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Hispanics make up a large and rapidly growing share of the U.S. media market. And that has major media companies working hard to court them. One outlet that's gotten a head start is Fox News Latino. It's an online site targeting English-speaking Latinos and it's showing early signs of success.
As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, it adapted the formula that's worked so well for the news organization that gave it life.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Count Angelo Falcon among the fans of Fox News Latino. He's a political scientist and activist who says he's quickly come to rely on the website.
ANGELO FALCON: Well, I think they're very good. I think they cover a lot of issues that are important to the Latino community. They cover things that the mainstream media really doesn't pay much attention to. So, I think they do a pretty good job.
FOLKENFLIK: The site has paid particular attention to such stories as the recent Mexican elections, the triumphs and troubles of Hispanic politicians, the clashes over immigration policy.
The site started up in late 2010, with a push from Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Francisco Cortes rose through the ranks at Fox News, from an internship up to senior producer, when he was summoned by his bosses.
FRANCISCO CORTES: Mr. Ailes himself wanted to see, again, how to strategize on how to speak to the Latino community. And they said, how do we do this? How do we go about talking to one of the most influential groups in the U.S.?
FOLKENFLIK: Cortes is now the director of FoxNewsLatino.com. With others, he devised a website that features staff-written pieces and aggregates news coverage from other sources, particularly abroad. As Cortes explains, the site's articles are largely in English.
CORTES: Our target audience is second and third-generation U.S. Hispanics. But we also don't want to ignore first-generation Hispanics who have deep ties to their homeland. So what we did in Espanol section, we created Country Buckets. So if you're from Puerto Rico, if you're from Argentina, you can click on that bucket and see stories coming from your country.
FOLKENFLIK: That approach, which does not treat America Hispanics as a monolithic cultural, economic or political force, can be credited with some of its early success. The site drew a healthy 3.3 million unique visitors in June, according to estimates from Omni Site Catalyst, but they're no longer the only game in town. Huffington Post created its own site for Latinos and NBC just did the same.
NBC News' top digital officer, Vivian Schiller, says news executives all over are seeking to tap into that market. I interviewed Schiller, a former CEO of NPR, for a public session at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York.
VIVIAN SCHILLER: Advertisers are interested in what - reaching Latino audiences. And so, this is a commercial venture in the sense that we sell advertising and we think it's a good business. But it is also a critically important project for us, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to serve diverse audiences.
FOLKENFLIK: Fox executives say they're driven by the same impulses: to serve the public better and to aid the bottom-line. Yet, some Hispanic activists and critics on the left argue there's a pronounced divide between their treatment on the Fox News Latino website and on Fox News itself, especially on the TV channel's highly-rated opinion shows.
Again, Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
FALCON: Well, you know, you have someone like Bill O'Reilly who is always out looking to take pot shots at Latino advocacy groups and Latino issues, being very anti-immigrant.
FOLKENFLIK: O'Reilly wouldn't agree with that. But here he was last month with a Latina activist who was crusading against the use of the word illegals on his Fox News primetime show, "The O'Reilly Factor."
BILL O'REILLY: With us, Monica Novoa, campaign coordinator for the Drop the I Word Movement. First of all, you're from El Salvador, right? Did you come here legally yourself?
MONICA NOVOA: No, I didn't actually.
O'REILLY: You were an illegal alien yourself?
FOLKENFLIK: O'Reilly asked twice more.
O'REILLY: Did you come here illegally?
FOLKENFLIK: Yet the website has the potential to inform the TV channel's coverage, as in March, when Brian Lienas, a reporter for Fox News Latino, appeared on the Fox News Channel itself. Lienas was describing results of a Fox News Latino poll. He noted Hispanic voters care more about the economy than immigration, but said that the latter issue defines their moral compass.
BRIAN LIENAS: Nine in 10 support the DREAM Act, Eighty-five percent support undocumented workers working in this country. So, and if you ask them whether they prefer the word illegal versus undocumented, a majority of them believe that the word illegal, the term illegal immigrant, is offensive.
FOLKENFLIK: I met Lienas and two of his Fox News Latino colleagues in a glass-walled conference room, as we could see two pundits heatedly arguing in a Fox News TV studio just a dozen feet away.
LIENAS: Fox's Latino is different than Fox News. You know what? That's the purpose is to add value.
FOLKENFLIK: Familiar sounding name, different formula for success.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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