Why we need more Latinx journalists

Story and photos by BRITT BROOKS

When America sits down for breakfast what’s in front of them? The entire internet is literally at our fingertips, so reading the news is less impacted by time and place and more a matter of preference. Especially now when anyone can share their voice, journalists have the unique and exigent responsibility to create reliable, accurate and interesting publications.

Journalism is necessary to keep our communities connected, as well as educate readers with current perspectives. New voices are becoming increasingly popular in publications across the country as various marginalized groups gain platforms.

Utah’s Latinx population is at nearly half a million people, and in a perfect world that large community would be covered and represented accurately in the media. However, as reported by ReMezcla, white male voices tell the vast majority of stories in American media. In fact, throughout all the top newsrooms in the country, only 25 percent had at least one non-white editor. And minorities made up less than 17 percent of all newsroom employees combined.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck is a woman who understands why minority representation is important in all fields. Her experience as a Latina woman, and her career endeavors in journalism, public relations and politics, have given her insight as to what can be better in the world of media creators.

Starting her professional journey at the University of Utah, Chavez-Houck earned a B.A. in journalism and mass communication as well as a Master of Public Administration. After working in public relations, she said she realized she had a knack for “sleuthing” and wanted to try her hand at researching potential bills. Her career totally changed when running for public office morphed from an idea to a reality in 2008.

Chavez-Houck said she used her communication skills to ensure all possible effects of a bill were thoroughly considered and weighed, not glossed over during a long session on Capitol Hill. “You don’t say ‘no comment,’ you find a way to answer the question,” she said during a press pool interview.

Chavez-Houck explained that she decided to run for public office because she didn’t see anyone representing her community who actually reflected it.

The work Chavez-Houck accomplished during her time in the Utah State House of Representatives includes successfully passing a bill ensuring permanent Election Day voter registration as well as medical interpreter amendments that help non-English speakers of all dialects get the care they need in American medical offices.

As a Latina woman in a predominantly white, male career she’s had to navigate different ways to get her voice heard not only by constituents but her colleagues as well. Something she wants to improve is the Latinx image in the media, and that their stories are heard and respected. She’s frustrated with journalists who don’t search for new perspectives and said, “Find us, find us, find us. We’re there!”

Chavez-Houck wants more coverage that actually reflects the various personalities and ways of being for Latinx people. “We are as diverse as the greater community,” she said.

One way to ensure different demographics are covered well in a publication is to hire writers who accurately represent the community. Kiana Opre, 22, is a senior at the University of Utah studying gender studies and English. She’s also the editor-in-chief of Her Campus Utah, a branch of the international online magazine Her Campus written primarily for and by collegiate women.

Opre has worked to expand the topics covered by HCU, like trans rights and gender equality. She’s constantly reminding writers to use photos in their articles that have racial, cultural and gender variation so that the literal image of the magazine shows inclusivity. And she’s proud to say Her Campus at the U is ranked No. 1 out of more than 300 branches due to variables like the number of articles published, social media posts and chapter events.


Kiana Opre

Opre and her fellow HCU council members try to recruit writers from all different majors, backgrounds, races, and genders. According to information published by College Factual, the U has fairly average numbers for diversity regarding race, gender, and age. But the U is more mixed than the national average, and ranks 314 for “Overall Diversity” when compared to nearly 2,500 other colleges nationwide.  

Opre said she advocates for a wide range of writers in all published content and aims to have all types of voices represented. However, she wants to be clear that HCU isn’t seeking out minority writers for no reason. Their voices actually need to be recognized and validated, not tokenized.

In an email interview Opre said, “Businesses, clubs and corporations are constantly seeking out ‘diversity’ but it never seems to be for the benefit for real lives or real people of color, but to fulfill a quota, to keep up with an image of what’s ideologically popular.”

But similar to other Utah-based publications, HCU was having a major gap between the representation the council wanted and the writers the branch actually had.

Stephany Cortez happened to be the first Latina member of HCU, but she said the decision to join was daunting, as going into a group of about 20 white women isn’t the easiest thing to do as a minority.

