Award-winning journalist Frank O. Sotomayor has been at the forefront of efforts to bring greater ethnic diversity to the nation's print media. Sotomayor was instrumental in the development of the California Chicano News Media Association (CCNMA), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the Institute for Journalistic Education, and the Minority Editorial Training Program (METPRO)organizations with different missions yet a common goal of encouraging and supporting the complete and accurate representation of minorities in America's media.
Born and raised in the Hollywood barrio, a low-income neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona, Frank Ortega Sotomayor was surrounded by a loving family. The youngest of five children, he was born on May 20, 1943, to Amelia Ortega, a homemaker, and Florencio Sotomayor, a hotel gardener. Sotomayor's parents stressed the importance of a good education. He excelled in his studies at his predominately Mexican-American schools and was perceived as a student leader by his peers, teachers, and principals.
Sotomayor dreamed of becoming a professional athlete but lacked the necessary skills. Instead, he would become a journalist, initially specializing in sports. As a 10th grader, he wrote a book report that garnered the attention of one of his teachers, who encouraged Sotomayor to write for the high school paper. He did so and immediately found he possessed talent and a penchant for the reporting, discovery, and challenge of writing inherent in journalism. He was particularly fond of the idea that many people would read his words and that he could perhaps influence policies and perceptions. He began work at age 17 for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson as a sports reporter and copy editor.
Continuing to live at home, he studied journalism and served as an editor for his college paper at the University of Arizona. There, Sotomayor met and fell in love with Meri Finnerty, a fellow journalism student. He was named outstanding male graduate in 1966 and reported that summer from Peru for U.S. papers. He earned an M.A. in communications from Stanford University the following year, where he and other Chicano students helped to begin a recruiting effort to boost the enrollment of Latinos. In summer 1968, Sotomayor and Finnerty married.
After being drafted into the U.S. Army, Sotomayor worked as a news editor and reporter at the military newspaper Pacific Stars and Stripes in Tokyo, Japan. In 1970, Sotomayor began his L.A. Times career as a foreign desk editor. Two years later, he assisted in the incorporation of the nation's first minority journalist organization, the CCMNA, with Times colleague Frank del Olmo and other Latinos. In 1974, Sotomayor and Finnerty wrote "Para los NiñosFor the Children," a report published by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about educational problems and opportunities for Mexican Americans.
Sotomayor taught at Columbia University in a summer program designed to introduce minorities to the field of journalism. The program lost funding after 1974, but, undeterred, faculty members, including Robert Maynard and Sotomayor, took steps to establish the Summer Program for Minority Journalists at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley. The Summer Program later became the Institute for Journalism Education (now known as the Maynard Institute). Sotomayor served as the first director for the institute's editing program at the University of Arizona.
By the late 1970s, Sotomayor and del Olmo began in earnest to recommend the hiring of Latino writers at the Los Angeles Times. Many of their recommended candidates were hired, improving the newsroom's ethnic diversity and providing additional staff to produce a groundbreaking reporting project. Sotomayor and Jorge Ramos were coeditors of a 1983 Latino series that consisted of 27 articles that ran over a three-week period. The project received the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Public Services, print journalism's highest honor. Not only were Latinos able to initiate, create, and produce the entire series, but the articles offered accurate and complete portrayals of Latinos in southern Californiasome from a personal perspective.
As a CCNMA vice president in 1980, Sotomayor helped establish the Journalism Opportunity Conference. It continues to operate as the largest job fair for minority journalists on the West Coast. When his boss at the Times decided to establish Minority Editorial Training Program (METPRO) to train minorities through hands-on experience, Sotomayor provided advice based on his summer program experience. In 1982, Sotomayor served on a planning committee for a national meeting of Latino journalists, which led to the formation of the NAHJ.
Sotomayor served as the editor of Nuestro Tiempo, a Times bilingual section that covers the Latino community in Los Angeles, from 1989 to 1993 and then returned to his position as assistant city editor. In 2000, he became assistant METPRO director and editorial chair of the Times Student Journalism Program.
He received the Centennial Achievement Award from the University of Arizona in 1998 and in 2002 was inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame. In February 2004, the world of journalism was struck a heavy blow when del Olmo died of a heart attack. Sotomayor and Magdalena Beltrándel Olmo, the pioneering journalist's wife, spent the following months collecting and organizing columns written by del Olmo. Together they coedited Frank del Olmo: Commentaries on His Times, a book published by the Los Angeles Times.
In an age when print media is consolidating under conglomerate parent companies, Sotomayor's dedication to establishing ethnically diverse newsrooms that better empathize, understand, and articulate the needs and concerns of ethnic communities is vitally important. Sotomayor's mentoring, writing, and influence help to educate and inform the dominant culture of the splendor in America's rich diversity.