Hispanic News Outlets, Unavoidable Needs

It Is Not a Matter of Language, It's a Matter of Coverage

JESUS HERNANDEZ CUELLAR

For four decades, Heriberto Gonzalez has lived in the United States. He speaks English fluently and is an avid consumer of English-language news media. However his primary source of information are Spanish-language newspapers, radio and TV. Why does he need Hispanic news outlets?

"I need to know what's going on in Latin America and about Latinos in the United States," Mr. Gonzalez said. "When I open Los Angeles Times I rarely find stories about Mexico, Cuba, Central America or Colombia. When I watch CNN, ABC or Fox News I never get news about Latin America either. The Haiti earthquake was an exception because of the dimension of the tragedy."

Martha Pereira came to the United States in 1979. As Mr. Hernandez, she also speaks English fluently but she wonders, "where on Earth can I read news stories on the upcoming immigration reform or Mexico's soap operas in the English-language news media?"

She may find a few stories on the immigration reform, but on Mexico's soap operas, Latin American soccer leagues, Spanish-language books or Latin pop music? This is also true for Asian Americans and other ethnic groups that consume U.S. foreign-language news media.

Mr. Gonzalez and Mrs. Pereira are not alone in search for news about Latin America and Hispanics in the United States, among English-speaking Latinos. This kind of information demand demystifies the widespread belief that once Hispanics/Latinos learn English they no longer need to use Spanish. Such a cultural experience is similar to that of Americans living abroad. The Tico Times is a well known English-language newspaper in Central America. Based in Costa Rica, The Tico Times was founded in 1956 by veteran U.S. newswoman Betty Dyer. It provides Costa Rica's English-speaking public with a local newspaper.

Many Americans are familiar with largest Hispanic news media in the U.S. such as Univision and Telemundo networks or daily newspapers La Opinion, Diario/La Prensa or El Nuevo Herald. But these news outlets are only the tip of the iceberg. In the United States you can find about 700 Spanish-language publications serving 50 million Hispanics/Latinos from more than 20 nationalities. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, U.S. Hispanics have a purchasing power of over $900 billion.

In fact, the Spanish-language news media in the U.S. is a complicated labyrinth of niches that meets a number of media consumption needs. In Los Angeles, the largest Hispanic market in the U.S. and home of millions of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans, you find Dia a Dia, a weekly serving Central Americans, La Prensa Colombiana for Colombians, El Suplemento for Argentinians, Actualidad aimed at Peruvians, and 20 de Mayo for Cubans. In Miami, also an important Hispanic market and home of most Cuban Americans, Colombian Americans read El Colombiano and Venezuelans get El Venezolano.

Obviously, the current economic downturn affecting the mainstream media is also affecting negatively Hispanic newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and news sites. On the other hand, traditional news business models that has arrived late to the Internet are suffering a lot. This has been also a punch in the liver for the Hispanic communication industry. Internet is not helping the news media make the money they used to get within their traditional models as more people are getting the news from the web. As fast as mainstream audiences but not in such overwhelming numbers, U.S. Hispanics are also embracing Internet.

Cable TV is also bringing new choices for Hispanics. Even Mexico's regional news are now at hand. Argentina's Telefe Internacional, Puerto Rico's WAPA TV, Colombia's Caracol TV network, Spain's Television Española Internacional, winner of the TV News Award in Zurich, Switzerland, last year, CNN en Español and other 45 TV channels have brought a fierce competition among Spanish-language TV networks in the United States. Cuban Americans living in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and other U.S. cities don't trust Cuba's government-run news media, so most of them watch Miami's Mega TV and visit Miami's El Nuevo Herald online edition.

But whatever the outcome might be after the current economic downturn is over and amid the technology revolution that is taking audiences to the Internet, there is one thing that apparently will never happen: Hispanic immigrants will not abandon their habit to consume Spanish-language news media. Why not? Because it isn't a matter of language, it's a matter of coverage.

(Hernández Cuéllar is Publisher and Editor in Chief of Contacto Magazine, a bilingual publication he founded on July 1, 1994 in Burbank, California. He has also worked as a news writer with Spain's international news agency EFE in Cuba, Central America and the United States, and as Metro Editor of La Opinion of Los Angeles, as well as an instructor of journalism at the University of California Los Angeles, UCLA.)

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