Cortez is a 23-year-old political science and criminology major at the U. Her roots are Mexican and though she said she loves the culture, community, and family that surround her, she doesn’t want to be defined by any one thing. She’s been part of the U’s Student Government (ASUU) and the Beacon Scholars program for first-generation students.

When Cortez joined the magazine, HCU’s editorial team was totally female, and totally white. On its surface the chapter reflected the stereotype of a sorority, and at one point Cortez said she didn’t know if she was at the right meeting. At the open house for the chapter, Cortez remembered seeing different genders and ethnicities, but soon found out she was the first Latina to join the magazine’s staff. “A lot of people of color don’t know about Her Campus, that it’s a community you can participate in,” she said.

While Cortez said she first felt a bit like “a fish out of water,” she also knew that sticking with Her Campus would improve her writing and possibly open the doors for more Latinx students to join. The people we see in certain positions plant the idea of what’s attainable and what isn’t depending on what you look or sound like. In other words, who we see in different industries and careers is who we believe belong there.


Stephany Cortez

Cortez mentioned that Latinx families tend to stay within their smaller communities for various reasons, the most notable being fear. In a time where ICE is detaining and deporting Hispanic people every day and America’s president actively speaks against Latinxs it isn’t surprising that parents are concerned for their children on a daily basis.

Being repressed is one of the most frustrating feelings one can experience. But if something as common as getting a speeding ticket can end in deportation, fighting and speaking up can seem impossible or at the very least unsafe.

However, new territory is on the horizon for Cortez and other Latinx young adults. They find inspiration in the sacrifices that previous generations made, and use that to add to the culture and future of Latinx people in America.

Cortez is proud of her roots, but she’s also proud of herself for working hard and joining different communities and clubs no matter the preconceived notions. She said, “We need to break that mold.”

The exciting fast paced world of multimedia journalism

By: Gabriella Gonzalez

Journalism is a changing world because of the fairly new popular concept of multimedia journalism.

According to Western Preserve Public Media’s website, “Multimedia journalists gather information, write stories, make broadcasts and use social media to keep the public informed about current affairs and events that are happening in the world.”

So what is the difference between journalism and multimedia journalism?

“The term ‘media’ blends (and blurs) concepts of culture and technology. When uses as a synonym for journalism, the term ‘media’ pushes technology into the foreground and conceals the fact that ‘journalism’ is one thing and ‘media’ is another,” said G. Stuart Adam of Poynter.org.

Multimedia journalism blends news with different mediums such as “video, photos, graphics, social media, reporting, writing, and ethics” said Jennifer Napier-Pearce, host of The Salt Lake Tribune’s daily web show Trib Talk.

Napier-Pearce said that the most important elements in multimedia journalism are reporting, writing, and ethics. Those three things are what journalism is all about, and journalism is the element that cannot be forgotten.

Multimedia journalism is just a different way of presenting or telling a story, Napier-Pearce said.

Napier-Pearce describes what she thinks drives this multimedia journalism as digital.

“Digital equals possibilities. Because of the digital environment we have grown up in, we have expectations,” she said.

The audience who is receiving the news has growing expectations because of all the new possibilities the digital world provides in the multimedia journalism world.

Because of these new possibilities with digital mediums, if makes journalism very competitive.

“Everybody is fighting for your eyeballs and your money,” said Napier-Pearce.

Sherwin Coelho, from The Guardian, shared his experience about being a multimedia journalism student.

“If I had to do my course (MA multimedia journalism) all over again I would have made sure I learnt shorthand, HTML, InDesign, DreamWeaver, creating infographics and data journalism — or at least the basics of each,” Coelho said.

Napier-Pearce said she learns new things all the time. Multimedia mediums are an ongoing change. There are a few factors that have changed about multimedia journalism. Napier-Pearce said she has noticed that this type of journalism is changing by the length of the stories, videos, and deadlines. People are expecting news faster, which means shorter deadline to produce news. People don’t want to read a 30-inch long story anymore. The same goes for videos — people are looking for short videos that get them the most important information the fastest.

