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Esther Cepeda: What Hispanics want from media

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Esther Cepeda
February 22, 2014

CHICAGO -- Farewell CNN Latino, which I never once watched.

 The Spanish-language programming, which aired in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and other top Hispanic markets, is ceasing this month after failing to meet “business expectations,” according to a spokesman.

 It follows the quiet end of the English-language NBC Latino news website (which carried my syndicated column until it shuttered at the end of 2013) and the ABC/Univision in English web experiment, which bit the dust last fall.

 Coincidentally, just after Spanish-language television reached a new milestone last July when Univision finished first among broadcast networks in the two highly sought-after demographic ranges of 18- to 49-year-olds and 18- to 34-year-olds during summer sweeps, the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that a larger—and growing—portion of Hispanics get their news in English.

 These contradictory data points cannot be used to divine the future of Hispanics and U.S. media. They are simply signs of the times: Like all other news consumers, Hispanics are increasingly getting their headlines from a fragmented combination of print, TV and Web sources that include hard news, opinion, blogs and satire. They happen to do so in multiple languages.

 Last summer, Mark Hugo Lopez provided the best explanation for the rise of Spanish-language programming in concert with English-language news:

“Because Hispanics are such a fast growing part of the U.S. population, the number who speak Spanish and who watch television in Spanish has risen even as the share who get their news in Spanish has declined,” he wrote.

 Since Hispanics tend to be bilingual, it’s easy to imagine households where the news is consumed in English but the channel is changed for culture-specific entertainment such as Don Francisco’s jigglefest “Sabado Gigante,” steamy telenovelas such as “Mentir Para Vivir” (“Lie So You Can Live”) and specials such as the Univision Hispanic Youth Awards, which won July’s sweeps.

 To what, then, do we owe the demise of the three news ventures that, on paper, seemed to be the perfect combination to attract Latinos?

 Federico Subervi, a professor and scholar of Latino media at Kent State University, recently told Boston’s NPR affiliate that he believed those efforts simply didn’t gain enough awareness among the targeted audience.

 “The first thought that came to mind—I had read the news about the demise of these outlets—was a wonderful movie that gets little promotion, maybe not enough promotion,” Subervi said, “And that people say, well, you know, it didn’t get the audience that it needed.”

 Maybe.

 Or maybe Hispanic audiences just didn’t like the erratic stream of recipes, “model minority” features, celebrity gossip and immigration-focused breathlessness that seemed to dominate those pages.

 If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, head over to Huffington Post’s Latino Voices. After wading through the umpteenth story about Sofia Vergara’s or Shakira’s curves and the obligatory “Evil Republican” item, yes you’ll find some excellent news and commentary about important issues affecting Hispanics. But there’s a lot of tabloid fluff to wade through, and if readers wanted a celebrity gossip site, they’d go straight to one in the first place.

 Might this be why Fusion.net, the “pop culture, satire, news” channel and website—which was supposed to be a Hispanic-focused outgrowth of the ABC/Univision union but ended up billing itself as an all-millennial-not-just-Hispanics product—hasn’t exactly set the world on fire?

 I was skeptical when one of the first “stories” I saw on the site was “We Visited a Dog Psychic Because Why Not?”

 Don’t get me wrong—I’ll click on anything to do with that most Hispanic dog, the Chihuahua. But, really? They felt striking the right tone meant leading off with a Chihuahua psychic story?

 That was only the beginning of their woes. Fusion’s debut was met with all kinds of criticisms, most about the overwhelmingly light-skinned cast which was deemed both not Latino enough and not diverse enough.

 But who cares when I can’t get past such fare as “Losing Your Wingwoman is Totally OK” and “Top 5 Cool Cannabis Crowdfunding Projects.” (I’ll just chalk that up to being several years past Fusion’s 18-to-34 viewership sweet spot.)

 “Covering” Hispanics is actually pretty simple: if the “mainstream news media” wants serious Latino attention, all it needs to do is report Hispanics’ issues respectfully, fairly and consistently—no Chihuahuas, Sofia Vergara or Spanglish required.

 Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.



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