A conversation with José Díaz-Balart is a master class in journalism. The MSNBC and Telemundo anchor, a 30-year TV news veteran, repeatedly directs the conversation away from himself and toward the people and stories he's reported on across the world. In an age when journalists increasingly lay out their own personal biases, he says remaining impartial is his hallmark.
"It's not about putting your opinion and your personal little issues into your work," he says. "It's about giving voice to others and treating everyone equally."
That's why, even though Díaz-Balart has interviewed national and world leaders over the three decades of his career, he prefers to talk about the people who, he says, "live invisibly."
"My best interviews will never be presidents or princes, celebrities or socialites," he says, "but all the people who have shared their own moments of fear, desperation, success, and tragedy with me."
Díaz-Balart's story is inextricable from his famed last name. He's the younger brother of Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart. His father was a prominent Cuban politician, and his aunt was Fidel Castro's first wife.
But José branched away from the family business of politics, starting his career in 1984 as a radio reporter before becoming the Central American bureau chief for Univision in El Salvador. Among his first big stories was the 1985 Mexico earthquake that killed 10,000 people. He was there to share stories of hope and survival, like more than a dozen infants pulled from the rubble. That stark juxtaposition — of life and loss — would shape his nuanced and thoughtful storytelling style for the rest of his career.
"The miracle babies were a story of hope, and yet the same event had stories of human beings who lost everyone and everything in their life," he says.
Díaz-Balart went on to become a reporter for WTVJ in Miami. When he was named anchor of CBS News' This Morning in 1996, he was the first Cuban-American to anchor a network news broadcast.
Now he anchors three shows out of Miami: Telemundo's evening news and its Sunday public affairs show, plus the two-hour MSNBC Live With José Díaz-Balart. He's the only anchor on television to do two shows in two languages every day.
It's a remarkable juggling act that's drawn national notice, with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) handing Díaz-Balart the Presidential Award of Visibility in September. As NAHJ President Mekahlo Medina said, "José is not only an exceptional example of a solid journalist, but one who has never forgotten his community."
That community, Díaz-Balart says, is all the "ordinary" people with extraordinary stories that he's spent his career chasing down.
"My community is [Cuban graffiti artist and human rights activist] El Sexto and the young dreamers who were born in a country they don't know and brought here through no fault of their own and feel allegiance to and passion for the U.S.," he says. "My community is all the people who come here to support this country with sweat on their brow, full of passion and love."