Media Matters For a Growing Audience

Jun 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Debra Kaufman

Special to TelevisionWeek

The Hispanic population in the U.S. has dramatically increased, up from 17 million in 1995 to an estimated 40 million today. Those numbers translate to growing importance for Hispanic, especially Spanish-language, media. Univision, the largest Spanish-language TV network in the U.S., which Hallmark sold for $550 million in 1992 (the year that Nielsen produced its first national study of U.S. Hispanic households), is now back on the block-for $11 billion.

The potential sale of Univision is one of the biggest issues facing Hispanic journalists today, said Ivan Roman, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which holds its annual conference this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “There is some uncertainty in Spanish-language TV at the moment because we don’t know what will happen,” he said. “Nobody knows who is going to buy it and how that will impact journalists and their jobs.”

In the wake of consolidations and layoffs, Hispanic journalists have recently faced an issue that is predominant in the industry as a whole. “In the last year and a half, we got report after report of print newsrooms and some TV newsrooms cutting staff because of pressure from Wall Street for profits,” Mr. Roman said. “These are lean operations to begin with, so coming back is hard. In general we face the same problems and challenges that others face when it comes to mergers and acquisitions for more profit. This is really a serious situation for us. We believe the news plays an important role, and when you sacrifice it for profits, you’re taking away an important voice in our democracy.”

Were Hispanic journalists more heavily affected by the layoffs than their Anglo colleagues? “We try to advocate for keeping minorities in those jobs when it comes to layoff time, but the reality is that it doesn’t always happen,” said NAHJ President Ver%F3;nica Villafa%F1;e. “Everyone across the board is subject to losing their jobs during the cutbacks. The only difference is that if we lose one, two or three people, we lose significantly on our diversity numbers.”

Univision anchor Mar%ED;a Elena Salinas, a pioneering Spanish-language journalist in the U.S., said, “I think we still have the issue of not enough representation at all levels-on-air, behind the scenes and in management. You still have a deficiency there, although the NAHJ has done a terrific job with the Parity Project to get more stations to hire Hispanics. But in mainstream media, you still have the mentality of token minorities.”

NAHJ’s Parity Project was started in 2003 with the goal of doubling the number of Hispanics in news, Ms. Villafa%F1;e said. The project compares the newsroom Hispanic staff numbers with the Hispanic percentage of the population served by newspaper or broadcast groups that volunteer to participate. “If you have 60 percent Latino population and only one Latino reporter, we work with them on that,” Ms. Villafa%F1;e said. “It’s not just about hiring more Hispanic journalists. It’s also about providing better coverage for that community.”

It’s difficult to determine whether Hispanic journalists have suffered disproportionately in recent waves of layoffs, Mr. Roman said. “Some people would say they’re being laid off in greater numbers, but others say that Latinos are kept on, because they need the Latinos on staff and they make less money,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag.”

Though a “salary divide” between Hispanic and nonminority journalists has not been documented, Mr. Roman pinpointed another divide that could have major implications in the future. “There is a digital divide in which Latinos aren’t as up-to-date in terms of access to the Internet as the rest of the population,” he said. “But the good news is that Hispanics are hopping on the technological train quickly.”

The growth of the Hispanic population bodes well for Hispanic journalists. Station managers have been quick to realize the importance of their growing Hispanic communities. “I think every market in the country, when they’re looking to fill positions, would take every opportunity they could to hire Hispanic journalists,” said Barbara Frye, VP of talent placement services for Frank N. Magid Associates, a TV media research and consulting company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “When I get calls for employment, they emphasize that if I have Hispanics, make sure they’re included. They want to see all minorities.”

Dramatic Growth

Despite recent consolidations and layoffs, the dramatic growth of Spanish-language TV is another very positive sign for Hispanic journalists. “Everyone is asking for the person to be bilingual,” said Ms. Frye. “Since the Hispanic population is growing rapidly in smaller cities and other areas, they look for Hispanic journalists-or anyone else-who can communicate with that population that often doesn’t speak English. TV stations have an obligation to represent their communities, and Hispanics fall into that category.

“Spanish-language TV just keeps growing. New stations pop up every week, and they have to hire, not fire.”

Mr. Roman agreed, noting that new Spanish-language stations are entering new markets. “Now they’re starting in places like Salt Lake City and in the South,” he said. “So there is growth, which means there will be more jobs.”

“People always look at the border states like Arizona and Florida for heavy Hispanic populations,” added Julie Kraft, a senior consultant with Frank N. Magid Associates. “But it’s the fastest-growing demographic out there, and they’re growing in places like North Carolina.”

Ms. Frye suggested that Hispanic journalists themselves consider positions in communities outside of the Southwest. “Fort Wayne, Ind., has some communities within its viewing area that are at least 50 percent Hispanic,” she said. “Sioux City, Iowa, or Toledo, Ohio, might not be as attractive to Hispanics as someplace in California or Texas where there’s a larger Hispanic population. But the opportunities are there and growing, and a lot of them are outside the Southwest and Florida.”

At the same time that the demand for Hispanic journalists has increased, it’s not clear whether that demand has translated into more Hispanics in managerial and news director positions. Jose Rios, VP of news for Fox station KTTV and UPN affiliate KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, said being in management is a mixed bag. “But the good news is that you are in a position to help direct the coverage and can allocate the resources of your TV station,” he said.

“We are pushing and encouraging partners to be open to hiring Latino managers, and I think things are improving,” said Ms. Villafa%F1;e. “But it’s a slow process.”

At the same time, Mr. Rios said that moving more Hispanic journalists into management isn’t guaranteed to produce the desired effect. “It depends on who you hire rather than just who they are,” he said. “Ostensibly, if someone shared a background with the community they were covering, it would make them more sensitive, but that’s not always the case. And plenty of people who aren’t Hispanic have done a terrific job covering Hispanic issues.”You do want to see a newsroom reflective of the community,” he said. “But I think we live in a world where people get it. There’s a large Hispanic population and they deserve consideration as part of the audience.”

The growing opportunities in Spanish-language TV aren’t as readily available to Hispanic journalists who don’t speak Spanish fluently. Although the NAHJ doesn’t know how many of its members are fluent in Spanish, the organization does offer a leg-up to Hispanic journalists who want to gain Spanish fluency, with grammar and usage workshops at its annual convention. But searching for a job in burgeoning Spanish-language media requires more than fluent Spanish; it requires a very different mind-set than the one that has predominated for decades.

“Spanish-language journalism used to be considered second-class, and young journalists avoided i
t,” Ms. Villafa%F1;e said. “Doing the crossover to English-language TV was a big deal.”

Crossover from Spanish-language to English-language news is still a path for some Hispanic journalists. Mr. Rios named TV journalists Christina Gonzalez and Elizabeth Espinosa as two crossover examples.

Ms. Kraft noted that a Hispanic journalist who decides to enter Spanish-language TV can look forward to moving from a small to large market in much shorter time than an English-language colleague. And greatly improved standards of news and programming at Spanish-language stations have helped to eradicate the stigma that was once associated with these networks. Ms. Salinas noted the dramatic changes.

Though the struggle into the newsroom has been long and fraught with setbacks and disappointments, Hispanic journalists seem destined to prosper in an environment in which the Hispanic market has gone from invisibility to one estimated at some $600 billion in buying power. And for Hispanic journalists with fluent Spanish skills, Spanish-language TV has become a very viable, even desirable, alternative.