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The Next Frontier In TV: English News For Latinos

Aug 15, 2012
Originally published on August 15, 2012 12:15 pm

This is the third in a three-part series about major American networks trying to appeal to a broader Latino audience.

Jorge Ramos has a humbling problem.

He is one of the best-known Hispanics in the U.S. and a respected news anchor for the Univision networks on which millions of Americans routinely rely.

And yet, in Ramos' telling, his 14-year-old son, Nicolas, and his 25-year-old daughter, Paola, don't watch his newscasts.

"They get their information in English," Ramos said. "Their friends don't watch me. Their generation is not watching us in Spanish. So we have to do something."

That something is a new cable news channel, so embryonic that there is no name yet, or a clear sensibility. But it does offer a twist for Univision and Ramos: It's in English.

Univision has been operating for five decades and already commands about three-quarters of the Spanish-speaking television audience in the U.S. across its various broadcast and cable channels, according to Nielsen ratings estimates. On many nights, its ratings beat the major English-language networks. Now it is joining with ABC News to map out an entirely new network to reach Hispanics who prefer English.

"This is a fascinating point in our country's history right now," says Cesar Conde, president of Univision networks.

NBC News is attempting to collaborate as never before with its sister Spanish-language network Telemundo. MundoFox, a Spanish-language network born of a partnership between News Corp.'s Fox International Channels and a Colombian network, made its formal debut this week.

But this joint venture between Univision and ABC is in some ways the most notable effort by any major media outlet to try to capture a greater Hispanic audience at a time when the Hispanic share of the U.S. population is markedly growing.

"Increasingly, we're seeing the influence of Latinos across all fronts in America, from cultural to social, political and of course economic fronts. And that has a number of repercussions," Conde says. "One of the areas that has been underserved is providing a culturally relevant offering for Hispanics in English to complement everything that we're doing on the Spanish-language front."

Conde calls this effort uncharted territory, and ABC decidedly wants to stake its claim. That means a shift in the network's newsroom culture. One notable piece of evidence of that change: Starting this month, all ABC News staffers are being offered free Spanish lessons.

ABC News President Ben Sherwood met with Conde and other Univision executives early last year in anticipation of the 2012 presidential campaign coverage. The partnership started modestly.

"They wondered if Jorge Ramos could participate in some way in an ABC News debate," Sherwood recalls. "The answer to that was, 'Sure, no problem.' "

Bigger plans soon beckoned. Sherwood notes Univision's announcements that it intended to create a series of cable networks, involving news, entertainment and sport, to complement its cluster of existing channels.

"Our idea was let's build the channel of the future aimed at English-speaking Hispanics with culturally relevant programming," Sherwood says. "It's as simple — and as bold — as that."

Officials at the two networks say the formula, still evolving, will incorporate lifestyle programming as well, focusing on entertainment, food, health, music and pop culture.

While Univision executives and journalists laud ABC's traditions in news, Sherwood notes that his network brings an additional element: negotiating muscle. Industry officials say Disney, ABC's parent company, can leverage the indispensability of some of its other cable properties, such as the ESPN networks, to help convince cable and satellite television providers to carry the new station.

For ABC, the appeal of working closely with Univision on this project is readily apparent. All three legacy broadcast network divisions lag in attracting Hispanic viewers for their newscasts, even as roughly one in six Americans is Latino. That share is expected to rise, as Hispanics accounted for more than half of the growth of the U.S. population between 2000 and 2010.

Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, says as immigration to the U.S. from Mexico has slowed, most of that growth occurred among American-born Latinos. They are comfortable moving between media in both languages, he says, or may largely speak English when among friends.

"I think that's what the Univision/ABC News [network] is looking to exploit," Lopez says.

The logic is strong, but the strategy carries its own risks. English-speaking Latinos turn to the same news sources as everyone else, such as existing cable news stations, big newspapers, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook.

But Spanish-language outlets give greater coverage to stories that affect Latinos directly, including voting rights, immigration and developments in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Lopez points to a 2010 study by the Pew Hispanic Center that found Hispanics who relied on English-language media outlets did not understand nearly as much about that year's census as those who depended on Spanish-language news organizations. English-speaking Latinos, for example, were less likely to realize that authorities could not use the answers provided in the census questionnaires to deport people who are in this country illegally, Lopez said.

"They identify as Hispanic. They call themselves Hispanic," Lopez says, "but they aren't necessarily getting the same sort of news coverage directed specifically to them about being Latino, or about what it means to be Latino."

He says the evidence just doesn't exist yet to prove that the ABC/Univision channel will be a winning concept. The network is expected to first appear on the air sometime in the second quarter of next year. The accompanying English-language website, however, is supposed to make its first appearance sometime this fall.

