THE STATE OF THE LATINO NEWS MEDIA
WHY LATINO JOURNALISM MATTERS
Latinxs are the second-largest so-called ethnic group in America, encompassing almost 20 percent of the country’s population. (Latinxs are, in fact, a diverse, multi-ethnic group.) They make up about half the residents of New Mexico and close to 40 percent of those living in Texas and California, two of the biggest states measured by population and local economy. Latino communities have been present in the U.S. since its very founding, and their role and importance are woven into the country’s social and economic fabric.
News publications serving Latino communities go back to the early 19th century, and they still retain the indispensable role they have always played.
The challenge of delivering news to these communities is an important piece of the fight to rebuild journalism for everyone. Indeed, we cannot separate the future of Latino journalism from the future of all U.S. journalism. Yet most “mainstream” media studies and criticism regularly ignore Latino journalism —as well as pretty much all media serving U.S. communities of color.
Recognizing the importance of the Latino news industry, we set out to understand its problems and possibilities. Many turn out to be similar to those in the rest of American media. But Latino journalism faces an even more complicated reality: Younger Latinxs are not only moving away from traditional media like print and TV to other platforms, they are also moving from Spanish —the language of their parents and grandparents — to a bilingual lifestyle in which they pick and choose what language to live in.
As Latino outlets grapple with these changes, their focus on local news and their authentic narratives are absolutely relevant to the larger conversation about today’s news media.
So, too, are some of the innovative approaches, formats and business models described in this report: an audience-building national podcast produced through a Latino-Anglo collaboration, a “listening” initiative that uncovered a California immigrant community’s real information needs, a bilingual news platform by and for those living along the Southern border, and a nonprofit outlet in Puerto Rico that has managed to produce nonstop investigative journalism in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
These breakthrough efforts represent just a few of the valuable lessons the American media at large might extract from the Latino news media.
When the Newmark J-School launched its Spanish-language journalism program in 2016, its initial aim was to train more bilingual journalists to better cover Latino communities. We broadened the program’s scope to create the Latino News Initiative, dedicated to producing research, organizing conferences and meetings, and advocating for new leadership in newsrooms and the creation of more outlets. This report is part of that expanded mandate.
We believe that a stronger Latino news industry will strengthen all media and — by providing genuine portraits of America’s Latinxs—serve an important civic need.
There is much more to be learned. We see this report as a beginning.
— Graciela Mochkofsky
Tow Professor and Director of the Spanish-language Journalism Program
The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York
The State of the Latino News Media is the first attempt to map and analyze the universe of news media outlets serving the Latino population in the U.S., including Puerto Rico. That doesn’t mean that we’ve successfully counted and surveyed every single outlet, but we’ve certainly tried.
This report began in the fall of 2017 as a course project for the pioneering class of bilingual students in the Spanish-Language Journalism Program of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. As this report does, we defined a Latino news media outlet as a U.S.-based media outlet that serves a Latino community or population offering information and/or commentary about U.S. current events or nonfiction storytelling in Spanish, English or both.
The students began with a set of questions: What does the Latino news landscape look like? How many newsrooms populate it? Do their locations match U.S. Latino demographics, or are there information deserts? What is the preferred language for both news delivery and news consumption?
The class searched dozens of existing databases (all of which are incomplete and many of which are outdated) and contacted organizations and media professionals with knowledge of the industry across the U.S. By semester’s end, they had compiled a preliminary list of outlets. Our research editor, J-School adjunct professor Cristina Maldonado, and a group of students spent most of spring 2018 fact-checking this directory, ensuring that the outlets listed fit our definition and were actively publishing or broadcasting.
With a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, we hired a small research team to dig more deeply. We completed the vetted directory, surveyed journalists in their newsrooms (about ownership, business models, staff and audience size and so on) and published an online interactive map of the outlets we had identified. In May of 2019, we launched a crowdsourcing campaign, asking the public to tell us if our map had missed any outlets, and our directory gained a dozen entries.
We also interviewed roughly 100 journalists and media executives about their personal views on the industry. Finally, we linked the information we had gathered to available information on Latino demographics and Latinxs’ news consumption habits.
WHAT WE FOUND is an industry made up of 624 Latino news outlets serving a potential audience of close to 59 million people.
- The outlets are mostly distributed according to a clear demographic pattern: Generally, states with the largest number of outlets have the largest concentrations of Latino population. There are notable exceptions: North Carolina ranks fifth-highest in our outlet list but has only the 11th-largest Latino population by state. And in nine states with sizable Latino populations we couldn’t find any outlets. Wyoming and Hawaii, where Latinxs make up 10 percent of the population, are two examples.
- The outlets’ predominant language is Spanish, and the audience, at least as perceived by media practitioners, consists mainly of immigrant Latinxs, despite the fact that a majority of U.S. Latinxs are U.S. born and prefer to get their news in English.
- The focus of news is mainly local, with most small and medium-size outlets offering local and hyperlocal coverage of Latino communities. Even the large national TV networks are strengthening their focus on local news, which they produce in their dozens of local stations and affiliates.
- Two giant competing corporations, Univision and Telemundo, dominate the market. The rest of the industry is made up of myriad medium-size and (mostly) small outlets.
- Non-Latinxs own the two big TV-network corporations, and the same can be said of almost all the medium-size newspapers (23 of the 25 metropolitan publications are owned by Anglo media companies). Most of the small publications, which make up the majority of Latino news outlets, are Latino-owned and independent. Indeed, some small print publications are supported only by the income their owners make from other jobs. (Among the owners our researchers found: a teacher, a musician and an immigration lawyer.)
- The formats employed by Latino news outlets are largely the same as those of legacy media, with TV, print publications and radio making up nearly 80 percent of the industry. The business model is overwhelmingly advertising-based, and — as is the case for the news media business generally — it is a model in crisis, for the most part struggling to adapt to digital formats and new distribution platforms.
- Worries about sustainability and lack of resources are the main concerns of Latino news media professionals, and these are closely linked to demographic changes: The immigrant population that most outlets target is declining, and the large majority of U.S. Latinxs, who are U.S.-born millennials and younger, increasingly prefer to get their news from the internet and English-language news sources. Yet a majority of the outlets see themselves as advocates for a Spanish-language population learning to navigate a new country.
- The industry’s newsroom staffs are heavily Latino, other studies have shown, even in the companies owned by non-Latinxs. And according to our survey — filled in by a quarter of the 624 outlets — and our interviews, most of the journalists are Latin-American immigrants themselves as opposed to U.S.-born Latinxs who come from the communities they are to cover. Indeed, some of the media practitioners we interviewed said one challenge they face is finding experienced bilingual journalists familiar with Latino issues.
- Innovation — in terms of formats, platforms, engagement, business models and technology — is coming mostly from a small number of outlets, some produced in Spanish, others in English. Mainly located in California, Florida and New York, most are Latino-owned. These outlets are experimenting, successfully in some cases, with new ways of serving Latino news consumers, in the process pointing the way to change in the industry.
The State of the Latino News Media is missing two important components.
The first is content analysis: What is the news agenda of Latino news media? Which topics are covered? What is the portrayal of Latinxs?
The other missing component: the voice of the public, the potential audience. What do Latinxs think of the media outlets that purportedly serve them? What are their information needs, and are Latino news outlets meeting them? Why do they choose one outlet over another? Do they believe existing coverage accurately represents them?
We plan to add these components, aiming to publish our results by the end of 2019.
We see, in this snapshot of the present, a news media industry fraught with uncertainty but replete with opportunities.