Hugo Balta is an experienced, award-winning, broadcast & digital media news executive directing growth and innovation in several divisions and businesses in the U.S. and Latin America.
Balta is the Owner and Publisher of the Latino News Network, overseeing an independent group of five local news and information websites with a statewide, community editorial focus that includes CTLatinoNews.com in Connecticut.
Hugo is the twice president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). He was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame in 2016.
That same year, Balta founded the Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF), a not-for-profit organization in honor of his late Abuelita Hortencia that provides scholarships for students studying Journalism. In 2020, HZF expanded its support of young journalists by sponsoring the Journalism Camp: covering race, ethnicity, and culture. The 12-week course provides mentoring and real work experiences.
Balta’s nearly 30-years of experience include leadership roles with storied news networks including PBS, NBC, ABC, CBS, Telemundo, and ESPN.
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
I am the son of Hugo and Graciela Balta, immigrants from Peru.
Like most children, my first teachers had a strong influence on the person I am today, personally and professionally.
My mother taught me that it was ok to be different: speak a different language, eat different foods, look different.
My father taught me the importance of serving others. I would often go with him to the airport to pick up other migrants from Peru. He would help them find a temporary place to live and work.
Both my parents instilled in me a strong work ethic.
My father would be at his first job when I woke up to go to school, and I would be already asleep when he returned from his second job.
I would accompany my mother as she cleaned offices and houses because my parents couldn’t afford child care.
Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?
I automatically think about my children; what parent doesn’t, right?
But besides being Isabella and Esteban’s Papa, the most important achievement in my life is mentoring journalists.
Professionally, I am the product of many selfless people who, throughout my nearly 30-year career, have provided me with invaluable counsel and opportunities.
If I have had any level of success, it is because they figuratively put me on their shoulders to help me reach higher and see farther than I ever could on my own two feet.
It is my responsibility to do the same for others, be it students, early/mid-career, and veteran journalists.
This year, through the Hortencia Zavala Foundation (HZF), a not-for-profit I created in honor of my late grandmother to help journalism students with scholarships – I started a Journalism Camp: covering race, ethnicity, and culture in order to mentor and provide real work experiences for young journalists.
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
The quality I most look for is curiosity and skepticism, and unapologetic truth seekers.
A journalist needs to be curious about…well, everything.
They have to want to learn about things like how government works, healthcare system, education institutions, law enforcement – the list goes on and on.
Journalists have to be skeptical about the information people, especially Communications representatives of powerful organizations, deliver. It is my experience that the information they (PR reps) aren’t volunteering is where the real story lies.
Lastly, they need to be dogged about getting the truth no matter where it leads to. I don’t have an agenda as a journalist (and by extension the news outlets I lead) other than fair and accurate storytelling. If the truth is positive or negative to a person or group – then that’s what we will share with the public.
It’s easy to see the organizations that are serious about D-E-I; they’re the ones investing time, resources, and money into making changes that are not just good for the public but for business as well.”
Is there a time when you were told to change yourself, or hide some aspect of yourself to be accepted or successful in a situation? How did you react?
All. The. Time.
The white establishment, c-suite in news media, has always been attracted to the work I lead in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, with a focus on Hispanics-Latinos given my background – until it is critical of them; the homogenous work culture they nurture.
I’ve been told that I would be more successful (better title, better salary) if I distanced myself from organizations like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), where I served twice as president or focused less on calling out disparities that Hispanics-Latinos and other marginalized communities face in the workplace.
My reaction is always to double down on my core values and beliefs and walk away from such toxicity.
My parents didn’t raise their son to sit down and shut up.
Which three books, podcasts or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
Book: “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism”
Because it helps people understand the moment in time we are living in due to the exacerbation of disparities due to COVID-19, the killing of George Floyd, and the divisiveness of the 2020 presidential election.
Podcast and news source, other than the Latino News Network’s “3 Questions With…” and one/all of the five local news and information websites, I recommend podcasts: “Politically Re-active” and “Palabra.”
I love anything W. Kamau Bell. His podcast, “Politically Re-active,” integrates humor to serious real-life issues involving race relations. The only setback is he produces the program once in a while.
“Palabra” is an NAHJ news platform created in 2019 that draws from the wealth and talent of its members in producing dynamic storytelling about the Hispanic-Latino community, chipping away at the one-dimensional coverage in mainstream media, making caricatures of a community that is driving all aspects of growth in the U.S.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
D-E-I has always been the north star of my career and personal life.
I am a prejudiced, biased person. Much of that has to do with my upbringing; all of it has to do with aspects I didn’t choose (sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, etc.).
By understanding my biases, I can work to reinforce what is positive and manage what is negative.
Personally, my awareness helps me, for example, work to be a better parent to a bisexual daughter. I learn how to be a better support system for her beyond providing my unconditional love.
Professionally, I strive to surround myself with people who challenge my biases, enabling me to chip away at what I have been conditioned to accept as truths.
What do you find most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives and what’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
A lack of accountability.
I’m tired of hearing people and companies talk about what they’re going to do and not enough about what they have done.
And their accomplishments need to be more than just celebrating culture once a year, say during Hispanic Heritage Month. It needs to be about hiring and promotions that provide diverse employees with opportunities that have resources and influence.
Here’s one tangible step for employers to take: make a commitment to hiring/promoting a specific number of people within one year and be transparent about the entire process.
You want to celebrate HHM 2021-22…commit to changing the workplace culture by putting your money where your mouth is.