‘Ethnic media’ in today’s journalism environment

A new joint effort from ABC News and Univision raises some good questions.

A few weeks ago, my friend Jorge Rivas and I found ourselves whining to each other about PR flaks. My complaints were the standard stuff you hear around the newsroom, but his were different. Jorge is a national affairs correspondent for Fusion, an effort by ABC and Univision to create broadcast and digital journalism to appeal to millennials. And even though he is an American journalist reporting for an English-language, American news outlet, he kept getting shunted to Spanish-language offices.

He was working on a story about how a “large tech company’s” language translator was translating “undocumented” to “illegal immigrant.” He knew Fusion’s audience would be interested in the story, not because it was political but because young Latinos are “big technology nerds.” He sought a quote from the company’s US office, in English.

“I think maybe because they saw my name, and my signature included the fact that Fusion is a joint venture between ABC and Univision, the press office automatically pushed me to their Mexico City office” for an interview in Spanish, Rivas said. And oddly, when the flak replied to Jorge, he addressed the email to “George.”

Flaks aren’t the only ones who are confused about what ethnic media means today. The New York Times described Fusion as “Univision’s response to the same demographic changes that are upending American politics and advertising,” in that Latinos are America’s biggest ethnic minority—and young English-speaking Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of that population. “We found that good content for Hispanic millennials is good content for any millennial,” Isaac Lee, Fusion’s chief executive and the president for news at Univision, told the Times. “You cannot treat young Hispanics as Hispanics. They want to be part of one conversation in one room. They don’t want to be ghettoized.”

But much like the conversation around women-centric media startups, if young Latinos are interested in the same issues as all other millennials, what makes Fusion different?

“I select stories that are in the general news cycle, but I make sure that I grab stories that I can add nuanced information to,” Rivas tells me. He points to a story that’s in the news this week—about how neighbors are complaining about pollution from the factory in southern California where Sriracha sauce is manufactured.

“No one’s talking about the community where that factory is,” Rivas says. “If you just google the zip code, you’ll learn that 80 percent of the community there is Latino. And I think you can tell that story in the same way that many of these other large news organizations are telling it, but if you just add that information—that it’s also about environmental issues that communities of color are facing—that’s the nuanced information that I’m talking about.” He adds that he read dozens of stories about the Sriracha pollution this week, all in mainstream outlets, none of which mentioned anything about the community that the factory is in.

Ethnic media has been overlooked in many conversations about the future of news, with even the Pew Research Center’s annual State of the Media report touching on African American community newspapers but failing to examine other types of ethnic media. Perhaps that’s because many of these older outlets are local and don’t have much of a digital presence. “Although most of [New York’s] daily and weekly ethnic and community newspapers have nascent websites, many publishers tell us they see little point in devoting additional resources to them,” according to Nieman Lab. You’re even less likely to find media analysis that takes into account digital-native outlets that cover issues of race and ethnicity, like Racialicious and Colorlines.

Critics tend to suggest that mainstream news organizations should serve a diverse audience by examining race or gender angles rather than ignoring race and relying on niche publications to fill in the gaps. Fusion represents a different approach: an outlet founded with a specific demographic in mind but with an editorial berth as wide as that of general-interest outlets.

But it seems like this could mean every story and angle are fair game. Rivas stresses that, more than ethnicity, age is a factor when Fusion selects stories. “We know that millennials today care about a large number of issues,” he says, adding, “they’re a diverse group and they engage with other races.” Which means they care, but don’t need to be hit over the head with a race angle. “I don’t think there’s a rule that says you should always include a race in a headline. I do it when it feels like race is a specific issue in the story.” Most of the time, though, it’s woven in. Much like Fusion’s audience itself.

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Ann Friedman is a magazine editor who loves the internet. She lives in Los Angeles Tags: #Realtalk