Every year since 2000, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists honors journalists who are pioneers and leaders in the field. On Saturday, the organization will induct four journalists who have revolutionized the industry, mentored future generations of Latinx journalists and journalists of color in newsrooms nationwide, and changed how communities are represented in the mainstream media.
Here are the 2022 NAHJ Hall of Fame inductees:
Diana R. Fuentes started writing in the first grade.
Growing up in Laredo, Texas, and as a second-generation Texan whose first language was Spanish, she understood the importance of helping people tell their stories. By high school, she had started working for her school newspaper.
“It’s just always been a part of my life,” Fuentes said. “The idea of being a reporter was really cool. I love people, I love writing, it just came naturally to me.”
Throughout her career, she has worked with several news outlets in the Lone Star state, including the Laredo Morning Press and the San Antonio Express-News, where she was a deputy metro editor overseeing a team of reporters covering diversity and government issues.
With more than 35 years of experience in journalism, Fuentes said she’s very fulfilled by her career, having covered major issues in the United States and Mexico, including illegal adoption rings on the border and undocumented migrants dealing with property sale scams.
“If people are suffering, you can report on the suffering and figure out why it’s happening,” she said, explaining the importance of the journalist in society. “We are reporting on the truth.”
Francisco Vara-Orta, a mentee and current colleague of Fuentes at the Investigative Reporters and Editors, said that her support was pivotal as a young Latinx, proudly Tejano journalist working at the Laredo Morning Times.
“She told me, ‘Francisco you have what it takes to go national someday,’” he said. “She was the first person in my life to say you have what it takes and you have something special.”
Since April 2021, she has served as the IRE’s executive director and is the first person of color and first woman to permanently hold this position. In this role, Fuentes has overseen training in investigative and data analysis techniques and the development of conferences and programs like the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting. She is also involved in efforts to improve the diversity of the organization with more than 5,000 members.
Growing up in Ohio, Rebecca Aguilar was first introduced to journalism through her father, Alfredo Aguilar, an immigrant from Mexico and a midwestern labor rights activist. During the 60s, he hosted a two-hour radio talk show on Saturday mornings.
Aguilar remembers helping him sometimes translate news into Spanish. That was the first time that she realized the power of the microphone.
“I remember we would be watching TV, and he would always say, ‘you know, there’s no Latinos on there, there’s no Black [reporters], that’s got to change,’ ” she said.
Since then, she’s propelled herself to the forefront of transforming the industry. Aguilar currently serves as the Society of Professional Journalists president and is the first woman of color to hold this position since the organization’s founding in 1909.
Daniela Ibarra, a reporter for KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said she wouldn’t be where she is today without Aguilar’s mentorship.
“She is someone who is honest, your biggest cheerleader, and is exactly what a mentor should be,” said Ibarra , who nominated Aguilar for this honor.
Aguilar says she didn’t do it alone and owes a lot to NAHJ.
“This organization is literally the blood that has been in my veins for decades,” she said. “La sangre en mis venas.”
Robert Hernandez attributed his start in journalism working with the NAHJ’s Student Campus in 1996, the organization’s former college boot camp. Since then, he’s attended every NAHJ convention, missing only one in the past 26 years.
Throughout his career, Hernandez said he’s kept four goals — innovation, experimentation, diversity and inclusion. He prioritized revolutionizing the traditional newsroom by incorporating new technologies like HTML or virtual reality, reflecting his foundational passion for creating new things.
He is a professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California, and although he’s worked in academia for 13 years, he doesn’t consider himself a traditional educator.
“You know in Harry Potter, the Dumbledore army, that’s my goal, to make an army of misfits that care about journalism,” he said about his USC students.
Since 2015, Hernandez has guided his students in producing immersive, non-fiction stories connecting audiences to global stories every semester. Among other projects, the JOVRNALISM students have used 360/VR to highlight homelessness in the Los Angeles area and created an Instagram filter showing how prices for common goods have changed due to the pandemic.
Michelle Johnson, a former editor at the Boston Globe and multimedia journalism professor at Boston University, said Hernandez pushed himself to the forefront of the digital journalism movement since its beginnings.
“I’m just so proud of him,” Johnson said about Hernandez being inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame. “He’s come a long way and has done such amazing work.”
Hernandez’s legacy is not limited to his university students but also the NAHJ’s history. For example, he developed the Latino Reporter’s digital product and connected hundreds of Latinx journalists to funding for NAHJ memberships.
A photojournalist. Mentor. Colleague. Father and husband.
Steve Gonzales, who died in June 2022 from cancer, was known by many titles. Regardless of the position, he made sure he knew who you were on a personal level.
“He knew [everyone’s] names,” said Marie De Jesús, a Houston Chronicle staff photographer and former colleague and mentee of Gonzales. “He knew the people organizing our offices and keeping everything clean and tidy.”
Gonzales started his photojournalism career in 1979 at the Topeka Capital-Journal and, in 2005, joined the Houston Chronicle as the director of photography. He was a photo editor, photojournalist, and leader in his newsroom. Gonzales was also a president of the Associated Press Photo Managers and a juror for the 2010 and 2011 Pulitzer Prizes.
Throughout his career, Gonzales mentored many aspiring Latinx photojournalists and advocated for developing future generations of photojournalists of color in the news industry.
De Jesús was one of them. Gonzales hired her at the Houston Chronicle in October 2013.
“Back in the day, management was not giving us many opportunities to Latinos [as photojournalists],” De Jesús said. “Steve was giving us opportunities to join, he understood that we brought authentic perspectives.”
Today, many of the mentees and journalists he helped eventually win Pulitzer Prizes. In Jesús’ case, the photojournalist became the first Latinx president of the National Press Photographers Association.
Before his death, Gonzales publicly talked about his battle with cancer and frequently posted on social media about his treatments and surgeries. He died surrounded by family.
NAHJ will posthumously induct Gonzales into the NAHJ Hall of Fame, honoring his important legacy on many Latinx journalists and the industry.
“We want other [journalism] leaders to see, it pays off,” De Jesús said. “We will celebrate you. You take care of me, I’ll take care of you.”
Anna Guaracao is a graduate student at Boston University studying journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication and sociology. She is an intern for CNN’s The Row, which is the network’s editorial gatekeeper and fact checking unit. She is pursuing a career in news production. Reach her at aguaraca [at] bu [dot] edu and on Twitter @yosoyannaa.