Cal Lutheran starts Spanish media minor

Need for bilingual journalists prompted Gannett grant

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Students in the minor will help produce El Eco, the 3-year-old Spanish-language newspaper inserted into The Echo.

(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — July 28, 2021) During the fall semester, California Lutheran University will launch a Spanish media minor — the only one at a private college in Southern California — to help fill the need for bilingual journalists who understand Latino culture.

Newsrooms across the United States struggle to reflect the populations they serve. People of color made up 40% of the United States population in 2018, yet 77% of newsroom workers were white, according to the Pew Research Center.

Locally, the Ventura County Star reported in 2020 that the community it serves is 43% Latino, but its newsroom is 11% Latino. Last year in Los Angeles, Latinos made up 48% of the population, yet only 13% of the Los Angeles Times newsroom staff, according to the Latino Caucus of the L.A. Times Guild. 

The region also has many Spanish-language media outlets, ranging from small print publications to Telemundo in Los Angeles, that employ bilingual journalists. 

In recognition of the need for the program, Gannett Co., the largest owner of U.S. newspapers, awarded Cal Lutheran a $10,000 grant to develop the curriculum and provide scholarships and stipends for students.

“For newsrooms to diversify, they must be able to rely on a robust pipeline of talent that is racially diverse and has been prepared to work as reporters and editors in various settings with a deep understanding of issues related to culture and race,” said Kirstie Hettinga, an associate professor of communication and adviser for The Echo student newspaper. She worked with Department of Languages and Cultures faculty members Sheridan Wigginton and LaVerne Seales and Cal Lutheran’s bilingual content producer, Genesis Rodriguez, to develop the program.

As a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution and the only four-year university in Ventura County that offers a communication major with a journalism concentration, Cal Lutheran could help meet the need for diverse and culturally competent talent. Latinos make up 38% of Cal Lutheran’s traditional undergraduate students, but less than 1% currently are studying journalism. The minor could help attract more Latino students and Spanish speakers to journalism while increasing the cultural competence of all students with the concentration. 

Students in the minor will take a mix of classes in communication and Spanish language and culture, as well as a course called Latinx Media in the U.S. They will help produce El Eco, the 3-year-old Spanish-language newspaper inserted into The Echo, and can intern at Spanish-language media outlets. The curriculum is designed to prepare students to research and create Spanish-language content based on a deep understanding of the connection among languages, cultures and the communities of the Latino culture.