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Newsonomics: What was once unthinkable is quickly becoming reality in the destruction of local news
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Jan. 30, 2020, 1:14 p.m.
Reporting & Production

With Hecho en USA, USA Today wants to tell Latinos’ “everyday stories about navigating life in America”

And do it in two languages. “The stories are bubbling up from the local reporters who are living and covering these beats and can tell them with the nuance, context, and perspective that brings an authenticity to the national audience.”

For all of the stories about Spanish-language news media dwindling in the United States, there are still some bright spots. There’s Jambalaya News in New Orleans, which reshaped its mission after Hurricane Katrina, The Washington Post’s bi-weekly news podcast in Spanish, and El Tímpano in Oakland experimenting with text message news delivery, to name a few.

The latest experiment to serve Hispanic and Latino news consumers comes from USA Today, which has launched a new series called Hecho en USA (“Made in America”). Each month, it will publish long-form feature stories in English and Spanish about issues that affect Latinos across the United States.

Hecho en USA doesn’t have its own website; stories live in their corresponding sections. The first three in the series were reported and written by USA Today national reporters and look at bilingual education, accessibility to college education, and Latino representation in politics.

“This series came from many discussions about how we could better cover diverse communities across the United States,” Cristina Silva, a USA Today national enterprise editor leading the series, said. “We wanted to cover the contributions Latinos are making to their communities, as well as the unique challenges they face.”

In an increasingly divided United States where politicians and their supporters use anti-immigrant rhetoric (just read the replies to one of Hecho en USA’s stories), a lot has been written about how important the Latino vote will be in the 2020 presidential election. There are now about 59 million Latinos in the U.S.; about 37 million speak Spanish.

The most recent data (from 2013) from the Pew Research Center shows that 50 percent of Latino adults got their news in both English and Spanish, a seven percent decrease from 2010, while 32 percent said they only used English-language news sources.

As the second-fastest growing demographic in the country, this is the first year that more Latinos will be eligible to vote than black Americans, according to CUNY’s Latino Media Report. Given all these factors, Silva said she considers this series an act of public service.

“This is a huge community in the U.S., and we think that our readers are interested in learning more about them — and we’re not just doing these stories for Latinos, but for everyone,” Silva said. USA Today’s parent company Gannett has “a lot of properties in Latino-dominant communities, properties throughout California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, New York, New Jersey, so this is something that’s really important to a lot of our properties as well as our readers.”

USA Today and other Gannett papers have previously published stories in Spanish, like one investigation into the polluted New River along the U.S.-Mexico border and an interactive feature that documents one week of trying to immigrate to the United States. Hecho en USA will focus less on immigration and more on elevating everyday stories about Hispanics and Latinos.

Hecho en USA comes after The New York Times’ more ambitious NYT en Español, the Spanish-language site that launched in 2016 and published a mix of translations and original stories but was ultimately shuttered in 2019 because it wasn’t deemed financially viable.

In an interview with the freelancer community Study Hall about why NYT en Español failed, National Association of Hispanic Journalists president Hugo Balta and National Hispanic Media Coalition president and CEO Alex Nogales discussed how they didn’t necessarily find these types of verticals to be the best way to reach Latino news consumers.

Both Balta and Nogales are advocates of Hispanic-centric media, but neither believes that the only — or even the best — way to accomplish that is through projects like Español. In fact, Nogales says he doesn’t even read Spanish-language newspapers. Instead, he opts for programs like Univision and Telemundo, which he believes deliver the news in the way people already consume it. “I’d rather TV and radio survive than papers,” he says. “They’re not under the gun as newspapers are. Newspapers are going down and down every day”…

For both Balta and Nogales, a healthy media landscape would include more Hispanic representation at all levels, especially in the boardroom. “It’s been my observation that too often the decision-makers who are initiating and sometimes leading these initiatives are not members of the community,” Balta says, “and that’s when a lot of these strategies fail.” According to a 2015 analysis, Hispanic/Latinxs own just three percent of commercial TV stations, three percent of FM radio stations, and five percent of AM stations.

But while the Times’s goal was largely to grow its international audience, Silva said that the stories in Hecho en USA are aimed at anyone in the United States who wants to better understand the country. Similarly, NAHJ launched its own publication called “palabra.” (word) in November 2019. Palabra is a quarterly online magazine where freelancer members of NAHJ can publish stories about Latino communities and issues that have been overlooked or rejected by mainstream news media outlets.

Manny Garcia, the standards and ethics editor for USA Today — who was just hired to run the new Texas Tribune/ProPublica joint investigative team — said one of Hecho en USA’s biggest advantages is being able to tap into the USA Today Network of over 260 local newsrooms across the country. (Garcia and Silva said that they plan to publish stories by local reporters as well.) So far, Silva has been working with a freelance translator to translate stories into Spanish. The rest of the project relies on Spanish-speaking reporters, editors, and audience engagement producers from the national team and different USA Today properties.

“Part of it is the counter-narrative to the traditional stories that primarily you see, which are very immigration-heavy, very crime-heavy,” Garcia said. “Think about it as the everyday stories about navigating life in America. The roadblocks you may run into, but also the success stories. The stories are bubbling up from the local reporters who are living and covering these beats and can tell them with the nuance, context, and perspective that brings an authenticity to the national audience.”

Photo of UCLA Lab School Preschool teacher Elena Perez instructing her students in a bilingual education program by Harrison Hill/USA Today.

POSTED     Jan. 30, 2020, 1:14 p.m.
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