The Salt Lake Tribune has been experimenting with this for a while, Napier-Pearce said. The Tribune is looking for ways to make Trib Talk shorter.

Overall, Pearce’s biggest challenge of the new multimedia journalism is trying to hold people’s attention.

“You can increase your audience’s attention by making your stories and videos shorter,” Napier-Pearce said,. “You can also break it up with video, pictures and chunky texts.”

Napier-Pearce described multimedia journalism as being “digital in nature” and “digital equals possibilities” so don’t be hesitant to learn new skills. You’ll need them because the digital world is in constant change, and “people have to be will to learn a new skill.”



Newspaper struggles to achieve media diversity on U campus


In a way, the name of the newspaper tells its story. Venceremos! It is determined and defiant, a rallying cry during the Cuban revolution and an echo of the U.S. civil rights movement. Literally translated, it means, “We will win.” Or, in some cases, “We shall overcome.”

Venceremos is the University of Utah’s Spanish-English bilingual student newspaper and, as the name suggests, its history over the years has been a struggle to simply stay in existence. In January 2008, the paper returned to campus after being shelved and abandoned for more than four years.

Editor-in-Chief Stephany Murguia, a senior majoring in mass communication, said in a recent interview that the first issue of the resurrected quarterly publication took more than six months to produce and that 10,000 copies were printed and distributed across campus. The issue focused on immigration, which dominated the news while the Utah legislature was in session this year, but also looked at crime and what Murguia called “other underreported stories.”

Murguia was born in Mexico and grew up in California. She has lived in Salt Lake City for the last seven years and graduated from Copper Hills High School before attending the University of Utah. She said Venceremos isn’t just valuable because it will publish stories others aren’t interested in, but because it can actually get the stories others can’t.

“We build up a trust relationship within the community,” she said. “We can get the sources to talk to us that other publications can’t. I know people at the [Salt Lake] Tribune who have trouble getting access to parts of the community, and especially getting pictures.”

She said she ultimately wants to expand readership beyond the student body and encourage community members from the larger Salt Lake Valley area to contribute stories in both English and Spanish on a regular basis.

“We want to create a space that’s really accessible,” she said. “We want to create a community space, something bigger than just us at the university.”

Venceremos was first created in 1993 by a small group of students in order to address what they saw as a dearth of coverage in the local media of the issues that concerned their minority communities. For almost a decade the staff at the paper worked to change that.

Then, in 2003, Venceremos was forced to halt production. Luciano Marzulli, who was an editor then and who advises the current team, said in an email statement that staff members at the time had become somewhat overextended with community activism and were suddenly asked to give up the space and equipment they had been using.

“The momentum of the paper was slowing down anyway and the loss of equipment and office space was like the final straw that pushed the publication into hiatus,” he said.

The paper may have gone on hiatus, but the need for it in the community did not. Marguia, who was in high school at the time and had written a couple of columns for the paper, said that she and Marzulli recognized this need and kept alive the idea of re-launching the newspaper at some point.

“Year after year it was a constant thought with us,” Murguia said. “There was a group of about four of us and we kept copies around and we kept saying to each other that we would bring it back.”

A 2005 study by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists looked at coverage of Latino communities and issues in American weekly news magazines. It showed that, in the few stories that were published about these communities, the coverage was focused almost exclusively on migrants as a problem for U.S. society.

A report on the study’s findings said the number of Latino sources in stories was too low, the word “illegal” appeared too frequently and hurtful stereotypes were rarely challenged. It concluded: “Sadly, such representations may often make it difficult for Latinos to also see themselves beyond these one-dimensional depictions.”

Marzulli put it more bluntly. “The driving force to re-launch the paper has been the consistent and steadfast anti-immigrant and downright racist reporting that takes place in the majority of, if not all, mainstream media outlets,” he said. “The importance of Venceremos is the voice and perspective that it offers to counter that racism.”

Last year Murguia was able to use a communication department internship to finally do what she and Marzulli had talked about for years. Venceremos is in production once again, but the small staff still struggles to keep the newspaper afloat. Murguia said the first issue had to be written, designed and laid out on her personal laptop computer. The staff shares space with the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs in the Olpin Student Union building.

