Three on-air Latina journalists are gone from Denver’s leading TV station. The reporters say their passion for covering issues involving Latinos caused friction with their bosses at KUSA, which is also known as 9 News, and they say that contributed to them losing their jobs. The station says that’s not true. But as NPR’s David Folkenflik reports, the journalists’ claim has sparked an outcry in Denver and beyond.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Start with Sonia Gutierrez. She was working at a TV station in South Carolina when KUSA offered her the chance to return home to Denver and to report for the most important station in town.
SONIA GUTIERREZ: It’s something that I had been waiting for for a while, that big homecoming to come back to Denver, to Colorado and be a reporter here.
FOLKENFLIK: Gutierrez was excited to be close to family. Her parents brought her to this country across the Mexican border as a baby without legal documentation. She was a DREAMer before getting permanent residency through her husband. Why does that matter? Because, she says, in the summer of 2019, editors start to insist that she include that fact in any story she did on immigration.
GUTIERREZ: I was put in a box simply for who I am.
FOLKENFLIK: She refused and was told she had to pass along story ideas and sources on immigration to colleagues instead. Gutierrez left last summer after the station refused to renew her contract.
GUTIERREZ: It’s not like there was something wrong with me or my reporting; there was just something wrong with who I was.
FOLKENFLIK: The revelation of this stoked outrage. Here’s Denver City Council member Jamie Torres.
JAMIE TORRES: Our reaction to that as Latinas was very visceral. That it was – it would be singled out was kind of an element of bias and discrimination that I think we found really problematic.
FOLKENFLIK: Torres was part of a group of local Latina public officials who met with station executives and demanded the dismissal of the station’s news chief. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists went further. Julio-Cesar Chavez is the association’s vice president for broadcast.
JULIO-CESAR CHAVEZ: It is racist to require a Latino reporter, a Hispanic reporter, to disclose their own immigration status before reporting on immigration.
LORI LIZARRAGA: Twelve steps forward, 14 steps back – that’s what that feels like.
FOLKENFLIK: This is former KUSA reporter Lori Lizarraga. Her article in a local weekly revealed the three women’s accusations against the station.
LIZARRAGA: So it’s like a battle you almost don’t want to win. So I stopped really pursuing immigration coverage in a big way.
FOLKENFLIK: At KUSA, Lizarraga says, she experienced pushback over her hairstyle and word choices and the stories she wanted to cover, especially those about Latinos.