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How Not to Become a Dinosaur

It's all about surviving and surfing through the digital revolution. Or, as José José sang so wisely: "Wait a little, just a little longer. ..."
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision.

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Jorge Ramos with Roberto 'Mano de Piedra' Durán and Edgar Ramirez. Crédito: David Maris/Univision

José José had just died and many Mexicans (as well as others in Latin America) were desperate to know more about the somber circumstances. How had the revered Mexican crooner died? Where was he going to be buried? Would there be a public ceremony in his honor? If so, when? Plenty of lies, outlandish claims and unconfirmed assertions flooded social media. Solid journalism was, truth be told, nowhere to be found.

But the story surrounding the death of José José was more complicated than people initially thought. The relatives of the performer, whose real name was José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz, couldn’t agree on even the most basic things, like where he would be laid to rest. For a couple days nobody could even say for sure where his body was.

To further complicate matters, José José died in Miami, where he lived the final decades of his life, but many of his fans were now demanding that his body be shipped to Mexico City for a posthumous tribute at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where he had never performed.

The 'Prince of Song,' as he was known, was one of the premier singers of our time in any language, though quite frankly I am tired of repeating this about him. His death was an unexpected reminder of just how deep some cultural divisions run in the United States. As countless Latinos again sang the songs that had been their companions as they grew up and fell in love, the rest of America — the English-speaking portion — never knew his work.

How can one explain José José to an American? He was our Frank Sinatra, as my journalist friend María Antonieta Collins put it. María Antonieta writes mostly about the pope, but she is also a good singer and knows all there is to know about José José, whose tunes she knows by heart.

It is wrongheaded and incredibly arrogant to think that so-called serious journalists - those that cover politics and international news - shouldn't write about art and show business. On the contrary, politics and the arts are often linked in profound ways. Even Mexico's President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, knows this. Though he prefers commercial flights for himself, he authorized the transport of half the singer's ashes from Miami to Mexico, on a Ministry of Defense plane, in time for the memorial at the Palacio de Bellas Artes on Oct. 9.

Latin America has a wonderful tradition of artists, painters and writers taking an active role in politics. Figures like the writer Carlos Monsiváis and the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are but a few examples. That's why on 'Al Punto,' my weekly TV show on the Univision network, I often invite artists to talk about politics. In my experience, the opinions expressed by these entertainers are often more fair and less biased than those of traditional politicians.

And just as I rely on a couple of weather forecasters to know when I'm supposed to evacuate during hurricane season, I also have a list of reliable showbiz reporters. I turn to them when it comes to particularly complicated stories, such as the death of José José.

As all this unfolded, the annual conference of the Inter-American Press Association was held in Coral Gables, south of downtown Miami. There, I addressed my colleagues in a speech about the challenges reporters face in their dealings with power, technology and the truth.

"Look at me," I said. "I'm a dinosaur." Yes, a dinosaur at risk of extinction. As I explained to my listeners: Expecting viewers to tune in every day at a specific time so I can report the news of the past 24 hours is an outdated model. If we want to stay relevant, technology is forcing us to be on social media and the internet 24 hours a day. Appearing on TV, radio and in print is not enough anymore.

Still, our obligation to report the facts as they are, and not as we would like them to be, remains in place. Our credibility is what makes us, or breaks us. If people don't believe what we say, our work is pointless. The difference between a good journalist and a wannabe influencer lies precisely in this. And this is true whether we're reporting on President Donald Trump's impeachment or José José.

Any journalist who doesn't want to become a dinosaur should abide by the following rules: Tell the truth, question power and participate in social media. This is the vaccine that will protect us from vanishing with just a click, or being crushed by low public regard.

It's all about surviving and surfing through the digital revolution. Or, as José José sang so wisely: "Wait a little, just a little longer. ..."