It’s easy to put Latinos/Hispanics/Latinx folks into one big pot and kinda think of us as a monolith. I can understand how someone who is NOT from this group might not get the nuances.
We speak the same language, share history, food, and music, but we’re very different. Mexicans are very different from Colombians, or Ecuadorians, or Peruvians. Remember that many of these people have history going back to not only Europeans but also the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca peoples. When you look at the many different people who make up this ethnic identity, it’s a vast palette.
So, if you’re a member of the news media, and you’re asking yourself, how do we reach this audience, well there are a few things to keep in mind. Start by knowing your community. If you’re in Southern California then a large, very large, part of your Latin audience is Mexican and Central American. If you’re in South Florida then a big portion of that audience is Caribbean or South American. Approach this audience not from the label Hispanic/Latino/Latinx but from their nationality as one way to start.
Just a couple extra thoughts here if I may. I love what Hugo said to me. Sometimes Latin audiences want to stay connected to their families and the news back home. I can attest. My father still prefers watching the news in Spanish over English. It’s been that way for years. I also believe he preferred Spanish news because his first language has always been Spanish, even though he can speak English.
The reality may be that newsrooms won’t reach a large portion of the Spanish-speaking audience unless they provide news in Spanish. Remember though, there are a lot of us. Know what’s important to us, then use that.
TRS: Are there enough Hispanic/Latino voices in the news? Have things gotten better over the years?
Hugo Balta: In certain aspects, we are no better now than when I started out 30 years ago. And in some ways, we are. And that is all driven by technology. We’re having a conversation on this program that you’re producing because of access and affordability to technology. I am a life-long member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. I’ll tell you, part of the work of that organization and others that represent marginalized communities is to continuously advocate for a seat at the table. But because of technology, we no longer have to just continue to ask for a seat at the table. We can create our own tables. And that’s precisely what you’re doing; it’s exactly what I do as an independent journalist. We see more of ourselves and our community than before because of social media. But statistically speaking, even though there are more of us in this space, we are still a minority in corporate commercial media. Even in digital media, we’re still, when you compare the makeup of those newsrooms versus the makeup of the general population, whether it’s local or national, we’re still very much behind the eight ball.
TRS: When you look at the news media, regardless of format, what do they get wrong about the Hispanic/Latino population? What do they get right?
Hugo Balta: First, they treat us like a monolithic group. You can walk from New York City to Los Angeles and come across many different people who fall under being Hispanic/Latino. And they’re going to be all very different. A Hispanic Latino in New York is mainly from the Caribbean, led by the. The Puerto Rican community is very different from the Hispanic/Latino in the West Coast in Southern California, which is predominantly Mexican or Mexican-American. There are more than 20 countries that have a similar language, Spanish, and a similar history. But there are cultural nuances between Puerto Ricans versus Peruvians, Venezuelans, Argentinians, etc. Understanding those nuances enables a storyteller, a journalist, and a newsroom to produce stories that are much more authentic to the communities they serve.
To produce a story with a one-size-fits-all mentality, to see Hispanic/Latinos in the state of California as the same as those from New York is arrogance and ignorance.
Now, where do they get it right? I think more and more, especially in the last two years under COVID, we’ve seen the exacerbation of those disparities regarding education, housing, and health care. They have a better understanding of the community and issues. In the beginning, their coverage was very superficial, very one-dimensional. I’ll give you an example. The coverage of immigration is much more complex than just looking at people crossing a border. News outlets are getting better at understanding the nuances. I suspect that it will continue to change as Hispanics, Latinos, and others demand better transparent reporting from media, regardless of the platform.
TRS: My father watches Spanish-language news first. What was essential for him was to know what was happening back home in Colombia. From your experience and data you’ve collected over the years about audience behaviors, what can you tell us about Hispanic/Latino audiences? Are they looking only for Spanish-language news? Or are they trying to move over to English-speaking news?
Hugo Balta: It’s very subjective, and I’ll use my parents as an example. My parents have been in this country obviously longer than I have been on this planet, right, more than 50 years. And when you look at my father, he’s fully bilingual. He gravitates to English and Spanish media. He’s going to English media for certain types of news, primarily local news. And then he’s gravitating to Spanish-language media for a different take. And then, of course, there’s the connection to life back home. Then you have my mother, who’s still predominantly Spanish dominant, and rarely consumes any media in English.
Does my father consume more English-language news than Spanish-language? No. I think part of that has to do with the fact that it’s always in a negative light when he does see himself. It’s never about his experience; a hardworking immigrant, born Hispanic/Latino, or another naturalized citizen who’s a small business owner. That’s not what you usually see in English language media. Often it’s a negative narrative, and it’s often a caricature of who they are. So one, it’s really about their preference. And secondly, it’s a lack of reflection and inclusion in English language media.
TRS: Is there a difference in how the English and Spanish-speaking news approaches doing the news?
Hugo Balta: There’s certainly a difference between some of the storytelling in local news versus national news, both in English and Spanish. To differentiate between Spanish and English-language news, one of the most significant faults of Spanish-language local news is the exploitation of women. It used to be if you were a woman and you wanted to break into the business of broadcast news, they would look for you to start in weather, and they would sex it up, from the way they used their hair to the clothing they wore, putting women in positions that were very uncomfortable and indeed exploiting them.
Now another difference that often comes up is advocacy journalism. You’d hear how Spanish-Language news is advocating for pro-immigration. The network or reporter must be pro-immigrant, et cetera. And Jorge Ramos from Univision is often criticized by English-language media for doing that. That’s changing now in English-speaking media. It happened in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd when African American journalists were criticized for not being objective in their coverage of the protests. That is a point of view based on privileged and from someone that doesn’t understand the black experience in the United States. What those journalists were doing and what Jorge Ramos and other Hispanic/ Latinos are doing is they’re being very transparent about their experience in wearing those shoes, and they’re providing audiences a reporting that is seldom seen that is transparent and authentic and based on their coverage of really sharing that aspect of their lives. We need to see more of that in journalism, especially in English-language news that often hides behind objectivity.
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