Maria Hinojosa Questions Diversity of Media Outlets That Use 'Illegal Immigrant'

Less than 4 percent of the full-time journalists at the Times are Hispanic.

Oct. 8, 2012— -- On MSNBC's Sunday morning show "Up with Chris Hayes," Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa, urged media outlets like the Associated Press and The New York Times to drop the term "illegal immigrant." Hinojosa argued that it dehumanizes those it intends to describe and frames the way the American public thinks of those without papers.

The four-time Emmy Award-winning journalist also implied that companies still using the term "illegal" may lack minority journalists in decision-making capacities.

"On the issue of style, I want to know who is in the style meetings and how diverse those meetings are," Hinojosa said. "Because with the demographic change that is occurring in our country that diversity in the media must occur."

Hinojosa may have a point. Less than four percent of the full-time journalists on The New York Times' staff are Hispanic, according to a 2012 survey of print organizations by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE). The Associated Press did not disclose their numbers in the 2012 report.

In contrast, Hispanic journalists constitute about 27 percent of the newsroom at the Miami Herald and 29 percent at the San Antonio Express-Times. Both organizations have dropped the term. Hispanics make up 16.7 percent of the total population in the U.S, according to Census estimates.

Last month, undocumented Filipino immigrant and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas launched a campaign against the media's use of the term "illegal," taking aim at The New York Times and the Associated Press in particular. He also participated in Sunday's forum, and agreed with Hinojosa's argument regarding diversity.

Of the media companies that have officially dropped the term, some have recently made efforts to attract Latino viewers, adding more Latino employees in the process, as we wrote last week:

"NBC, which started NBC Latino this year, dropped the term. ABC, which is part of our new partnership with Univision, dropped the term. CNN, after making recent Latino hires, announced that they prefer to use 'undocumented'... Even Fox News, a cable channel viewed by the public to be the most conservative network in a 2009 Pew survey, took a step in the same direction when it dropped illegal in favor of 'undocumented' on their Fox News Latino site."

Hayes, the host of the MSNBC morning program, also pointed out that some media companies that have made the switch are those who are reliant on a largely Hispanic audience, citing the San-Antonio Express News and The Miami Herald.

"That says something about the business decisions [regarding] who their readers are," Hayes said.

Almost half of Latino voters find the term "illegal immigrant" offensive, according to an unvetted Fox News poll from earlier this year.

New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy wrote in an email that the paper does not breakdown their readership by ethnicity or race. However, we do know that Hispanics are the least likely to read English-language newspapers when compared to other ethnic or racial groups, according to a 2012 report by Pew Research Center on the state of the media.

The Los Angeles Times covers an area with a large Hispanic population, with Latinos comprising 48 percent of L.A. County. But in contrast to the Miami Herald and the San Antonio Express-Times, the paper has not yet dropped the term. According to LA Times estimates from 2012, 30 percent of the paper's daily readership is Hispanic. However, the LA Times reported to the ASNE this year that only about 8 percent of the journalists in their newsroom are Hispanic.

While Latinos may be more sensitive to the usage of the term, Hinojosa is insistent that the debate over the term is one that should matter to all people.

"It is not a Latino issue, it is not an immigrant issue, it is frankly not even an American issue," Hinojosa said. "It's a worldwide issue."

__Update: A prior version of this article stated that The New York Times did not respond by deadline for comment. The story has now been updated to reflect their response.