Ramos says people who prefer English will encounter fuller coverage of issues that affect them in the language in which they're most comfortable.

"Those voices that we hear on a daily basis in Spanish are not being heard in English," Ramos says. "It's time that that starts to happen."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The nation's Hispanic population is on the rise, and major news organizations are trying to appeal to that growing audience. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has his second of two stories on those efforts. As David reports today, ABC News and the nation's leading Spanish-language broadcaster Univision are teaming up to create a channel for Latinos with a twist.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Jorge Ramos has a problem. He's one of the best-known Hispanics in the United States, a respected news anchor for Univision networks on whom millions of Americans rely. And yet...

JORGE RAMOS: My son and my daughter, they don't watch me. Nicolas, 14, Paola, 25, they don't watch news in Spanish. They watch their news, they get their information in English. Their friends don't watch me. Their generation is not watching us in Spanish. So we have to do something.

FOLKENFLIK: That something is a new cable news channel. It doesn't even have a name yet. But here's the key thing: It's in English. That's right. Univision already commands about three-quarters of the Spanish-speaking television audience in the U.S. across its various broadcast and cable channels. Now it is joining with ABC News to map out an entirely new network to reach Hispanics who prefer English.

CESAR CONDE: This is a fascinating point in our country's history right now.

FOLKENFLIK: Cesar Conde is president of Univision networks.

CONDE: Increasingly, we're seeing the influence of Latinos across all fronts in America, from cultural to social, political and, of course, economic fronts. And that has a number of repercussions. One of the areas that has been underserved is providing a culturally relevant offering for Hispanics in English to complement everything that we're doing on the Spanish-language front.

FOLKENFLIK: As Conde says, this is uncharted territory, and ABC wants to stake its claim. That means a shift in its newsroom culture.

I'm here with ABC News spokeswoman Julie Townsend, who's representing this joint venture. Tell me, Julie, where are we and what do we see in front of us?

JULIE TOWNSEND: We're in the kitchen on the fifth floor newsroom and the sign says: Un Poco Investment of Time, Your Return Will Be Muy Grande. And it's a sign encouraging our employees to sign up for Spanish lessons, which we launched just last week.

FOLKENFLIK: Those Spanish lessons are free for anyone who wants them, courtesy of new ABC News President Ben Sherwood. It's one of the ideas that grew out of the meeting he held with Conde and other Univision executives, in anticipation of this year's presidential campaign coverage.

BEN SHERWOOD: They wondered if Jorge Ramos could participate, in some way, in an ABC News debate. And that was really the top of their list, was could Jorge perhaps ask a question or moderate one of the debates with some of our anchors. The answer to that was sure, no problem

FOLKENFLIK: They began to dream up bigger ambitions.

SHERWOOD: We had also noticed they had put out some announcements about how they were interested in building some new channels. And our idea was let's build the channel of the future aimed at English speaking Hispanics, with culturally relevant programming. It's as simple and as bold as that.

FOLKENFLIK: Roughly one-in-six Americans is Latino. But that share is likely to rise, as Hispanics accounted for more than half the growth of the U.S. population between 2000 and 2010.

Mark Hugo Lopez is associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: It's really this group of particularly Latinos born in the U.S. with those immigrant parents, these you people who are able to navigate both of these worlds, that these efforts seem to be appealing to.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet the strategy is not without its risks. English speaking Latinos turn to the same news sources as everyone else - cable news, big newspapers, Yahoo!, Twitter and Facebook. But Spanish language outlets give greater coverage to stories that affect Latinos directly, such as voting rights, immigration, and developments in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Lopez points to a 2010 survey by the Pew Center. It found Hispanics who relied upon English language media outlets, did not understand nearly as much about that year's census as those who followed Spanish-language news organizations.

LOPEZ: They identify as Hispanic. They call themselves Hispanic. But they aren't necessarily getting the same sort of news coverage directed specifically to them, about being Latino or about what it means to be Latino. Or, in the case of the census, about the role the census plays for Hispanic communities.

FOLKENFLIK: So why would Latinos turn to this unnamed channel, as opposed to Univision in Spanish or ABC in English? Because, Jorge Ramos says, they will be able to expect fuller coverage of issues that affect them in the language in which they're most comfortable.

RAMOS: We need to have more voices being heard on TV. And those voices that we hear on a daily basis in Spanish are not being heard on English - it's time that that starts to happen.

FOLKENFLIK: ABC's Ben Sherwood says the two networks are playing the long game.

SHERWOOD: We're looking for unique, indispensable products that we can put out there, and this is that. This is white space. No one is doing this.

FOLKENFLIK: Demographics as destiny.

David Folkenflik NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.