Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Guest Blogger: Alfredo Estrada “Whatever Happened to Latino Media?”

downloadThey’re folding like cheap card tables. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen the demise of NBCLatino.com, an English-language website for Latinos, as well as CNN Latino, Time Warner’s year-long effort to create programming for the U.S. Hispanic market. Now come rumors that Poder, Televisa’s magazine providing “Intelligence for the Business Elite,” may cease publication.

Hold on, amigo. Isn’t the Latino market growing in demographic leaps and bounds? Don’t we have a zillion dollars in purchasing power? Didn’t we decide the election? One would think that Latino media should be thriving.

These are small potatoes for corporate giants like NBC, Time Warner and Televisa. Media outlets have a way of returning from the dead, like zombies, so we may not have seen the last of them. But there’s no denying that times are tough in the world of Latino media. Trust me on this.

Let’s take a step back and try to figure out why.  In full disclosure, the owners of LATINO Magazine launched Hispanic and Vista magazines way back when, even before the internet.  Hispanic was sold to in 2001 to Televisa, which shuttered it two years ago, or rather merged it into Poder. Vista was sold to Impremedia, which was in turn bought by the Argentine newspaper La Nacion. Hispanic thrived during the 90s, along with its fierce rival Hispanic Business, which has also stopped printing. Vista was a Parade-style insert carried in English-language newspapers, enjoying a circulation of over 1,000,000 in its heyday. These monthly publications provided a lively commentary on anything of interest to Hispanics (since then, we’ve become Latinos!)

Today there are just a handful of publications in English for Latinos. They are Latino-owned and don’t have the big bucks to compete with magazines like People en Espanol, owned by the ubiquitous Time Warner. Most of them are published quarterly or bimonthly, since there simply isn’t enough advertising to support monthly circulation. Many companies which once advertised, such as Anheuser Busch, no longer do. Those that never supported Latino media, such as Bacardi, still don’t. Much of Wall Street, like Goldman Sachs, is missing in action. Other companies like Pepsi restrict their advertising to Spanish-language media. How about new kids on the block, like Samsung and Facebook? Well, good luck with that, though we buy lots of cellphones and friend each other like crazy.

Where did the money go? Without a doubt, the recession had (and still has) a severe impact. Many budgets that were cut haven’t grown back. Latino advertising agencies who were once allies have been bought out or merged into larger companies. Corporate support for Latino initiatives is often quite fragile and needs to be nurtured by champions within each company. Many of them are gone, replaced by executives more concerned with profits than corporate responsibility. And on the government side,  the Federal agencies that were once active now do virtually no outreach. Nor do these agencies advertise job openings in Latino media, despite their terrible hiring record.

Sour grapes? Perhaps, but whatever the reason, the end result is that our community is less informed about the issues that impact us. The purpose of Latino-owned media, as we’ve always understood it, is to be the voice of the Latino community. Our publications provide a Latino perspective that simply isn’t provided in general market media. A case in point is the epic battle for immigration reform, which appears to be ending in abject surrender. If you want to know about the role played by Dreamers, you won’t find it in the New York Times but rather in the excellent article by Evelyn Castillo (p. 24) in the current issue of LATINO. Why does Google spend so much lobbying Latino elected officials? Take a look at Paying for the Digital Divide (p.  33).  Why haven’t more Latinos signed up for health insurance? Check out Nobamacare (p. 36). And there’s much, much more in this issue, which can be read on line at www.latinomagazine.com.

Which companies support Latino-owned media? GM and Nissan are interested not just in selling cars to our community but empowering it. AT&T and Kraft have a strong commitment to workforce diversity.  Microsoft and Cisco have outstanding Latino employee groups. Target and Toyota  provide thousands of dollars in scholarships, and Wells Fargo and Comerica support Latino-owned businesses. In the area of STEM, ExxonMobil and Lockheed Martin actively encourage young Latinos to enter these fields. Many of these programs are featured in our annual listing of the LATINO 100 (p. 43). These companies know that it’s important to communicate these initiatives, because if there’s no outreach, the impact upon our community is limited. This is especially true for young Latinos who may not speak Spanish. And the best way to reach Latinos remains Latino-owned media.

Yet not unlike like Jeb Bush’s view of immigration, it was always a labor of love. There may be better ways of making a living, as we’ve been told by parents, wives and friends over the years, but few as satisfying. When a reader says she liked the last issue, or when a company distributes the magazine to all its Latino employees, or when an article inspires a student to work harder in school, it makes it all worthwhile. So we’re not going anywhere just yet.

Alfredo Estrada is the editor of LATINO Magazine, which focuses on issues, politics and culture and is available online at Latinomagazine.com.