Interview: Maria Hinojosa

Maria Hinojosa prides herself on telling the stories that aren't covered in the mainstream media in her work for PBS, NPR, and WGBH of Boston. She chats with PRWeek about the topics that most interest her.

Maria Hinojosa prides herself on telling the stories that aren't covered in the mainstream media in her work for PBS, NPR, and WGBH of Boston. She chats with PRWeek about the topics that most interest her.

PRWeek: Can you tell me about all these positions you have and how you got to where you are today?

Maria Hinojosa: I am what you call a multi-media journalist. It also means that, when you work in the public medium, it is about the work. We don't get paid a whole lot of money, but we love what we do. I'm lucky that at this point in my career, after spending eight years at CNN as the urban affairs correspondent — and that was my first reporting experience in TV — I then moved to long-form investigative journalism, which is what we do here at NOW on PBS. My career started as a correspondent for National Public Radio in New York and when I left NPR to join CNN, I maintained my radio presence by the program Latino USA. Then, this is our third season of taping One on One, which is a talk show produced out of Boston and released nationally. We just won an Emmy six months ago, so we're happy about that.

PRWeek: What are some of the issues that you are most passionate about?

Hinojosa: I think if there was an overall [answer], it is telling stories that are untold in the mainstream media. I think that's always been how I have seen myself, because I grew up kind of from an outside perspective. I was a Mexican immigrant kid, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, in fact, in the neighborhood where President Barack Obama used to live. I became an American citizen in the late 1980s, [prior to that] my parents and I were all here legally with papers. But I had an interesting perception about what was happening in America. What my reality was, wasn't being shown [in] the mainstream. This was 40 years ago; we were invisible. Part of what motivated me to want to become a journalist was to say, “There's a whole other part of America that is going on here, and I'm lucky enough to be able to have an in here, both in terms of language and in terms of ethnicity, and in terms of the communities I've lived in. I want to share these stories with a broader audience." And that propelled me to want to become a radio and television journalist.

PRWeek: Are there any stories or topics that you've covered that have really stuck with you as more memorable?

Hinojosa: I am so lucky because I can tell you that almost on a weekly basis, I speak to someone who is extraordinary and who leaves an impact on me. I've interviewed hundreds, probably thousands of people, and all of them, in one way or another, leave an impact on me. When you [ask for one impactful story], I'm just going to tell you about what happened last week. We are working on an extraordinarily important story that I am so proud to break on national television, as far as we know. It's about teenage girls who are sexually harassed on the job. Every single woman I've told that we're doing this story, they are like, “Oh yeah, that happened to me!" It's a story that is just not covered. It's almost like everybody knows it happens, but nobody talks about it. I met four young women, who are now in their early 20s. They were 16 when they were victims of horrible sexual harassment at a movie theater where they worked in San Diego. And they sued, and they had an amazing case. And yet they were severely impacted by what went on in this place, and the management knew and they did nothing. And we have a young woman from Jamba Juice, who also had a case, and a young woman from McDonald's, who we spoke with her lawyer - fascinating case. And then the one person I interviewed most recently who really was fun and interesting and left a mark was [comedian and actor] Cheech Marin. It wasn't what I expected. He's a very smart guy, an art collector. So I get to talk to pretty amazing people all the time.

PRWeek: What is your interaction like with PR professionals?

Hinojosa: All the time. Here's the thing about when I'm working with a PR person. One, absolutely, the personal contact and the fact that I know this person and have met [him or her] or [that he or she has] worked with somebody I know, is important. To me, because the stories that I care about have to do with humanity, what is happening to Americans day-by-day, working people; I need to talk about real people, and I know that is really hard to do. But that is the way in which a story that is told to me captures me.

PRWeek: How can someone approach you if they have a topic, or as an expert or author?

Hinojosa: Through my e-mail. That's the way to work. I'm often incredibly bogged down, but I have a wonderful assistant who has a masters [degree] in journalism, so we work together to try to keep this all above the board. Phone calls just don't work for me anymore. If we get to the level of a phone call, ca-ching!

PRWeek: One topic that we're always interested in is multicultural outreach, especially to the Hispanic community. Do you have any advice for PR and communications professionals who are looking to reach that community?

Hinojosa: The field is wide open. I think there are two things. On the one hand, you have to understand that in the Latino community, there are particularities. For example, this morning, I was watching the Univision morning news for a minute and there was piece about how the economic downturn is forcing young people to move back in with their parents. In the take of this story, the mom was thrilled that her daughter was moving back home with her. It was like this was a dream come true. Suddenly, as I'm watching this, I'm like, ‘This is really interesting.' They are seeing this as a way that is a benefit to society. And I start thinking, it could be and there could be wonderful things that happen as a result of families taking care of each other. On one hand, we have certain particularities, things that we carry culturally. On the other hand, Latinos are just like every other American or resident who is living in this country. We are impacted by the same things in terms of consumers and advertisements. And I think like all consumers, they are looking for honesty. I think that's a big one right now. We've got these two things. We speak to each other in Spanish often times, but at the same time, we can just as easily can communicate in English and can do so. I just sent a Facebook message to my husband in English, though we usually speak Spanish together.

PRWeek: What are you goals going forward?

Hinojosa: Professionally, I'm very satisfied. I do important journalism both in terms of my investigative reporting and with what I do on Latino USA and One on One. I know that the meat of what I'm adding to the conversation of the United States of America is good….Because I'm a working mom and I'm always working, I just don't have the time…And right now, we're launching at NOW on PBS a whole beat on covering women's issues and women and family and girls. This news story that we're doing on teenage sexual harassment is our big launch of the series at the end of February. We're actually looking for a name for our series, to brand it; that is always a challenge. And for Latino USA, we're launching our coverage of immigration beyond Latinos. We're expanding. We are Latino and we are a Latino-centric show, and yet we realized, Latinos now, we are really a part of a huge immigrant culture that is vibrant and very diverse within the United States of America. So we're expanding.

PRWeek: Is there anything else you want to mention about your work?

Hinojosa: I hope everybody watches and sends e-mails and spreads the word. At this point, I think that engaged, independent, honest journalism is so important and I think everybody needs to work hard to make sure [they are] getting a daily dosage of serious, independent journalism. And that is what I'm proud to say I do.

Name: Maria Hinojosa

Title: Anchor and correspondent

Outlets: NOW on PBS, NPR's Latino USA, and WGBH's (Boston) Maria Hinojosa: One on One

Preferred e-mail address: hinojosam@thirteen.org

Web sites: www.pbs.org/now, www.latinousa.org, and www.wgbh.org

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