Cutbacks hurt diversity in sports departments

By David Ubben

Last year, Ivan Orozco told the story of a San Diego-area soccer player whose mother had been deported to Mexico, tearing apart his family in an all-too-common scenario within his California community. But after the San Diego Union-Tribune’s most recent round of layoffs—which included Orozco—stories like that might not be told so often.

“Those stories are everywhere, but they just won’t get told to some writers,” said Orozco, who covered high school sports, soccer and boxing for the Union-Tribune. “A lot of the people in this community just won’t relate to you if you’re not Latino.”

For a community whose population is more than a quarter Latino, that could be a problem for newspapers already trying to survive unstable times.

Orozco felt that some sports the Latino population embraced, namely boxing and soccer, don’t get the play the community demands. But Union-Tribune sports editor Chuck Scott says on nights the Southern California freeways will be jammed with fans trying to get a glimpse of the Mexican national team, the paper will provide extensive attention in advance of the event, and significant coverage in the following morning’s paper.

“It troubles me when you lose people who represent diverse categories of people,” Scott said. But we’ve lost a boatload of people of all ages, races and ethnicities.”

The issue of losing writers who reflect diverse readerships is not unique to San Diego. Terrance Harris covered Texas A&M football for the Houston Chronicle before he was laid off on March 24. That round of layoffs eliminated the jobs of six black employees.

“We disproportionately took a hit,” Harris said.

Chronicle sports editor Carlton Thompson does not agree. He called reflecting his community a “priority” and pointed out that while others lost their jobs, the Chronicle still employs a black columnist and sports editor, along with several female and Latino writers.

The budget strains haven’t been limited to newspapers. Justice Hill, formerly an editor for MLB.com, lost his job after a round of layoffs in Dec. 2008. Hill also helped recruit interns for the Web site and said it’s important for minorities to be integral parts of the continuing growth online.

“The Internet world seems dominated by white males,” Hill said. “If they don’t bring in minority voices, pretty soon it’s going to look like newspapers did 25 years ago.”

Hill worries that his concerns sound more like complaints that lack solutions. In today’s market, both inside and outside the world of journalism, his ideas, by his own admission, simply aren’ t feasible.

“Newspapers are just handcuffed in trying to fix these things,” Hill said. “There’s no solution, in this economy, that pleases everybody.”

No immediate solutions, that is. But that’s not to say an answer won’t arrive.

“Any young writer I see, I tell them, ‘Don’t aspire to be writers or copy editors,’” Orozco said. “Be the people who make those decisions, and help solve these problems.”

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About Zuri

I am the deputy managing editor for news and multimedia at the Boston Herald. I'm originally from San Francisco and I’m a graduate of California State University, Chico.