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Family Ties: What sister publications can teach us about collaborations between ethnic and mainstream media

Three years after Miami elected its first Latino mayor, the Miami Herald launched a Spanish-language insert in an effort to attract the influx of Cuban exiles. Executives imagined it would be a short-lived project to capture immigrant readers until they assimilated in a few years, according to a 1994 study in the Harvard Business Review.

That was more than four decades ago. The insert became El Nuevo Herald, an award-winning daily newspaper with more Twitter followers than its English-language counterpart. With a reach far beyond Miami, it is now among the top performers at The McClatchy Co., which operates 29 daily newspapers in 14 states.

El Nuevo Herald is a prime example of how an ethnic media outlet can benefit a mainstream media company by connecting it to a particular community and offering linguistic and cultural expertise.

This article, part of the American Press Institute’s Strategy Studies, is the second in a series about how to foster effective collaborations between mainstream and ethnic media outlets.

An ethnic media outlet can benefit a mainstream media company by connecting it to a particular community and offering linguistic and cultural expertise.

These collaborations can open up new avenues of storytelling, expand reach, and show what types of stories editors at mainstream publications are missing.

And yet they aren’t common, in part because the differences between mainstream and ethnic media further complicate the workings of an editorial partnership. Mainstream reporters, for instance, often distrust ethnic outlets, partly because they tend to advocate for their communities.

In our first post, we discussed the different forms these collaborations can take, outlined some of the obstacles, and gave an overview of the past and present of ethnic media in the United States.

In this chapter, we look at foreign-language publications owned by companies that also run larger, mainstream, English-language publications — the vast majority of which involve a Spanish-language publication. For this portion of our study, we interviewed more than a dozen editors and reporters who have worked on such ventures.

These arrangements offer lessons for publications that are interested in creating a foreign-language sister publication, as well as those that want to collaborate with an outside ethnic media outlet.

One of those lessons: Don’t do this just for the money.

While some companies have found that a local news publication that targets a particular ethnic community can add audience and advertisers, many have discovered translation and reporting is more expensive than they anticipated.

“If you’re launching an ethnic newspaper as part of your corporate offering simply because you want to make money, you’re making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons,” said Liza Gross, who has held positions as managing editor for the Miami Herald and publisher of Chicago’s Exito (which rebranded as Hoy in 2003). “If you want to inform and engage your community, increase the number of folks that your brand touches and make them part of your family, and as a result of that create new sources of revenue – because of course no margin, no mission – then that’s fine.”

If you’re launching an ethnic newspaper as part of your corporate offering simply because you want to make money, you’re making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons.

Such sister publications have been around for a long time. In the early 1900s, several New York magazines, including Hearst’s Pictorial Review, had Spanish-language counterparts. Ridder Publications, one of the two companies that started the Knight Ridder chain, began in the 1890s by buying the German-language newspaper New Yorker Staats-Zeitung. And in 1952, Generoso Pope Jr., owner of the Italian-language daily Il Progresso Italo-Americano, purchased a struggling English-language weekly that became the National Enquirer.

Over the past few decades, many newspapers in cities with large immigrant populations have launched or bought foreign-language news outlets, almost all in Spanish. Exito joined the Hoy network of Spanish-language dailies owned by the Tribune Co., which is now Tronc. In recent years most either folded or were turned into weeklies. The Washington Post owned the weekly El Tiempo Latino between 2003 and 2016, when it was sold.

Between 1999 and 2005, the Knight Ridder-owned San Jose Mercury News ran two free foreign-language publications, Nuevo Mundo in Spanish and Viet Mercury in Vietnamese, but the company sold one and closed the other because they weren’t profitable.

The New York Daily News created a daily bilingual version, El Daily News, in 1997. It lasted just seven months due to a labor dispute with the distribution company. The News tried again in 2004 with Hora Hispana, a Spanish-language weekly where Carlos Rodriguez, one of the authors of this report, was an editor.

Few, if any, have achieved the success of El Nuevo Herald.

Make sure the content and tone is geared to your audience

In 1998 Alberto Ibargüen, publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, decided to launch El Nuevo Herald as a standalone newspaper after realizing that the insert, which had been around since 1977, served an entirely different constituency.

At his favorite downtown Miami cafe, he observed people pay a quarter for El Nuevo Herald instead of 35 cents for the full paper. The cafe owner would pull out the section for the customer and keep the rest. Later, the owner returned the unsold copies of the Herald to the company and kept the quarter. This community valued the insert more than the paper it was part of.

Ibargüen, now president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, did not want a Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald. “There are differences in humor, there are differences in emphasis, in what kinds of stories were of interest,” he said. “I felt strongly that we needed to produce a newspaper in Spanish that was for a different community that happened to share the same geography.”

