By The Numbers

It has been a particularly busy time for Maria Hinojosa, the Emmy-winning host of Latino USA on NPR. After creating her own production company four years ago, Futuro Media Group, Hinojosa and her team are savoring the fall debut of a half-hour television series for PBS called America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa. In anticipation, Hinojosa will be taking the show to ten different cities across the country. For Hinojosa it’s an opportunity “[to open] up the dialogue about what demographic change looks like.”

America by the Numbers is one of few shows anchored and executive produced by a Latina journalist. The show will be examining the growth of Hispanics in the U.S. It’s a topic that Hinojosa is keenly excited to explore. “We are living through one of the most amazing demographic transformations of our country and we get to do the journalism around that transformation.”

Bringing America by the Numbers to the television screen has been a process, but one that continues Hinojosa’s trailblazing legacy. She launched the Futuro Media Group with the backing of a generous philanthropist committed to her vision. It also helped that Hinojosa has a knack for fundraising thanks to several years with NPR. “I had always dreamed of having my own production company,” says Hinojosa.

Futuro Media Group took on the sole production of Latino USA from their offices in Harlem and expanded the program to one hour. The number of listeners has increased and the show is carried in more major markets at better times. On SoundCloud, Latino USA attracts well over 100,000 listeners.

In addition to hosting Latino USA, Hinojosa also anchors Need to Know for PBS and the show One-on-One for WGBH where she recently interviewed author Junot Diaz and salsa legend Willie Colon. And if that wasn’t enough, another major aspect of Futuro’s mission is “taking journalism into communities.” The group sponsors many civic engagement events, screenings and conversations that are meant to spark a dialogue among attendees.

When Hinojosa is asked how she balances all her many roles, she laughs. “I really am Mexican because I have sixteen different jobs.” At a time when many news organizations are shuttering their Hispanic-focused newsrooms or websites, Hinojosa holds firmly to her own company and conviction. “I am convinced this is the right thing to do,” she says.

But the outlook for Latinos in the news media looks bleak. In June, Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race released a study called “The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media.” According to the findings, most major networks devote little time to stories focusing on Latino issues (except for crime or illegal immigration). Another troubling discovery from the study confirms there are no Latino anchors or executive producers on any broadcast network news programs.

The scenario facing Latino journalists now is basically the same one that Hinojosa encountered when she began her career over two decades ago. Born in Mexico City and raised in Chicago, Hinojosa arrived in New York as a college student at Barnard College.

For much of her career, Hinojosa was the sole minority on staff. And at many of the major news programs, a hierarchy of elderly white men reigned supreme. Those experiences influenced how Hinojosa now views Futuro. Members of the newsroom bring in different experiences and opinions, and that’s precisely how Hinojosa likes it. But at the end of the day the stories matter the most. “When we are putting together our show the thing that moves us is great content.”

As Futuro prepares to look beyond America by the Numbers, they are getting a boost from five interns. “Training the next generation of journalists” is a big duty of Hinojosa’s media strategy. One of the interns came to Harlem all the way from Idaho, where she heard Hinojosa speak at the University of Idaho. It was her first plane trip.

Hinojosa recognizes the challenges facing young journalists, particularly minorities. It’s a tough field filled with “no’s” and few “yes’s” but she challenges budding journalists to not give up. “I believe journalism is not just a job or a career, but about a mission.”

Jessica Montoya Coggins