Javier Castaño: “Hispanic Media has a Choice”

We all went to Puerto Rico to evolve, embrace and reinvent ourselves. Those were the goals of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’2009 Convention (NAHJ). The problem is that nobody knows for sure how Hispanic media got into this mess and what lies ahead in the next few years. As the auto and airplane industries, the US media is on an emergency landing.

After more than 30 years, Affirmative Action did not increase the number of Latinos in mainstream newsrooms. Printed publications wasted too much money in production and distribution and finally gave up to the internet, and no executive has come out with a formula on how to make money based on this new technology involved in digital social media. And on top of this, Hispanic media never created the infrastructure to use the new technology.

Year after year, I heard that the wall of exclusion was falling in newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. “Latinos and other ethnic journalists are being accepted in the American media,” some editors and publishers loved to say. However, segregation was still the rule and it contributed to the shrinking of the media in this country. If you don’t add you don’t grow.

Big media corporations are falling apart because the production of content is no longer vertical but horizontal. Millions of people are now offering content and internet is the tool to spread the news without investing millions of dollars. The internet is full of superficial information and I hope that the new wave of technology will bring better content and some money. Making a digital template, adding some blogs, uploading videos and using Twitter more often is the easy part. Local reporting and writing, good content, strong images and good ideas are still to come to the internet which is just imitating newspapers and magazines.

Newspapers and magazines have a strong and important presence on the internet. The value of the internet, in terms of news, rests in part on the shoulders of printed media. But those same newspapers and magazines are losing circulation and value because of the internet. They are cannibalizing themselves and selling merchandise via internet as a way to stay alive for the next five years. After that… who knows.

Hyper-local coverage seems to be the solution, but is failing to produce money yet. Media people have an eye on this trend and only those with authentic ties to the communities will survive. Though it’s not enough to just talk with eloquence about the tools of the new technology and the beauty of local coverage. People who never paid attention to local news are now embracing it with no clue of what they’re talking about. Local news is a very complex technique. Reporters and editors must know these new digital tools but it is more important to know the people who are reinventing the city from those neighborhoods.

The internet can be the tool to connect to these communities or the wall to keep those neighborhoods isolated. Democratization of the new media has a price and not everybody is included.

In the middle of this ocean of information, Hispanic print needs to grow more independent from big corporations that only see our communities as a token. Spanish media in this country should retreat to a corner, think for a while, find its own path, reinvent itself and come out stronger. In my opinion, Hispanic media properties often are trapped in a net of opportunistic marketers, wrong promotion strategies, selfish editors and no access to capital in order to invest in their properties.

Accepting the challenge, rejecting the token, getting some money and preparing for a fight should be the motto of Hispanic print media and Hispanic media in this country.

Javier Castaño / NY is an independent journalist living in New York City. Until the end of 2008 Castaño was editor in chief at Hoy New York. Before he was Managing Editor of El Diario-La Prensa.


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