By spinning off El Nuevo Herald, he could also deal with a resentment among some subscribers of the larger newspaper. “English-language readers who could not read Spanish would complain that a quarter of what they had to pay for, they couldn’t use,” he recalled.

I felt strongly that we needed to produce a newspaper in Spanish that was for a different community that happened to share the same geography.

And he thought he could make more money. Some businesses that wanted to reach the Spanish-speaking community were skeptical about advertising in an insert of an English-language newspaper when there were other Spanish newspapers in the area. “Advertisers wanted to be able to go directly to their customers,” Ibargüen said.

With the help of a new editor – Carlos Castañeda, who previously managed Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día – Ibargüen pushed for original content, with an emphasis on coverage that was usually reserved for the international pages. El Nuevo Herald adopted an irreverent, Latin American sense of humor. The Miami Herald, which back then was edited by Marty Baron (now at The Washington Post), “took a more sober view of the world,” Ibargüen said.

Hispanic journalists interviewed for this report stressed the need to separate English and Spanish publications not only in language, but in spirit. Many even grumbled of tensions stemming from unwanted intervention by their English-speaking editors – even those of Latino heritage – who did not understand the sensitivities of the Spanish-speaking immigrant.

Alejandro Maciel, editorial director of Hoy Los Angeles, recalled a wave of sister news ventures during the 1980s and 1990s in California.

“They always put in charge one journalist coming from their own team,” Maciel said. Even if they were Latino, Maciel said, they often did not understand the immigrant community that the publication targeted.

What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration

The experiences and cultural references of recently arrived immigrants and their children can differ vastly even if they still communicate with one another in the language of their home country. Headlines and humor are particularly tricky to translate. Defer these kinds of decisions to people close to the community.

Be mindful not just of language issues, but cultural and philosophical differences. The ethnic press is the product of these groups’ need to have their own voice, and ethnic journalists are often protective of their communities. For example, Maciel said a common misunderstanding of immigrants is that their children share the same point of view.

Conversely, don’t expect that all Latinos are interested in Spanish-language media. Use Census data to research what languages people speak at home in your community. If most people speak English at home, odds are they do not want to read in Spanish. The same goes for any other second- or third-generation immigrant community.

And don’t assume immigrants are most interested in stories about immigration. Editors from different outlets have found that readers are just as interested in as health, education and entertainment.

Value reporters equally and forge a collaborative culture

One common complaint ethnic media reporters have about working at mainstream companies is that they often get lower pay and fewer benefits than their English-language counterparts. As smaller operations with different goals, they often feel they are valued less.

Maciel said the environment in the Los Angeles Times’ building is better than previous newsrooms, which often felt “like little islands in the middle of an Anglo newspaper.” He has more resources, respect and access to decisionmakers, and the editorial teams recognize the importance of having a Spanish-language publication in the company. Digital tools have also made it easier to share images, and Hoy has rapidly increased the number of LA Times stories it translates.

The company, Maciel said, recognizes it must incorporate the Spanish-speaking audience. “In Los Angeles, there are rarely stories that don’t have a Latino involved in some way,” he said. “We can’t continue to be treated as the ‘minority’ journalists, when we’re almost part of the mainstream.”

Physically, however, Hoy is still something of an island. Its editorial staff is tiny compared with the LA Times. Hoy’s two local news reporters don’t work on the same floor of the newsroom as the Times’ metro reporters. Many Times reporters don’t know Maciel and aren’t familiar with Hoy.

We can’t continue to be treated as the ‘minority’ journalists, when we’re almost part of the mainstream.

The Dallas Morning News’ Spanish-language sister Al Día, on the other hand, puts reporters from both publications in the same newsroom.

“When you have the setup and the physical distribution, being embedded in the rest of the newsroom, informal relationships will happen,” said Alfredo Carbajal, Al Día’s managing editor and the board president of the American Society of News Editors. “People will share the disposition to work together: ‘Oh that’s fun, can I go with you?’; ‘Can you teach me how to do that?’ There’s a transfer of skills.”

That close working relationship starts at the top of  the hierarchy. Carbajal reports to the editor of The Dallas Morning News. He is also part of the News’ editorial leadership, participating in meetings to to decide daily news priorities. One of the things he’s evaluated on, he said, is how much Al Día collaborates with the News.

“Of course I’m the editor of Al Día, but my brain is part of the collective brain trust of everything we do in The Dallas Morning News,” Carbajal said.

