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Home > Publications > Quill > The Thriving Spanish-Language Media


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Friday, February 2, 2007
The Thriving Spanish-Language Media

Challenges and Opportunities

by Ron Chepesiuk

In 2005, Michael PazSoldan appeared to have the ideal background for an aspiring journalist. He graduated from UCLA in 1999 with bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies and earned a master’s degree in journalism and international studies from a Spanish university in 2001. As a dual U.S. and Peruvian citizen, he speaks English and Spanish fluently.

Yet PazSoldan felt something was missing from his resume.

“I had the theoretical journalism background, but I knew I needed more practical hands-on training,” he said.

PazSoldan learned about UCLA’s new Spanish-language media program, one of the specialized journalism programs that have sprung up recently to meet the growing demand for Spanish-language journalists. Started in fall 2005, the program offers the nation’s first professional certificate in Spanish-language journalism. It’s co-sponsored by the journalism department in UCLA’s Extension Division and the country’s two largest Spanish-language print and broadcast media outlets, the Los Angeles-based La Opinion and Univision 34.

“Our main goal is to cultivate a new generation of qualified journalists trained in Spanish-language media, who can function effectively both in Spanish and English,” said Krista Loretto, program coordinator for the journalism department, extension division. “There continues to be a tremendous amount of interest in the program, surpassing the queries we get about our English-language journalism program.”

Most of the classes are taught in Spanish by professionals working at La Opinion and Univision 34, and many of the classes take place in the companies’ newsrooms. PazSoldan interned at Univision and was offered a job.

“I do a lot of different things because I work directly with the news director,” he said. “It’s an incredible professional experience. I could have enrolled in UCLA’s English-journalism tract, but I love dealing with the Spanish-speaking community. I feel that’s where my professional opportunities lie.”

PazSoldan is now working on the cutting edge of a major media trend. The mainstream English-language media continues to struggle with technological change, cutbacks and layoffs, but the Spanish-language media is booming. Nearly 90 percent of adult Hispanics in the United States access the Spanish-language media regularly, according to a New California Media study. Between 1990 and 2004, the circulation of Spanish-language dailies in the U.S. more than tripled, according to a 2004 State of the News Media.

As the advertising revenues for the English-language print media dip and head toward a nose dive, studies show that revenues from the Spanish-language media market continue to grow, increasing seven-fold between 1990 and 2004, reports the State of the Media.

“Slowly, advertisers are waking up to the fact that the Hispanic market is an $800 billion industry and the country’s largest consumer market,” said Eldin Villafane, a partner at New York-based public relations firm Butler Associates LLC. “It’s an especially hot market not just for print but for radio as well.”

Villafane handles Butler’s Hispanic market account.

All sectors of the Spanish-language media market are experiencing dynamic growth. The New York City-based Meredith Corp. is well-known as the publisher of such popular magazines as Child, Parent, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Better Homes and Gardens. Meredith has also tapped into the Spanish-language magazine with its Hispanic Ventures program, which includes the magazine Siempre Mujer (circulation 375,000), Healthy Kids in Espanol (circulation 500,000) and three other magazines.

“Advertisers are becoming aware that they are really missing out if they don’t address the Hispanic market,” said Johanna Buchholtz, editor-in-chief of Hispanic Ventures.

But that hasn’t made dealing with advertisers any easier, Buchholtz added. “We still have to assume advertisers don’t know a lot about the Hispanic market. So we have to work just as hard, if not harder, than the English-language media, to educate them about the demographics.”

Those demographics show that Hispanics are the largest minority in the U.S., comprising about 14.1 percent of the population, up from 17 million people in 1995 to nearly 44 million today.

“There is no question that the Spanish-speaking population will continue to grow and will represent a largely immigrant population for years to come,” said Gilbert Bailon, the publisher and editor of Al Dia, a Spanish-language daily of 40,000 circulation published by the Dallas Morning News.

Founded in 2003 by Belo Corp., Al Dia is just one example of a Spanish-language daily launched by a large media company. They include the Tribune’s Diario Hoy in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and Knight Ridder’s Diario La Estrella in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Other major newspapers—the Washington Post and Austin-American Statesman, for instance — are reportedly investing in Spanish-language dailies.

