Veteran journalist, editor and media entrepreneur Edward Schumacher-Matos, provided a touch of humor –and some bitter realities around the Hispanic media market- during Portada’s 5th Annual Hispanic Print and Digital Media Conference Thursday afternoon.
Schumacher-Matos, who currently serves as Ombudsman for NPR is known for speaking his mind, so there is hardly anyone more equipped than him to tell NPR exactly what he thinks of their journalistic coverage and more.
“I have this great job, in which I can say pretty much whatever I want to say,” said Schumacher-Matos about his 3-year gig at NPR, which by the way he thinks has a very low Latino representation and needs to do a better job covering Latino issues. “I don’t change things over there… but I can embarrass them into changing things.”
Interviewed onstage by Ali Curi, the founder of HPNG, Schumacher-Matos also took time to reflect on Rumbo, the now defunct chain of newspapers he founded back in 2004. “It was $40 million dollars down the drain, but I had a lot of fun!”
(The Houston edition of Rumbo is still published as a weekly by ImpreMedia).
Asked what he would have done differently, the former editor of the Wall Street Journal Americas, said candidly “I think I would do it all over again!”. Schumacher-Matos provided new and interesting information about how Rumbo launched daily newspapers from scratch in San Antonio, Houston, Austin and McAllen. “I approached general market publishers Belo, Freedom, and Hearst, who have an important presence in Texas. I wanted to create a consortium with them to launch Spanish-language newspapers. Their answer was that the Latino market is too small to introduce publications.” Schumacher’s Rumbo then got funded by Spanish media company Recoletos. To Schumacher’s surprise the same general market newspaper chains he wanted to partner with launched their own Hispanic publications competing with Rumbo (Belo with Al Dia in Dallas), Hearst (Conexion in San Antonio) and Freedom (Hispanic publications in McAllen-The Valley).
Although an eternal optimist, Schumacher put media in a tight spot, with newspapers struggling to convert their models of free-access online to a paid model that can help offset the loss of paper readership. “The advertising model doesn’t work for news media,” he sentenced.
Perhaps ironically, the only exception is NPR, where audiences –and revenues- have been steadily growing. Other than that, he says, “there is not enough stickiness to attract advertisers.”
As for Spanish-language media, Schumacher-Matos was also quite merciless. “Impremedia made the huge mistake of not selling when they had an opportunity to sell. It’s not a secret that they have been on the block for years.”
But not only Impremedia is struggling, according to Schumacher-Matos, the world of Hispanic print in general has to struggle with the lack of advertising, something Schumacher-Matos says is partly owed to TV giants. “Univision did a great job telling advertisers that Latinos don’t read,” he said. “That is not true. Latinos read. They might not buy a subscription to the New York Times but they do read.”
Schumacher-Matos concluded his talk with a dash of optimism. “Today is a great time to be a Latino; culturally, politically, journalistically and entrepreneurially.”