This team-building culture has helped spur several successful reporting collaborations. Before she recently left for a job at Univision Digital, former Al Día reporter Ana E. Azpurua frequently collaborated with the News’ immigration reporter, Dianne Solís. They developed long-form projects, shared databases, and brainstormed visualizations.

One of their joint efforts was an interactive special report on Central American migrant children. “When you work with an exceptional Spanish speaker, you know you are getting more texture and deeper reporting,” Solís, who speaks Spanish and reported from Mexico City, said of her Venezuelan colleague.

Azpurua, in turn, said working with a Dallas Morning News reporter helped her navigate a different editorial system. “She helped me pitch and develop it,” Azpurua said. “She became a champion for the stories, which was a huge help.”

As they reported, the two were mindful of their respective communities and publications, which did not always have the same interests. For a story about families separated by immigration policies, Azpurua wrote two ledes.

For the general audience, she focused on the challenges of not being able to spend the holidays with one’s family, writing, “It was like any family gathering in America.” Two days later, three of them were deported. For the Spanish-language audience, which was familiar with the challenges of being separated from family, she dove right into the family’s story.

“It helps when you report taking both the English and the Spanish audiences into account, and the questions each editor might have,” Azpurua said. “I would recommend working together from the start.”

The project about Central American migrant children was published in English on the News’ site and in Spanish on Al Día’s, despite some initial resistance from the company’s digital operation. “They were a little nervous with the promotion of the story,” recalled Al Día metro editor Juan Jaramillo, “because the previous year we did a lucha libre project that did not do well in Spanish even though they put a lot of effort in it.” The reason, he explained, was that it was only promoted with a hard-to-find “Read in Spanish” button in the English version.

This time, the Spanish version came out first and was promoted independently on Al Día’s website and on social media. “It was much more successful,” Jaramillo said.

However, he described those collaborations as a “double-edged sword” because they stretch his limited resources. “You always want your journalists to work on Dallas Morning News projects, but that means taking the journalist off his daily work — and this is a small team, so if one’s out, who’s going to cover his beat?” he said.

What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration

If you are at a mainstream, English-speaking outlet, try to partner with a journalist who is a native speaker — ideally one with similar experiences as the immigrant communities they cover. This will help you better understand and work with those communities.

Make sure ethnic-media journalists feel fully integrated in the process, everything from decisions on which stories to cover to how those stories are promoted. You need these reporters not just for their language skills — they aren’t just translators — but for their judgment based on their experience. One way of demonstrating this is a true collaboration is to share bylines and give appropriate credit.

Know whom you serve

Though they may sit at the same table, editors of sister publications don’t always publish the same stories or agree on tough judgment calls. It can be tricky to collaborate across disparate communities and respond to their different needs.

Gross joined Exito, a Spanish-language weekly published by the Chicago Tribune, in 1996. One of her first jobs was to mend a frayed relationship with the local Latino community after Mexicans felt insulted by a column written by Mike Royko, the Tribune’s star columnist.

“There were huge protests in front of the Chicago Tribune. And Exito, which had been launched a couple years before, lost most of its advertisers. It was a complete debacle,” said Gross, who is now director of practice change for the Solutions Journalism Network. “I made a lot of remedial work to regain the trust of the community, and tell them that Exito would cover them fairly, but so would the Chicago Tribune.”

Gross, like others interviewed for this report, said those problems stemmed from the lack of diversity in the newsroom, “a systemic curse on the media landscape.” One way she was able to deal with this problem was by getting a seat in the Tribune’s editorial meetings.

“We were also a bridge for the Chicago Tribune to understand the Latino community better,” Gross said. However, sometimes the two publications advocated for opposite agendas, such as English-only laws.

El Nuevo Herald has not shied away from making its own news decisions, most famously during the Elián González saga. The Miami Herald’s Pulitzer-winning account of the federal raid that took the Cuban boy from his Miami relatives in 2000 was sober and balanced. That could not have contrasted more with the screaming headline in its Spanish-language counterpart: “Qué verguenza!” — “Shame!”

And yet, El Nuevo Herald did not have its own editorial page until a few years ago.

What I see is more stories about immigration than before, with the editorial board weighing in on the issues.

“We decided that on issues that we agreed on, we would translate the Miami Herald’s editorial … and on issues that we disagreed on, we would take a different tack,” former editor Myriam Márquez said. For example, the two newspapers endorsed different candidates for governor and U.S. Senate in recent elections.

In some cases, a sister publication has nudged the mainstream outlet’s perspective. Jaramillo said when he first joined Al Día, the Spanish-language paper’s views frequently differed from those of The Dallas Morning News. “Our editorial position is much more in tune today with The Dallas Morning News,” he said. “What I see is more stories about immigration than before, with the editorial board weighing in on the issues.”