The Spanish-language print media is also entering new markets outside the communities that historically have large Spanish-speaking populations, including Fort Wayne, Ind.; Charlotte, N.C.; Toledo, Ohio; and Sioux City, Iowa.

“Local mainstream media are finally catching up with the rest of America,” Felix Gutierrez, a professor of Latin media at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, told Spanish-language Internet publication DiariosRumbo. “You can reach more people if you reach out to them in the language or in the content they prefer.”

While the Spanish-language media expands, it is experiencing growing pains, the result of more than just advertisers and demographics. Finding qualified staff at all levels is one of the biggest challenges. The competition for Hispanic journalists is intense as the Hispanic population grows and the media works to diversify its newsrooms.

Hispanics, however, aren’t necessarily flocking to the journalism profession. A survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors last year revealed that only 4.5 percent of newsroom employees are Hispanic.

The shortage of Hispanic journalists is a serious enough issue for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists that the group started the Parity Project in 2003, which has the goal of doubling the number of Hispanics in the media. In June 2006, former NAHJ president Veronica Villafane told Television Week magazine that the project “compares the newsroom Hispanic staff numbers with the Hispanic percentage of the population served by newspapers 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.”

The issue of why more Hispanics are not in journalism may have a lot to do with economics. One can easily conclude that since the American media needs Spanish-language journalists, the pay for such professionals should be good, or at least adequate. Not necessarily so. Pay disparity may be the big reason why more Hispanic journalists are not choosing journalism as a career.

This is especially true for the Spanish-language media.

“If you have two journalists — one working for the English-language media and the other for a Spanish-language one — the second will invariably be paid less,” said Rafael Olmeda, assistant city editor with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and the NAHJ’s current president. “This is hard to understand, given the advertising dollars we are seeing for the Spanish-language media market.

“I don’t think media companies are deliberately discriminating, but it’s such an issue of concern to use that we have a man on our board of directors who has, as one of prime responsibilities, working on the pay parity issue.”

Journalist Maria Pilar Garibotto said that anchors of Spanish-language news broadcast do not make the same salary as their mainstream media counterparts.

“There is misperception that Spanish-language journalism is not as serious,” she said. “But I think that will change as the advertising dollars continue to grow and do a better job of educating the public about what we do and the influence we have in the Hispanic community grows.”

Garibotto is a news producer for KRCA Channel 62 in Los Angeles and academic coordinator for UCLA’s Spanish-language journalism certificate program.

To find qualified journalists with requisite skills, many media outlets have recruited journalists from Latin America. The process of finding and bringing qualified journalists to the United States, however, can be costly and time-consuming, with American media companies having to compete against many other industries for a limited number of visas

Many journalists from Latin America come to the U.S. to study and then decide to stay. Universities with Spanish-language journalism programs -- such as Florida International University in Miami, the country’s oldest such program -- are reaching out aggressively to the Caribbean and Latin America for students. But as Allan Richards, chairman of FIU’s Department of Journalism and Broadcasting, said:

“Just being a Spanish speaker with good (journalism) skills isn’t enough. We are finding that many media companies are expecting their journalists to be proficient in English as well as Spanish. After all, to get a story, a reporter, even one working for a Spanish-language media outlet, may need to talk to a lot of people who can only speak English.”

Julie Lopez, assistant professor of journalism at FIU added, “We are picking up from the experiences some of our students are having that the market for jobs is great for those who can write in both Spanish as well as English.”

To meet the needs of this trend, FIU introduced a master’s in bilingual journalism in the fall.

As the Spanish-language media grows, it faces one challenge familiar to their counterparts in the mainstream: determining its audience and that audience’s needs and interests.

“Providing the information our readers need and want is not an easy task,” Bailon said. “First, we must know who they are.”

The University of North Texas in Denton launched a program in September to do just that. The university’s Center for Spanish Language Media will provide professional development to people with experience in Spanish-language broadcast media.

“We expect that our students will have the language and work skills when they enter the program,” said Alan Albarran, the center’s director. “But we expect many of them will not know much about history and culture of the Spanish-speaking world. Our program will help address that deficiency.”


Ron Chepesiuk is a Rock Hill, S.C.-based journalist and Fulbright Scholar. His latest book, “Gangsters of Harlem,” was published in January.

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