Web Exclusive: Q&A with Juan Gonzalez

Journalism students gathered at the Rehearsal Hall in the Berrie Center for a special question and answer session with New York Daily News columnist, Juan Gonzalez.

Gathered in a circle, the student journalists had the opportunity to ask Gonzalez, a veteran journalist, activist and author a range of questions about his writings, inspiration and opinions on hot button issues, including immigration reform.  A journalist with more than 35 years in the news business, Gonzalez shared candid opinions about being a voice for others who are not being heard.

Q: What are your opinions on immigration reform in America today?

A: Gonzalez touched on the proposal for immigration reform which would, in part, require immigrants to learn English before becoming an official U.S. citizen and “get to the back of line” behind numerous applicants to gain legal status.  As the immigration debate unfolds in upcoming months, Gonzalez urged students to probe the intent of the reforms further, and always ask, “what do you mean?”

Q: Is there still a need for Black/Latino press?

A: “There is still an important role for Black/Latino press,” Gonzalez said. While journalists of color have made strides in recent years and citizen journalism has made a great attempt to revive these news outlets, there is still room for more diverse voices. He encouraged students to never be satisfied with what media feeds you at first glance. “Media has an enormous influence of what you hear and what you don’t,” Gonzalez said.

Q: How had your activism played a role in pursuing a career in journalism?

A: The Young Lords formed in the 1960s when a group of Hispanic youth, including Gonzalez, realized that urban renewal was evicting their families and was a witness to police abuse.  Gonzalez was motivated to tell stories of those who were silenced by authority and this experience cued him to be a journalist. As a Young Lord he said, “we understood the power of talking to the media.” Gonzalez also encourages students to “question authority” and “don’t be afraid to go up against the prevailing current.”

Q: How easy is it to make enemies as a journalist?

A: “Very quickly,” Gonzalez said. The two-time George Polk award winner talked about the importance of building trust with sources. Once budding journalists build a reputation, the subjects who believe their hearing was fair will more likely keep talking and provide information. However, when it comes to high power figures, Gonzalez warns that once a journalist becomes a confidant, their subject will always expect nice words in the press. Maintaining fair-mindedness is a message Gonzalez made clear.