Jaramillo believes the relationship with Al Día has played a part in the News’ evolving views. The News is still a conservative paper, he said, “but I feel it’s getting more open” to diversity. For instance, the News’ editorial board supports DACA. “They know they need other readers, right? And obviously they need to express other voices.”

What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration

Compatibility, understanding and flexibility are paramount, as they are with any collaboration between two newsrooms. Try to bridge any differences, with the understanding that sometimes you will have to agree to disagree.

One common misunderstanding is that that a story involving a community belongs only to that community’s news outlet or section. As Gross put it, “Sometimes the editorial department of the Chicago Tribune did not understand that Latino stories were Chicago stories.”

Translate with accuracy and cultural sensitivity

For ethnic media outlets with limited resources, an obvious advantage of belonging to a mainstream company is having access to extensive content. The challenge is translation, and they’re constantly searching for ways to do it most effectively.

Digital tools and machine translation are speeding up the process. Maciel, of Hoy LA, said his paper is experimenting with a translation program called Déjà Vu that claims to be 80 percent more accurate than Google Translate. (The software costs about $490.)

“It’s helping, but you still need to make a lot of additions to the translations,” he said. And it can fall short with figurative language. “It can be the correct translation, but in Spanish it doesn’t mean anything. For example, if you translate, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs,’ that doesn’t mean anything in Spanish.”

Even with new tools, translation is a slow process that requires the human touch – especially if you are dealing with a Latino population with diverse regional dialects that have their own slang and euphemisms.

From 1994 until February 2017, The Wall Street Journal published a Spanish-language version for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market. It dealt with this challenge by developing its own glossary of the most common words across Latin America. “Even though we had Spanish editors, we did not give Spain a vote because the market was Latin America,” said the founding editor, Edward Schumacher-Matos.

It can be the correct translation, but in Spanish it doesn’t mean anything. For example, if you translate, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs,’ that doesn’t mean anything in Spanish.

Terms could be changed in regional editions to avoid, for instance, an innocuous expression in Argentina being used in Mexico, where it was offensive. “Our partners actually thought we would fail because of the language, not the content, ” Schumacher-Matos said.

Going back and forth between languages can become a game of telephone. When Carbajal knows a reporter is doing interviews in Spanish for The Dallas Morning News, he will ask for original quotes so they are not translated to English and then mistranslated back.

And sometimes you need to adapt your translated content to your audience’s sensitivities. For example, Maciel recalled English-language stories that explained what the Virgen de Guadalupe is. In Spanish, “when you explain it, everyone laughs. It’s like explaining who is Santa Claus,” he said. “We already know.”

That’s a clear-cut example, but other calls are more subjective and could create tensions among reporters and editors when they see their stories translated. It’s critical to have clear policies on linguistic and cultural translation policies.

What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration

When translating, make sure your word choice is suitable for the main community you are serving (for example, Puerto Rican, Mexican or Colombian). When in doubt, seek a more universal, non-controversial term.

It’s wise to create a glossary so you can build institutional knowledge. If that seems like a massive undertaking, create a shared file for words to watch out for and ask editors to add terms when they come across them during editing.

Explore strategies to reach new audiences, locally and abroad

Digital news easily crosses borders, leading some publications to translate some articles not just for immigrant audiences in their own communities, but for international readers. Some Spanish-language publications in the U.S. are seeing significant digital growth in countries across Latin America.

That’s one of the reasons for El Nuevo Herald’s formidable online and social media presence. Former executive editor and vice president Myriam Márquez said when she took the job in 2013, the Spanish-language newspaper already had more Twitter followers than its English-language counterpart.

But she believes the turning point came when McClatchy brought in the analytics tool Chartbeat. “That’s when we started to see daily, in the moment, reactions to the stories,” she said, and they worked to build upon what was working.

By focusing on issues and formats that readers preferred (from stories about Venezuela to local corruption, entertainment, and video content), El Nuevo Herald grew local digital traffic by 28 percent in 2016. The paper also created AccesoMiami, a website geared to what company leaders discovered was big part of its digital audience: businesspeople and high-end travelers from Latin America and Spain seeking to invest in South Florida or relocate there.

El Nuevo Herald has also developed its own collaborations with other media, including Univision, local radio stations, and even an international partnership in which it shares a reporter in the Herald building with an independent Cuban news website called 14ymedio.

What this means for a mainstream-ethnic collaboration

Ethnic outlets in the U.S. — whether they’re sister publications of larger companies or not — can develop an audience in the home country of the immigrant community they are serving, expanding their reach and opening possibilities for other kinds of partnerships. This part of the business could see increased growth given the ease of digital, cross-border travel.

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