To some, the entire concept of “Latino news in English” is misguided. When journalism professor Moses Shumow showed HuffPost LatinoVoices to his students, they weren’t sure “why the site was going to be entirely relevant to them,” he says.
Shumow teaches at Florida International University, and roughly 70 percent of his students are Hispanic—not terribly surprising for a Miami-based institution. In that majority-minority city, people don’t favor broad labels. “There are huge Puerto Rican festivals, huge Dominican festivals,” he says. “There are gigantic Cuban celebrations. There are tremendous Colombian and Peruvian activities that take place.”
You don’t hear about “Latino festivals,” he says. Nevertheless he adds: “I definitely think it’s still a relevant term in other parts of the country.”
On NBC Latino, syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda declared, “‘Latino’ bugs me to no end. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me, especially when I’ve been asked where I’m from and the answer ‘Chicago’ doesn’t stop the questioner from insisting on guessing my ethnicity.”
She was discussing the Pew Hispanic Center’s report “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity,” which found that only 24 percent of survey respondents “prefer a pan-ethnic label.”
Cepeda and Shumow’s complaint raises a question that is becoming more relevant with America’s young, English-speaking Hispanics: What is “Latino news,” anyway?
Lalo Alcaraz says the threshold for relevance seems low among the new Latino sites. “They’ll run a story about some woman that, whatever, beheads her baby or husband or something,” he says. “And they’ll just run it because the person’s Latino. That’s not what the Internet’s for, if you’re trying to talk about Latino life.”
Here, for example, is a representative headline from HuffPost LatinoVoices: “Brazil Cannibal Empanadas: Brazilian Women Murdered, Eaten And Made Into Human Pastries.” Fox News Latino also ran a story on the flesh-eating incident.
That’s another thing: There tends to be a lot of redundancy among the sites. Not only do they cover the same topics, they’ll often use the same AP stories. Sometimes, that’s unavoidable, says Chris Peña, executive editor of NBC Latino. “There are going to be some parallel rails here, especially when it comes to news and politics,” he says, pointing as an example to the reporting earlier this year on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s vice-presidential prospects.
Nevertheless, stories on food, education, and parenting will stand out, Peña says. NBC Latino also unearths “firsts,” like Carmen Ortiz, “the very first Hispanic—and woman—to be named Massachusetts chief federal prosecutor,” he says. “Frankly, if we’re not finding those stories, who’s going to find them?”
In fact, though, Fox News Latino has a similar feature, “Our American Dream,” which profiles inspiring Latinos. (The network declined my interview request.)
Another issue: The sites often “fall under clichés,” says Univision social-media editor Conz Preti. “They just upload a video of Sofia Vergara on Saturday Night Live,” she says. “Of course, that made news, and there’s a lot of ratings. But what else? It’s not just throwing names out there or targeting entertainment only.”
Overall, she’s glad there’s more Latino news. “But we do feel that we know our audience better,” she says.
The skepticism isn’t limited to competitors like Preti. The business community also is unconvinced that English-speaking Latinos are a true market niche, says Rosa Alonso, a marketing consultant who’s studied this group, and who used to run an English-language site of her own, MyLatinoVoice.com, which has been on hiatus since late last year. Businesses know how to target Spanish-speakers, but bicultural Latinos are often considered part of “a general market pool,” she says. “Well, that’s ridiculous. African-Americans speak English. There’s this cultural element—that’s what you’re trying to get to.”
These criticisms in part reflect the fact that the new English-language sites are young and still trying to differentiate themselves, win a larger share of the audience, and pay the bills. As of June, comScore was only monitoring Fox News Latino and HuffPost LatinoVoices, so reliable, comprehensive numbers on traffic are hard to get. Between April and June, LatinoVoices drew 1.8 million unique visitors a month on average, while Fox News Latino attracted just over 2 million.
NBC Latino hopes to gain a competitive advantage, in part by creating a “superior mobile experience,” says editor Peña. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Latinos are more likely to use the Internet via their phones than at home, says the Pew Hispanic Center.
To compete with Fox News and companies with “all the resources in the world,” NewsTaco editor Victor Landa says his site offers stories ignored by the mainstream media—pieces by food bloggers, activists, political consultants, and other professionals, not just journalists. He also partnered with VOXXI, another English-language site aimed at Latinos, and says he hopes to form relationships with nonprofits and other publications.