She said they were able to get funding from the University Publications Council, which provided half of what they needed. Other sources, including the departments of humanities and social work, provided the rest.

“That was enough to just do the first issue, to cover the cost of printing and distribution,” Murguia said. “But it didn’t help us to get any equipment or our own space to produce the next issues.”

She said similar funding has been secured for the production of future issues and she is also selling advertising space.

“It’s frustrating starting from scratch again,” she said. “Not only raising money, getting funding, but also a lack of existing infrastructure. But it’s something I have to do.”

Sandra Plazas is the co-founder and current editor of local Spanish-language newspaper Mundo Hispano. She understands Murguia’s drive to make Venceremos a reality. Plazas and her mother worked alone for months in the dining room of their two-bedroom apartment to create their publication, and for many of the same reasons.

“You feel a sense of mission, a need to give voice to your community,” Plazas said during an interview at her office. “You also want to let people know the things that are important for them to know. You want to show what services are available and educate newcomers about what they need to do in order to live here.”

Murguia said the second issue of the new Venceremos will be distributed in late April and an issue will follow every three months after that. Eventually she would like to make it a monthly, or even a weekly, publication. At some point, if her plans succeed, Murguia may be forced to consider a name change for the newspaper — to something like Ganamos! We won.

Respect, accuracy key to coverage, GLAAD strategist says


The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation offered a presentation on media essentials on Oct. 16, 2007, in support of Pride Week at the University of Utah. Adam Bass, the Northwest media field strategist for GLAAD, encouraged aspiring journalists to recognize and write effective pro-LGBT messages.

“A good example of an effective pro-LGBT message could be something like this: University of Utah Pride is an opportunity to showcase our diverse student body and let every student know he or she is valued as a member of the community,” Bass said.

GLAAD’s media field strategy teams provide training to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and straight allies illustrate more effectively the power of local media to encourage respect, inclusion and acceptance. In addition, the teams work closely with organizations and individuals to develop strategies and contacts, create news coverage and train spokespeople. Bass’ role is to be a community and media resource for whoever is writing or speaking about the LGBT community.

He encourages people to correct misrepresentations and factual errors in the media by responding with a message that will educate and inform others. “When you respond to a story or an article, do stay positive and be for, not just against something,” Bass said. “Don’t make it us versus them.” He believes it is vital to stick to what you know, since the message must match the messenger, but also said not to be afraid to be on the offensive. Bass told the audience to remember to reclaim facts and valuable statements with proper language and not to repeat the opponent’s negative message.

For example, when writing letters to the editor, Bass said it’s essential to respond to the defamatory coverage by clarifying the misconception or inaccuracy of an opponent. “The strategies for writing a letter to the editor are: making a strong affirmative statement, tell your personal story, support your statement with facts and strengthen the existing positive message of your organization,” Bass said.

Once you have created an effective message, the next step is knowing your audience. Bass said there is no such thing as a general audience; rather, individuals need to speak to the “movable media,” those who will be affected by the issue or subject. “It’s important to tell your personal story and to let your message come from experience, but to also know your boundaries,” Bass said. He encourages people to use “buzz” words like freedom, justice, democracy, love and commitment to build bridges with readers or the audience. The goal is to convince your audience that your position is reasonable and persuasive.

“It’s simply about taking the personal story and making it a universal message. For example, try using the Oprah effect; ask someone to sit on a couch and tell you their story,” Bass said.

On the other hand, the goal of writing an opinion editorial is to summarize an issue, develop a persuasive argument and propose solutions. The strategies behind writing an opinion piece are: Begin with your personal story, include facts and make the complex issue clear. “Whether it’s a letter to an editor or an opinion editorial, it’s essential to keep it short and concise, to be specific in the response and to not assume audience knowledge,” Bass said.

