The Pelaez Case: How Did Hispanic Media Cover It?

In late June an unprecedented event unfolded in the U.S. Hispanic media industry. A renowned journalist and columnist was arrested along with ten other people, including her husband, on charges of suspected espionage on behalf of the Russian Federation. As we know, the journalist in question was Vicky Pelaez, a columnist for El Diario/La Prensa, which is owned by ImpreMedia. The case led to widespread coverage in both English and Spanish-language media, and allowed us to see how U.S. Hispanic media and the U.S. English-language media and Latin American media can end up competing covering the same news.

In its news coverage of the case, New York’s El Diario/La Prensa highlighted the role played by a prominent writer of its news staff. The paper printed news stories under the heading “The Pelaez Case,” casting aside the popular “Spygate” tagline in favor of highlighting a case that affected the Hispanic community.

From the moment Pelaez was arrested, on Sunday, June 27, ImpreMedia’s editorial line cast doubt on the seriousness of the accusations against the journalist. Although it provided extensive coverage of the event (publishing an average of four daily articles during the first two weeks, and covering different angles of the case), the paper published a series of articles which downplayed the seriousness of the investigation. On July 1st, Manuel Avendaño reported on the historical failings of the FBI in an article titled “The FBI is Not Infallible.” The next day, another article made humorous references to the use of spying technology, comparing the spy ring’s to James Bond and Agent 76, rather than to a group of professional intelligence agents.

ImpreMedia managed to generate a series of widely diverse content surrounding the arrest of Pelaez, from interviews of family members in the columnist’s native Peru, to personality profiles on Pelaez. And the number of clicks, unique visitors and page views generated by coverage of the Pelaez case bears out the effectiveness of this news angle. Online coverage of the Pelaez case totaled 6,000 articles from the 27th of June until the 14th of July.

Of these articles, those zeroing in on Vicky Pelaez (and not on the spy case or Russian-U.S. relations) have been generated almost entirely by Hispanic media. Out of all of these, ImpreMedia has provided the most coverage, publishing up to five articles a day on the subject during the first week of the story. But the supply of content for readers interested in the topic, both in the United States and Latin America, is large: The Peruvian media also joined the competition. Peruvian media may have succeeded in penetrating the U.S. Hispanic market through its web coverage. This is supported by the quantity and frequency of articles on the topic appearing in Peruvian newspapers. Even without putting it on their covers or among their most important news, the general market media has also addressed the story. This can be attributed to the fact that, beyond Pelaez, this is a story of national importance regarding Russian spies in the United States. What is important to note is that Hispanic media has covered the story from the Pelaez angle, given her Hispanic roots, while the general market media has reported on the story as a Russian spy case.

New York newspapers have paid the most attention to the Pelaez angle. Websites such as NBC NewYork, Ground Report, Big Journalism, NY Daily News, AOL News, The Washington Times, and The NY Times, among others, have published some long articles on the topic, including case analysis, evidence gathering and testimony. Even Wikipedia has updated its entry on Vicky Pelaez, adding details about her arrest.

The spy and Cold War themes of this story have elicited strong feedback among readers. Numerous comments have been posted on various Hispanic and non-Hispanic media websites. It is worth noting that Peruvian sites have generated the most comments, in comparison with ImpreMedia and other U.S. media sites. One possible explanation may be those readers’ identification with a fellow citizen, which should serve as a hint to other outlets looking to generate reader comments on their sites: Provide information of interest from a different angle, reaching for an emotional connection with the reader and that will draw them into to the story.

How the Pelaez Case was reflected in Google News

NOTE: Portada's team searched for “Vicky Pelaez” in Google News. The analysis was conducted in mid-July in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in New York City. Dependent on the location, results were, obviously, very different as reflected above.