Macarena Hernández, 31, is an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Born in Roma and raised in La Joya, Texas, Hernández graduated from Baylor University in 1996 and earned a master's degree in journalism in 1998 from the University of California at Berkeley. Before joining the Dallas Morning News in August 2005, she was the Rio Grande Valley Bureau Chief for the San Antonio Express-News. Hernandez gained worldwide attention in 2003 when Jayson Blair of the New York Times plagiarized her work. In addition to her journalism work, Hernández has taught high school English and currently conducts writing workshops for teachers. She co-produced and reported "The Ballad of Juan Quezada," a documentary piece that aired in May on PBS/Frontline World. In 2003, Latina named Hernandez one of the magazine's Women of the Year. Hispanic Magazine named her a Trendsetter for 2004. Hernandez spoke with JournalismJobs.com about the Jayson Blair scandal and her new job on the editorial page.
JournalismJobs.com: You gained national attention in April 2003 when former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair plagiarized your work. How did the press treat you during this time?
Macarena Hernández: I spoke to reporters from all over the world, including Italy, Colombia and Japan. It was really amazing to watch a story unfold and see the twists and turns. But I didn't really enjoy being on the other side. I pity people caught in media storms. It isn't fun. It's actually a little scary.
JournalismJobs.com: What have you learned about being the subject of frenzied media attention? Has Jayson Blair's misdeed helped or hurt your career?
Macarena Hernández: I learned a lot from that experience. And I was reminded of people's generosity. Politicians, celebrities and all the other media seekers are fair game. Given that the press gets such a bad rap, it is amazing average folks still trust us, because we do make mistakes. I now understand what some people mean when they say they've been misquoted. What a source says is not necessarily what they mean. And sometimes we -- the media -- chew on a story way longer than we need to. Ay, like this one. Hijo, it seemed like it was never going to go away. For a while after the storm, I considered leaving journalism. Once you've seen the restaurant's dirty kitchen, the food no longer tastes the same.
JournalismJobs.com: If you bumped into Jayson Blair tomorrow, what would you say to him?
Macarena Hernández: I've been asked that question so many times, and still don't have an answer. I don't think about Jayson Blair, although folks occasionally bring him up. "So tell me, how did that Jayson Blair thing happen." Just like the Macarena song -- this too shall pass.
JournalismJobs.com: How much of a responsibility is it for minority reporters to cover their own ethnic communities? How can they avoid getting slotted into only doing those stories?
Macarena Hernández: One of my graduate school professors told me I shouldn't ghettoize myself and only write about Latinos. But I wanted to write about Latinos. I became a journalist because when I was growing up Latinos were absent from the pages of newspapers and as a result, absent from the national discourse. But I don't think editors should expect journalists of color to cover their own ethnic communities. Bringing diversity to newspaper pages is not limited to sending Latinos into the barrios. We need diverse perspectives in all sections -- business, lifestyles, metro. Diversity also means giving a voice to the poor, gay, Muslims and other minorities we tend to ignore.
JournalismJobs.com: Last year you said the point of more diversity in the newsroom is not about the numbers, it's about more compelling and comprehensive stories. Have newsrooms have gotten that point?
Macarena Hernández: Newsrooms are far from reaching that point. We've made significant progress in the last decade, but there is still much work to be done. If you want to cover the Latino community, you have to have bilingual and bicultural people on staff, and I am not talking just reporters. We need diversity in management, too, because those are the folks directing coverage. It's also about incorporating different voices into all our coverage -- whether you are writing about home loans or fashion trends. Minority voices should not be limited to the typical stories of immigration, Chinese New Year or Cinco de Mayo.
JournalismJobs.com: Why did you pursue a master's degree in documentary filmmaking?
Macarena Hernández: There is power in telling stories through audio and video. And I really love the team work involved in putting together a piece. Last year, I reported a piece for PBS FRONTLINE/World about this little town of potters in Chihuahua. Josiah Hooper, the producer, and I spent seven magical days roaming Mata Ortiz, hanging out with potters and just taking in this dusty village in the middle of the desert. It's powerful to see images of these Mexican men and women laboring over their pottery. You can hear the pride in their voices.
JournalismJobs.com: After working on films and Internet magazines, what has kept you at traditional newspapers all this time?
Macarena Hernández: Sometimes I wonder why I've stuck it out with traditional newspapers. But I also know that newspapers are great platforms for social change. Most recent example was Katrina. Had it not been for the media it would have taken officials longer to get in and help. Our job is to be a watchdog and voice for our communities. That's why it is important that our pages accurately reflect all of the people who live in our communities. It's unfortunate that sometimes coverage is dictated by who buys the newspaper. We're an idealistic institution trying to survive in a corporate world.
JournalismJobs.com: You got into the news business to tell people's stories. What inspired you recently to move to the editorial side of the newsroom?
Macarena Hernández: It is an opportunity to flex different writing muscles. So far, I am learning a lot. And it really is a luxury to sit around editorial board meetings discussing all kinds of topics. And I work with a great group of folks, who all bring different perspectives to the table and care about rich, compelling writing. It is definitely a team effort and I am really fueled by that kind of energy exchange. I still write about people, but now I mix opinions with facts.
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