How did you become involved in AJHA?
My dissertation adviser at UNC Chapel Hill, Barbara Friedman, encouraged me to get involved and submit my paper from her journalism history seminar to the AJHA conference. This was my first paper acceptance as a doctoral student and it was so memorable that I kept the email sent me by then research chair, Janice Hume. Janice has been a wonderful role model and mentor, and is representative of the inspiring, encouraging, and supportive scholars students get a chance to know through AJHA.
How does your previous career working for major market and international news organizations relate to your research approach?
Working for more than two decades across multiple cities, beats and roles has given me a deep practitioners’ knowledge of journalism from which to draw on. I pioneered the ethnic affairs beat, and covered city politics, gentrification, immigration, business, and courts, among other things. As the only Mexican American woman general assignment reporter, I brought a different lived experience and perspective to covering the news. I was acutely aware of how unrepresentative journalism was (and still is) in relation to our demographics. While serving on the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), I became involved in the development of UNITY, a collaboration between the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), and the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). We thought that by joining forces we might better push for change. This fault lines approach to journalism is a lens that I use in my historical research and is key to challenging limited binary approaches to understanding journalism history.
What influence does your family history and background have on your research interests?
I was raised in a bilingual, bicultural household and acutely aware of discrimination my parents, grandparents, and other relatives faced in San Antonio, Texas. For instance, one of my uncles, who had been a POW during World War II, returned home only to be denied service in a Texas restaurant. Mexican school children, when they didn’t attend segregated schools, were forced to sit in the back of the classroom. The front seats were reserved for White students. Growing up, we were exposed to both English and Spanish language media, and early on, I had a clear sense of Spanish-language media and its significance in U.S. journalism.
In your view, what needs to change in the field of journalism history and why?
It’s in some ways unfair to single out journalism history, because lack of representation is a significant concern throughout academia, the media, and our nation. Considering how reporting across the fault lines of race, gender, class, generation, and geography intersect with every beat, from healthcare, to business, to sports, to climate change, etc., it becomes increasingly clear that we need a faculty that looks more like America, and we need research that looks at journalism history through a range of lenses, theories, and methods.
It goes without saying that journalism history is more than knowing landmark events. Journalism history is at least in part about understanding the role of journalism in developing communities of readers and in many cases, inculcating ideas about who merits citizenship. In the context of journalism education, journalism history, if approached as something beyond merely toting up facts, helps ground future journalists in the power of the press, helps them understand that the press, in varied manifestations, is an institution that has helped build and shape communities, and has also been complicit in helping tear some communities apart.
What hobbies or interests do you have outside of academia?
Mark Twain has been (most likely erroneously) quoted as saying that “golf is a good walk spoiled.” I am more inclined to say that a walk is a good golf game spoiled.
Melita M. Garza studies news as an agent of democracy, specializing in English- and Spanish-language news, the immigrant press, and coverage of underrepresented groups. Garza is an associate professor at TCU’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication in Fort Worth. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012 after two decades as a reporter.