I was inspired to write this after reading BuzzFeed grew its Latino audience the old-fashioned way: with content and thinking, “While it’s refreshing to see BuzzFeed making the investment and reaping the rewards, why is hiring Hispanics, covering their concerns and actually integrating them into the larger enterprise considered newsworthy or novel?”article
The fact that it is newsworthy, is also whyBuzzFeed and Univision are growing and why traditional news audiences and outlets are shrinking.
While distribution and story-telling technologies have changed, the keys to successfully covering your hyphenated audience haven’t changed since the days I wrote for a community newspaper.
Just apply the principles of community journalism to us
As a cub reporter at the Santa Ana Progress, one of the Orange County Register’s attempt to go local back in the early 90s, I learned the local news mantra, “People want to read about themselves, their family, their friends, their neighborhood and their organizations, so put lots of names in the stories and bold them as people scan to find the familiar.”
Twenty-years later, people haven’t changed. We all want to see and hear our stories reflected in the media, whether it’s in paper, on TV or online. And so if you want to grow your Latino, African-American and other hyphenated American audience you need to apply that same local lens as we’re looking for stories that reflect our names, our families, our friends, our organizations, our ancestries, our countries.
We’re looking for validation; that our stories matter; that we matter; that regardless of what’s to the left of the hyphen – we’re Americans; we belong and we’re welcome – no different than anyone else.
And unfortunately, more often than not, what we see, hear and read tells us otherwise.
So how to rectify the situation and grow your audience – instead of see it dwindle is to define your audience and then design for your audience.
A good place to start is with some basic market research and analyze your market demographics:
- How old are they?
- Where are they or their families from?
- What ethnicities/races do they belong to?
- How do they identify themselves?
And then compare your staff and your coverage with your market demographics to see how well it matches.
Even if you may have never paid attention to these items, your audience does and we notice the fact we are underrepresented and under reporten.
For example, as a news junky I listen to NPR but find myself constantly frustrated by how news coverage is skewed to Europe and the Middle East despite the fact that there are way more Latinos with roots and families in Latin America than in Europe. And the conflicts and successes in the Americas, have a much greater impact on us here – than conflicts far from our borders.
As a “Paucho”; (my Mom is a “Gaucha” from Argentina and my dad is a “Pocho,”a derogatory Mexican term for a Mexican-American, from New Mexico), I can tell you it’s the little things that matter:
Pronouncing names correctly
I confess I often butcher other non-Latin names, so this isn’t a deal killer but it’s always great when you hear the “r” rolled correctly.
Not interviewing American Tourists when disasters strike in foreign lands
Guess what, when a hurricane strikes Baja California or Manila, chances are that some of those brown Mexicans or Filipinos may actually be Americans – and I can almost guarantee you that they have family and friends in the US.
A fair share of the coverage that reflects our importance
Global news is now local for a good part of your audience, so remember what’s foreign to you may be “local” involving family and friends to a significant part of your audience.
Going the extra mile to integrate us into your non-minority stories
Us hyphenated people are everywhere, but we may not be as easy to find if you don’t make a conscious effort to find us. We don’t want to just be affiliated with special interest news, tragedies or controversies.
Not relying on the faux-mouthpieces that supposedly speak for the community
I always remember their were two guys, we called them Frick & Frack from LULAC, that the not-so-in-the know reporters, i.e. everyone but the couple Latino reporters covering the city, would call any time there was a story with a police/civil-rights angle – and these clowns would say stupid things like, “We need less police in our streeets!” which would wind up as story quotes and the official Hispanic position.
As a Hispanic, who lived and hung out in the ‘hood, I never heard anyone ever say there should be less police, not even many ofthe “gangsters.” The conversations I was having with my neighbors, teenagers and adults alike was the need for more and better policing as we were tired of being afraid, hearing gunfire and seeing kids killed.
Hiring us hyphenated-folks; Lots of us
A chocolate chip does not a chocolate-chip cookie make. Tokenism isn’t going to grow your audience -and just because you have one of us, doesn’t mean that person can speak for the larger community. The reality is we are much more than the color of our skin or our names – so just because our last name is Garcia, doesn’t mean we have any clue what life as a Chicana in East LA is like or what it’s like to live in Cuba under Castro. And I certainly don’t mean that you need a Latino to cover Latinos, but it always helps to have people who understand the basics.
Ultimately, you need to hire a broad cross-section of employees of not just various ethnicities, but experiences and geographies, if you’re going to be able to capture the hyphenated-stew, or rather chili or phở, that is America today. And not just as cub reporters, but as leaders who can hire and fire and influence the organizational structure so that we’re not just hyphens grafted onto a tree not committed to change.
It’s really that simple.