From the Classroom

Filipino-American Photojournalist Luis Sinco on the reality of news

L.A. Times journalist Luis Sinco discusses the highs and lows in the news industry.

L.A. Times journalist Luis Sinco is a man of many contradictions. A self-proclaimed “good dad” of three, he utters profanities almost as frequently as common nouns. He has enjoyed his work, but criticizes the job for its many downfalls. He admires the generosity of newspaper owners, but fears their influence. He encourages young journalists, but isn’t shy to exclaim his readiness to retire. He is one of many who can’t help their passion for work in a declining industry.

When Sinco grew up in Olympia, Wash., his house was always full of magazines and other reading that his parents found interesting, propelling him into his passion for journalism. His father, an amateur photographer, may be responsible for the start of Sinco’s esteemed photography career for which he was a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and once a finalist for his Battle of Fallujah coverage in Iraq.

Sinco described his younger self as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, which, he said may have been a setback in the early years of his career, implying a lack of focus and dedication to his future. To aspiring journalists, he said, “you gotta keep it in balance… keep it all in perspective,” and reminded them that rejection from a job, story or promotion is “rarely personal.”

Reflecting on the news media industry as a whole, Sinco is less inspirational, spewing expletives as filler as he tries to come up with the words to describe it. “You gotta know that it’s not gonna be easy,” he said. The newspapers and magazines that filled his childhood home, he explained, are mostly non-existent now.

Sinco is critical of the direction the news media industry is headed and finds similarities between news media in the United States and the Philippines.  “Here, as there, the 1% have their interests,” he said. “The big newspapers are owned by billionaires, and it’s almost like, who do you think they are representing, really?”

The growth in disparity between the 1% and the rest of the population within the last 30 years in the U.S., he said, seems to have been deliberate. Sinco said the L.A. Times’ own Executive Chairman Patrick Soon-Shiong, is “hobnobbing with all the most powerful and rich people in town,” and perhaps not as in touch with most of the Los Angeles population, but still made sure to acknowledge his respect for Soon-Shiong.

Despite his acknowledgment of their well-intended work, Sinco said newspapers’ leadership are “out of touch,’' a claim he supports by referencing his own editor, who lives in Ventura and hasn’t been to L.A. for over a year. Sinco advocated for a photo essay on homelessness in L.A. despite his editor’s pitches for other stories. Outside of the city and far from the grim reality of L.A.’s homelessness crisis, Sinco said his editor “isn’t seeing this shit.”

What does Sinco think about the state of diversity in the newsroom? His answer is deeply personal: Despite his accomplishments, no one in the last 24 years looked to promote him to a management position.

He said he “never got the feeling that they really took me all that seriously… I was the guy that could blend in in South L.A., East L.A., wherever.”

That experience might make someone feel tokenized, but Sinco said he does not feel like that’s the case. “You gotta fit in somewhere,” he says. “You gotta out-white the white people at their own fuckin’ game.”

Sinco says for future generations of journalists to succeed, they’ll need to write more quality news and do so more frequently to combat the declining industry where outlets are struggling to find paying subscribers and regain advertisers that have cut their budgets. In 2020, Pew Research Center reported that newspapers’ revenues declined significantly between 2008 and 2018, with U.S. newspapers in 2018 reaching the lowest circulation since 1940. At 61, however, he isn’t worried too much about it. “I’m almost out of this shit,” he said.