He said he approached the editor of the Daily Utah Chronicle at the U about publishing the word “homosexual” in a story. In response, the staff committed to altering their pre-existing style rules to appropriately address the LGBT community. “The explanation of the term as a scientific branding propagated by a number of anti-gay publications made it clear to me that we should include more specific instructions on use of the word in our own style guide,” said Matthew Piper, editor-in-chief of the Daily Utah Chronicle.

GLAAD, the third largest LGBT civil rights group in America, strives to change hearts and minds by altering the way media portray the LGBT community. “We are a media advocate and watchdog for the LGBT community,” Bass said.

The organization was founded in New York City in 1985 in response to the defamatory anti-gay media coverage during the beginning days of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States. GLAAD’s mission is “to promote and ensure fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

GLAAD strives to meet people where they are and to foster broader conversations with anyone and everyone. “We talk about stories to open hearts and minds,” Bass said.

NLGJA low on numbers, high in benefits


They are called under-represented, minority groups for a reason. Groups that fall under this category often have their images skewed, stereotyped or all together forgotten in America’s newsrooms.

In 1975, the National Association of Black Journalists was founded in an attempt to combat this growing problem. Other ethnic minority groups — Hispanic, Asian and Native American — followed suit, establishing their own associations all sharing the same goal, an effort to find a solution to misrepresentation through education.

Then, in 1990, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) was founded. It was time to address the needs of a group that was not identified by their ethnicity or race, but by their sexual orientation.

Headquartered in the nation’s capital, NLGJA has spread across the nation into 25 chapters, located in cities or states that have at least 10 official members. According to NLGJA executive assistant Brian Salkin, the Indiana chapter and the Nashville, TN, chapter were the most recent to be instated, Alaska will be the next state to add a chapter.

“As an organization we do primarily three things: we first advocate for fair coverage of LBGT issues in the media, we advocate for equal work place benefits in news media and related fields and we train professionals,” Salkin explained.

According to NLGJA’s Web site, approximately 1,300 “journalists, media professionals, educators and students” who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual and transgender have become members in NLGJA’s nearly two decades of existence.

Two of those members reside and work in Utah. Salt Lake City is one of four cities and states that are categorized as significantly smaller groups called satellite chapters.

The low membership in Utah may come as a surprise considering the benefits NLGJA offers. The group strongly advocates for equal work-place benefits, and labels itself as a support group, providing a wide variety of programs such as the Diversity Oversight Committee and Podunk, a task force for the group’s smaller markets. NLGJA also posts job listings, events calendars and provides resources, such as an official LGBT style guide.

“And then there are the intangible benefits,” Salkin said. “It serves as a huge networking pool for our members and people who want to be members .… It provides you with someone who you can relate to as a fellow journalist who is out.”

NLGJA is especially student friendly. For an annual fee of $25 aspiring journalists can apply for scholarships and internships that are offered through the group. An Excellence in Student Journalism Award with $1,000 in prize money that student members can qualify for is offered. And perhaps most importantly, students can find professional mentors willing to share the experiences and challenges of being gay and working in a newsroom.

Much like gay journalists, Salt Lake has some stereotypes of its own to break. JoSelle Vanderhooft, NLGJA’s Utah representative and assistant city editor at QSaltLake, said the state’s reputation makes her somewhat of a “celebrity” at NLGJA conventions. “They say, ‘Wow, Utah. What’s that like,’” Vanderhooft said.   

What is Utah like?

As far as media coverage, QSaltLake and the Pillar are two examples LGBT media publications in the state.

In Vanderhooft’s opinion, KSTU FOX 13 has provided some of the best LGBT coverage in the state. However, a story by another Utah television station about gay men soliciting sex in Memory Grove, a park in Salt Lake City, warranted Vanderhooft’s harshest criticism.

“It was ridiculous. They made a lot of assumptions. If I had known about it I would’ve called NLGJA’s rapid response task force,” Vanderhooft said. The rapid response task force referring is a part of NLGJA that examines specific complaints from media consumers and journalists. 

Her criticism has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Vanderhooft said she felt the story did not have accurate sources. Vanderhooft fully believes a “straight” journalist is just as cable of covering the LGBT population as a “gay” journalist would be; it just takes a little more effort. “You’ve got to be educated. You’ve go to do your homework,” she said.

Gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, the fact is, a journalist is likely to be asked to cover a story involving the LGBT community at some point in his or her career. NLGJA is there to act as a watchdog, but more importantly, to help journalists make sure their coverage is accurate.

“We’re actually having conversations about gay marriage … it makes for a different newsroom,” Vanderhooft said. “Ultimately, I’m looking forward to the day we won’t need to say LGBT media and people just write about it.”

Sandra Plazas: Overcoming diversity


Sandra Plazas has encountered adversity in moving to a new country and running a business.

However, the challenges of entering a new culture did not deter her from pursuing her goals, and the task of running the newspaper, Mundo Hispano, is something that she sees as a duty and service to the Wasatch Front.

“One of the things that Mundo Hispano has become is the voice of the community,” Plazas said. “We are covering the issues that affect the community, and we value the trust the community has put in us.”

Plazas and her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, publish Mundo Hispano and own a Hispanic marketing and consulting company named HMC-La Agency.

Yet they faced many difficulties on the path to where they are today.

Plazas, a native of Colombia, was forced to leave the country in 1991 when her mother was threatened with death by “Narco-Guerillas,” a term she used to describe people involved in the drug trade and violence in Colombia.

Plazas was about to graduate from Universidad Externado de Colombia in Bogotá. However, her plans were quickly altered.

When Plazas and her mother arrived in Utah they found work cleaning bank floors in Utah County, a cruel irony considering the fact that Gonzalez had a career in Colombia working for what is today Chase Manhattan Bank.

“The thing I learned best was persistence,” she said, when discussing the difficulties she faced. With this approach, she finished her degree in communication and media over the Internet.

By 1993, Plazas and her mother were ready for change. They wanted to do something that they could enjoy and careers that would give them a future.

They decided to start a newspaper that would serve the Hispanic community, taking a risk and investing money that Gonzalez had saved.

“People said [we were] making the biggest mistake of our lives,” Plazas said.

But, it seems that Plazas has proved the doubters wrong.

Starting as a publication with 1,000 copies per month, Mundo Hispano now prints 10,000 copies per week and has a readership of about 23,000 people. It is distributed for free along the Wasatch Front, Tooele, Park City and Heber City. Subscriptions are also available for $50 every six months.

Through Mundo Hispano Plazas publishes many articles that help Hispanics in a new culture gain knowledge about basic services and where they can go to find them.

These articles provide critical information to Latinos. But, Plazas also has a bigger goal for the paper.

“Our dream is that we would be a bridge between the two communities,” Plazas said. “As each community learns from each other we will increase understanding.”

This desire to dissolve barriers between Latinos and non-Latinos in Utah has led her to take part in other service as well.

Plazas is a member of the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force, a group that meets every Friday during the legislative session to analyze bills and how they will affect the Hispanic community. They issue press releases, talk to the media and testify before state representatives.

Bills such as House Bill 241 threaten to create more adversity for Latinos in Utah, limiting the opportunity for some to attend college. Plazas fights this measure through her work on the task force and by educating the public through Mundo Hispano.

“Other papers focus on sensationalism,” Plazas said. “We focus more on integration and differentiation. We do more analytical news, how it affects the community, and what we can do. We can change the legislation.”

While Plazas continues her involvement in political issues, she also focuses on service for children and teenagers.

“One of my most rewarding experiences is coaching a team of under-privileged Hispanic kids in soccer. It’s showing these kids a new world,” she said.

Plazas started the competitive team after her son Carlos, 15, was not selected to play for another club.  Players must maintain at least a “B” grade point average and perform community service. In return, Plazas finds sponsorships to help pay the $14,000 cost and covers the remainder herself.

“I am like their mom,” Plazas said. “Most of them are aiming for college, but some still don’t believe they can do it.”

She said many of the boys she coaches are ignored by their school counselors and discouraged from attending college. However, she makes an effort to steer her players in a different direction by explaining the opportunities that exist in higher education.

