Monday, February 8, 2021

Yvonne Latty (TSOA '84, GSAS '90), Journalist, Author and Producer

 

Yvonne Latty

Yvonne Latty (TSOA '84, GSAS '90) is the Director of the Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation programs at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She has produced documentaries, hosted, produced and edited podcasts and worked as an urban newspaper reporter. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Chicago Sun Times, BET.com, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and numerous other media outlets. She has been featured in over 100 media outlets including, Newsweek, CNN, The New York Times, CNN International, Fox News, NPR, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Detroit Free Press.

She is the author of In Conflict: Iraq War Veterans Speak Out on Duty, Loss and the Fight to Stay Alive and the critically acclaimed We Were There: Voices of African American Veterans, from World War II to the War in Iraq.

What did you study at NYU?

My BFA is in Film/Television and my MA is in Journalism.

You are an alumna of both GSAS and Tisch. Can you speak about how your dual degrees have shaped your career?

I always loved to write and loved old black and white films, was a big Alfred Hitchcock fan and was addicted to TV. I originally wanted to study dramatic writing, but fell in love with directing in a television production class. But at the time, Black and LatinX directors were scarce and I was a first generation college graduate with no connections, so that dream died fast. Every production assistant job I got ended up with me watching the food table and nowhere near production.

Yvonne Latty: her story continues


I was a finalist for an entry level job at a music video production company. I was warned nicely by one of the people that interviewed me that they did not hire black people and I would be the first. He was hopeful. I was stunned.  I did not get the job. I was also a photographer and started shooting for modeling agencies, but realized I wanted to tell meaningful stories and newspapers were a huge part of my childhood. My dad read three papers a day and my Dominican mom learned to read English reading the NY Daily News. My father always talked to me about the news and I was so engaged. We bonded over the news of the day. I knew it was what I was meant to do so I went back to school. Back then, in the late 80's, you had to choose a track and I chose newspapers because I wanted to write. 

The emergence of multimedia has been a blessing and a joy because it holds all my skill sets. So my first degree is still working for me as I am a producer now in both documentary and audio and I still write.

Can you tell us about the Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation programs at the Journalism Institute?

It's a multimedia grad program. We report on underserved communities, we publish on our site pavementpieces.com, we travel all over the country on three day multimedia trips that focus on the underserved. We chase news. We are passionate journalists who want to make the world a better place. We are diverse. I am really proud of the program and my students and alumni. It's one of nine grad programs at the NYU Journalism Institute and the only one run by an Afro LatinX or Black person. I am biased, but I think it's awesome.

I was very moved by your podcast "Alzheimer’s In Color" for Latino USA. What motivated you to create it?

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease about 5 years ago after years of erratic behavior. She is a Dominican immigrant who lives in the Bronx. It's been a struggle. It's been lonely and beyond painful. I wanted others in my situation to know they are not alone.

Your book In Conflict: Iraq War Veterans Speak Out on Duty, Loss and the Fight to Stay Alive was adapted into a play that was banned by a high school in Wilton, CT. It was also performed at the Public Theater and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was awarded The Fringe First Award. Can you talk about your experiences having your work performed and the varied responses?

It was an incredible experience, mind boggling in so many ways to see the words come back to life in the mouths of actors. The audiences were so supportive and I felt it helped people see the true complexity of the war. It was a tough book to write because the vets were so raw. I spent time in Walter Reed and it was so profoundly upsetting to see so many young amputees, but at the same time it was an honor to tell their stories.  It was also fascinating to see the process of the book being adapted. I sat in on castings, rehearsals and  worked with the director. Our opening night Off Broadway, with vets in attendance, seeing them meet the actors who portrayed them was wonderful. 

How do you determine what subjects you explore in your work?

I like to go inside stories that are not explored. I like to do work on underserved communities. I have produced three documentaries on the Navajo reservation and how they were drinking water contaminated with uranium and living in housing that it's hard for the rest of America to even imagine. I chose veterans because all we heard about the Iraq war at the time were pundits talking, I wanted to hear from a diverse group of vets who experienced it and find the truth. With Alzheimer's, when I searched for stories to help me navigate, all that I found were stories about white people with the disease whose life looked nothing like my mom's.

What has been the most challenging or rewarding story you have ever covered?

That's a tough one. Doing work around Alzheimer's that was so personal was very challenging and emotional. It's been rewarding in how it's been received, but I am still living in the unknowns with my mom. She is currently in hospice and the future is so unclear. Producing documentaries in Navajo Nation was really hard, because of the environment. We were off-roading a lot, everything was off the grid, no GPS. The reservation has so much poverty, it's heartbreaking. 

My first book We Were There: Voices of African American Veterans may have been the most rewarding, as it changed my life in so many ways. It came out on the 60th anniversary of the end of WW2 and black vets stories were hard to come by. My book filled that hole. We had an event with some of the WW2 vets at the Smithsonian. One of my vets who fought in Italy as part of the first Black units to see action, who went through hell, well, when his unit returned to Norfolk, Virginia, they would not let the Black soldiers walk to the base in town. After much negotiation, when they were finally allowed to, the white folks lined up and turned their backs on them. He said no one ever thanked him or celebrated him. He retold the story at this packed event at the Smithsonian and everyone stood up and cheered for him. He cried. That was the best moment I ever had as a journalist, as a storyteller. 

What are your thoughts on the state of journalism today?

It's crazy out there! But more important than ever. The truth matters and journalism done right is the truth. I don't like all the opinion commentators confusing people as to what is reported fact vs opinion. I think we need news literacy taught in every school to prevent these pundits from having so much power. It's been the curse of the 24 hour news cycle linked with the rise of cable news.

Where do you get your news?

New York Times, Washington Post, CNN mostly. I also read the NY Daily News, The Philadelphia Inquirer and use Twitter and Facebook.


Do you have any advice for undergraduate students interested in pursuing a career in journalism?

We need you. What you bring to the table matters. Your work matters.  You can do great things as a journalist.You can have a front row seat to history and shed light on communities that really need you.


Listen to Yvonne's podcast "Alzheimer’s In Color" for Latino USA: https://www.latinousa.org/2020/09/11/alzheimersincolor/

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