Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Joanna Hernandez, president of Unity, tackles challenge of diversity in newsrooms

Joanna Hernandez, multiplatform editor of The Washington Post, grew up in the projects of New York, then moved to Hell’s Kitchen, once a gritty midtown Manhattan neighborhood of walk-ups that “West Side Story” made famous.

Her journalism career began when, as a welfare mother of two, she attended the Borough of Manhattan Community College to become a secretary. She soon became interested in journalism and, sometimes accompanied by one of her children, started covering community news events.

“I didn’t know I was [four-year] college material,” she recalls. “I didn’t know I had a voice.” Nevertheless, she won a full scholarship to New York University and, following graduation, began reporting for the Bridgeport (Conn.) Post. The only Latina in the newsroom, she says, “I fell in love with Bridgeport and the issues.”

She also became active in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which led eventually to her election as president of Unity: Journalists of Color. Her two-year term, for 2011 and 2012, probably qualifies as the most time-consuming and tough in the organization’s history.

The National Association of Black Journalists recently left Unity, with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association taking NABJ’s place. Hernandez hopes to encourage NABJ to rejoin Unity.

She also focuses on a new strategic plan for Unity that she expects will reflect an agenda involving sexual orientation and gender identity as well as race and ethnicity. In addition, the difficult economic times, especially for news media, have diminished companies’ focus on diversity. It is important to diversify “so that the stories that are important get told,” she says. “I see us going backwards.”

At home, as Dan Tham’s video makes clear, she faces other challenges, including her son’s questioning of her notion of ethnic identity.

Loren Ghiglione

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