On both the playing field and the pages of her newspaper, Plazas wants knowledge to open up better financial opportunities for Latinos.

“I don’t see how you can have economic development with an uneducated society,” she said.

The themes of learning and overcoming adversity are common in Plazas’ life. She hopes that along with her other efforts, Mundo Hispano will be a source of education for the people of Utah.

“What we have done in the community is more important than making money,” Plazas said. “The newspaper has a mission, a mission of integration and unity within the two communities.”

Local newspaper marks 15 years of bringing communities together


She calls it the “Field of Dreams” mentality, a reference to the iconic 1989 Kevin Costner film. If you build it, they will come. It is why, Sandra Plazas says, she and her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, went to work in the dining room of their two-bedroom apartment in the early 1990s to create the region’s first Spanish-language newspaper.

“People were saying to me, ‘You’re crazy! How are you going to do that? There are no Hispanics in Salt Lake City,'” Plazas recalls. “And I kept thinking, ‘No, not yet.'”

The mother-daughter team, both new arrivals in the Salt Lake Valley at the time, worked day and night and eventually launched Mundo Hispano in 1993. The new tabloid-style newspaper was free, printed monthly and had a circulation of 1,000. The first issue took more than a month to produce.

The pair worked alone for the first five years, doing everything, but as Plazas had predicted, the readers came quickly. Today the paper is printed weekly and boasts a total readership in the tens of thousands, with distribution from Ogden in the north to Provo in the south and a full-time staff running things from day to day.

The two initially had to give away space at no cost, but slowly the advertisers came, too. Each week, the back cover now showcases companies like Home Depot, Coca Cola, McDonalds and Zions Bank. This fall, Mundo Hispano will celebrate 15 years of being what Plazas calls “a bridge of integration between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities along the Wasatch Front.”

Plazas says she is currently on a mission, not only to bring people together, but also to make her newspaper an invaluable source of information for local Hispanic communities. One way she says she tries to do this is by closely monitoring the activities of state and local government, and by reporting on these activities in a way that helps readers understand the connection to their own lives.

“People are arriving in Utah every day with vastly different levels of cultural understanding and assimilation,” Plazas says. “A vibrant local media is important to all of them.”

Her role as the founder and editor of the newspaper has led to involvement with the Hispanic Legislative Task Force, a group of about 15 local community leaders who meet when the state legislature is in session to analyze proposals relevant to the community and advocate either for or against them. She says she spoke with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. during the recent battle over legislation that would have denied in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

“I pointed out that it would be much more difficult to achieve his goals for economic development in the state without an educated public,” she says.

Plazas, 37, was born in Colombia and raised in that country and Ecuador. She fled Bogotá with her family and moved to Salt Lake City in 1991 at the height of the narcotics-related violence that was rocking most of Central America at that time. She says that extortion and threats of retribution were commonplace.

“My country is a great country,” she says. “But when they say they are going to kill you, they mean it.”

When she and her family got to Utah, Plazas says the only work they could find was cleaning floors in a bank, which marked an ironic turnabout in their lives. In Colombia, her mother, a college graduate with a business degree, had worked in the banking industry. The family had employed maids of its own at home. But, surprisingly, the language in their new country was an even bigger challenge than family pride.

“You think you speak English well because you speak it so much more than anyone around you,” she says. “Then you come here and it’s, like, ‘What?’ No one speaks what they teach you in school!”

Plazas, who has a degree in communications and describes herself as “a bit of a dreamer,” says she became a journalist because she wanted to show people the truth behind things. She originally saw herself as a war correspondent, but has since come to prefer softer and more individual-oriented stories.

She has interviewed her favorite author, Isabel Allende, and one of her favorite musical artists, Gloria Estefan, for stories. She profiled George W. Bush for an assignment while he was in Salt Lake City campaigning the year before he became president.

In the future, Plazas says she will be working to increase Mundo Hispano’s advertising sales in order to generate more revenue. With the extra money, she plans to increase the number of pages, increase circulation and, ultimately, grow it into a daily newspaper with statewide distribution.

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