether there were biases or holes in the reporting or that the story was somehow skewed in either direction, whether he was overcompensating because he knew of his conflict or whether he was pushing a particular point of view because of his circumstances."
As to whether Vargas’ situation would help or hinder the cause of diversity, Salcedo said, “It’s yet another excuse for people to question the legitimacy of Latinos in the newsroom in this country.”