On this week’s episode of Working, June Thomas spoke with Spanish-language journalist León Krauze, who works as a Univision news anchor, radio host, and Slate contributor. They discussed the importance of local news with a global focus, writing and reporting in both Spanish and English, and the differences between working on radio versus television. This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
June Thomas: I think English-speaking people often act as if immigration is the only issue that affects Latinos. Obviously immigration is a huge issue, but there are many, many, many Spanish-speaking Americans whose immigration status was settled generations ago. How much of a role does coverage of immigration play in your coverage?
León Krauze: It’s an infuriating misconception, frankly, that the community only cares about immigration. This could not be farther from the truth. I remember when I interviewed Chuck Rocha, the main Latino strategist for the Sanders campaign. Bernie Sanders was incredibly successful with the Latino community. The reason for that is, among other things, Chuck Rocha’s work. He explained to me that the first thing they realize is that Latinos care about many other things other than immigration. They care about all the things that Americans care about: health, education, jobs. So we realize that, and we try to offer that editorial mix in our newscasts.
Now, having said that, the last few years have been particularly complicated, to say the least, because there was an active persecution of the community. Nativist rhetoric really scared the community, and it became an urgent issue beyond the wish for comprehensive immigration reform and the things that we have spoken about and still are debating for decades now. It became more urgent, and that made immigration more of a focus. It’s the elephant in the room. But other than that, we do try to offer a more complex, diverse mix of topics and angles.
I think of the TV news as being very scripted—you’re reading from a TelePrompTer. Then you do an hour every day of radio, which is totally unscripted. Do you find it challenging to go between those two extremes?
Well, it’s intense. The radio show is completely unscripted, and we have open telephone lines. There’s no screening, so we quite literally never know who’s going to come on-air with us. We’ve had the most extraordinary discoveries and conversations and the most infuriating conversations. I’ve gotten into shouting matches with people. Yes. Often, I would even say. It’s fascinating, and it’s wonderful. I love it. It’s what I love to do the most. The TV side of things, I deeply respect the reach that TV affords a journalist and I’m grateful for it. I love my job.
But times and formats are very restricted. With the exception of one segment that I developed for Univision, which is very un-news-like, or not as orthodox as news is, I’ve never had anyone tell me, “I heard you on TV.” Everyone says “I saw you on TV, and by the way, nice suit. Your tie was crooked.” While on the radio or on podcasts, everyone is listening to you, for better or for worse. You only have your voice. So yes, it’s very different, but it makes my life more interesting. I really need my daily exercise of jousting with the community.
I get that. What was the segment that you developed that you felt was listened to and really engaged with?
Well, it’s called “La Mesa,” and it’s a table—a table I bought years ago now. Round, brown plastic table that we bought at Home Depot, with a couple of plastic chairs. When I first got to Univision, I realized that part of the mission of the place was community-oriented journalism, which is something I’ve always loved. I said, we’re going to really put this to the test. So we bought the table, a couple of chairs, and we began taking the table and placing it on corners, chosen at random, all across Southern California. Then we took it elsewhere with a couple of mics, and I sat there without any makeup—thank God—without any tie, without any jacket, without any notes, without any pen or paper, nothing, and invited people to sit across the table from me. I began every conversation with, “¿Cómo se llama, usted? What’s your name?” The idea was just to ask people to tell us their life stories.
At first, frankly, I thought that people would just stand up and say, “why am I going to share anything with you?” It ended up becoming, I would say, my life’s work. And if I could do only that, in that format and other formats, I would do only that. I’ve interviewed I guess by now, close to a thousand people. I published a book with the 50 best stories from La Mesa. It became a daily segment on Univision L.A. We cut down the interviews to three minutes, and it became really my life’s work. And the one thing that people ask me almost every time, “Where is your mesa? Where is your mesita? How can I sit there with you and tell you my story?” It’s been very illuminating and humbling and touching.