More about: investigative reporter Dianna Nanez
years she worked as a trucking dispatcher for the transportation industry where most of the time she was on the phone with semi-truck drivers from all over the country, When she later had her son she knew that getting her college degree was important for her and remembered the words of her father, "knowledge is the one thing they can't take away from you.”
Náñez went back and got her degree in psychology while working part time in a law office. This is when all of a sudden Náñez's direction changed toward journalism. An attorney at the law office assigned Náñez to write a letter to a tribal community requesting medical records, something she describes would be difficult to obtain as tribal communities aren’t obligated to release medical records. Náñez said they were able to get the records and that the attorney was impressed with the letter she wrote.
At that moment a light bulb went on in Náñez’s head. She said for her whole life she had been writing and pushing for rights and justice, so she was feeling very motivated. She started thinking about all the people who told her that she should write because she was such a good writer. That’s when she decided to enroll at the Walter Cronkite School’s master’s program. She said that at the beginning it was difficult because she was more used to research writing, but she began to read newspaper articles daily and up to this day that is what has helped her grow in this profession.
She was part of a few internships that helped her hone her skills before joining The Arizona Republic where she was assigned to write for a weekly insert called “Extra” focusing on leveraging Latino communities in the central Phoenix area. The first story she published as an intern was about the effort to recognize buildings and places of historic significance to Hispanic communities like civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. This was something she was very proud of because it reflected her family’s story in many ways. This opportunity soon turned into a full time summer internship, then a job offer. From then on Náñez worked her way up to the narrative long form writing team and then into the investigative reporting team where until recently she was a reporter. Dianna Náñez says she enjoys telling her story with the objective of letting others know that they can do whatever they want to do despite the circumstances and the time it may take to reach that goal.
What does it mean to be bilingual for you and who have you applied it in your career?
I am probably like maybe 80% fluent, I would say that allows me to do interviews in Spanish. It allows me to do some writing in Spanish, but I'm not 100% fluent. I would never ever attempt to do that without being full 100 hundred percent bilingual. As a matter of fact, at one point many years ago in my own newsroom, they offered me a job. They really wanted me to take a job doing some translations for the Spanish language part of our newsroom levels and I told them that there was no way that I would do that. I felt that it would be a disservice and a disrespect. That doesn't mean that I can't do the interviews and write my stories, but I feel that those jobs should go to someone who's 100% bilingual, because that is a skill. I think sometimes in newsrooms, we have historically seen it as, “oh that's great that they speak two languages,” but we don't see it as a skill. I don't hear people talk about being able to speak Spanish as the skill that it is and so I have that respect for my colleagues and friends that are 100% fluent, especially for my colleagues who actually only speak Spanish. They have such a harder time being able to cross the barriers here, like they're better than many, have many more years of experience in journalism, and yet sometimes have to take jobs that are at a lower level and lower pay just because they don't know English. I hold that as sacred.
How can your representation and the way you tell a story connect with people?
So, one part of our job is to listen to our communities and listen to the people who are sharing their stories with us and a lot of what we've heard over the past, I'd say 10 to 20 years is nothing out of this without us. There’s a saying that if you're going to write books about the Latino community or Black community you need to have those writers at the table, you need to have those directors at the table, you need to have those actors at the table. We used to see more that anybody who is respectful and caring and empathetic can tell those stories and I think that that's true. I want everybody who's caring, empathetic, respectful and dedicated to be sharing stories, as many stories as they can. However, when you have a moment in time when your community says “we want to be represented, we want to talk to reporters who lived like us, or
who looked like us or who speak our language or who understand where we came from,” then we need to listen to our communities. That's one of the reasons that matters is that our communities have demanded that when they look at your roomful of reporters that there are people that have lived their experiences that understand where they come from, that speak their languages.
What can the journalism industry do to be more diverse?
We still have yet to reach racial parity, so whatever community your news station or your newspaper is, leadership and staff should reflect that parity, you should look like your community so that you're an accurate representation of the people in their stories. I think part of it is just changing the language because diversity can mean so many things. I want everyone at the table, I want space and I want a table big enough that everybody is truly represented. Part of it is the change in the conversation and holding us ourselves accountable. For us with Latinos, it means “okay, what is your Latino breakdown? How do we represent that in our newsroom, in leadership roles, in veteran roles and entry level roles all across the board, and say there's no more excuses for it.”
What advice do you have for upcoming journalism students?
I think one of the things that we should work more on for Latinos is really helping to support our Latino journalism students and getting more internship experience while they're in college because repeatedly, I've seen too many Latino students who didn't get enough internship experience and that is the primary way to get a job. When you look at a lot of people, they say, “oh I was an intern there and then they hired me.” You need those internship experiences so that you have a better chance of getting the job offer as a journalist, but also you need them because they're your ticket to improving your skills, to strengthen your skills, to be more confident, to building out your resume. I tell students all the time to think of what your dream internship is. So, if your dream internship is CNN, anchor or your dream internship is in the New York Times, or Washington Post or NPR, whatever it is that you say is your dream internship you need to map out where to start so that you work your way up to that place. If you're doing that, you're getting all those internships, you're going to be more marketable, you're going to qualify for fellowships. We have one in our newsroom. A lot of times, they won't even hire those students unless they've had several internships. They need to show that they have all these internships before they'll consider them for that fellowship. So get yourself this experience in college, start your freshman year and start early on.
What has been your favorite memory or story covered so far in your career?
I'm a very empathetic person, I feel people's feelings, so I try to channel that into helping them feel comfortable when they talk with me, and helping them open up. In my writing I want people to feel like they were with that person. I was writing about the mothers whose children were separated from them. I wanted people to feel like, what if this was your mom and they did this to your mom. That to me is what I do with my reporting and those are probably some of the most important stories for me. I feel like as humans, we should all know what it is to love your child or love your mother, feel their life story and feel like this is your loved one, then you open your eyes to understanding. I think once people can feel and know then maybe they want to act, and they want to help others or they want to become more active in changing policy. I can't tell people what to do. I can't tell people why they should do something, because that's not my job. I'm not an opinion writer. But it is my job to share people's stories and so I feel like a personal obligation.
What is a long term goal and a short term goal you have?
I believe that our communities deserve to be reflected at the rate at which they're represented. When I go into my community and I see what we look like, I should be able to know that when I go into my newsroom it looks like and reflects our community and our voices and our stories. There's more of a likelihood for us to have accurate journalism, fair journalism, if that's happening and so I'm committed long term still, to having our newsrooms reach racial parity. We have to be willing to take a look at our own industry and see what's happening in our own newsrooms to ensure that we're not contributing to income inequality within our own newsrooms and so that's another long term goal for me. I want every journalist in our newsrooms to have that pay equality, I want to know that our newsrooms in our industry are not contributing to income inequality and if they are that we face it head on and be open about it, because you can't fix something that you are not willing to tell the truth about. That's the whole point of journalism, the reason why we do this is to shed light and truth and in the hopes that then the society and the community can decide if they want to take leadership, civic leaders, everybody can join together, decide if they want to change something. So we should be making that same effort and taking that same look inwards in our own newsrooms, in our journalism and I think part of that is pay equality.