The Next Frontier In TV: English News For Latinos ABC News and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision have joined forces to create a TV news channel aimed at Hispanics who prefer English. But with a target audience that currently turns to the same news sources as everyone else, the venture isn't without risk.
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The Next Frontier In TV: English News For Latinos

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The Next Frontier In TV: English News For Latinos

The Next Frontier In TV: English News For Latinos

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The nation's Hispanic population is on the rise, and major news organizations are trying to appeal to that growing audience. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has his second of two stories on those efforts. As David reports today, ABC News and the nation's leading Spanish-language broadcaster Univision are teaming up to create a channel for Latinos with a twist.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Jorge Ramos has a problem. He's one of the best-known Hispanics in the United States, a respected news anchor for Univision networks on whom millions of Americans rely. And yet...

JORGE RAMOS: My son and my daughter, they don't watch me. Nicolas, 14, Paola, 25, they don't watch news in Spanish. They watch their news, they get their information in English. Their friends don't watch me. Their generation is not watching us in Spanish. So we have to do something.

FOLKENFLIK: That something is a new cable news channel. It doesn't even have a name yet. But here's the key thing: It's in English. That's right. Univision already commands about three-quarters of the Spanish-speaking television audience in the U.S. across its various broadcast and cable channels. Now it is joining with ABC News to map out an entirely new network to reach Hispanics who prefer English.

CESAR CONDE: This is a fascinating point in our country's history right now.

FOLKENFLIK: Cesar Conde is president of Univision networks.

CONDE: Increasingly, we're seeing the influence of Latinos across all fronts in America, from cultural to social, political and, of course, economic fronts. And that has a number of repercussions. One of the areas that has been underserved is providing a culturally relevant offering for Hispanics in English to complement everything that we're doing on the Spanish-language front.

FOLKENFLIK: As Conde says, this is uncharted territory, and ABC wants to stake its claim. That means a shift in its newsroom culture.

I'm here with ABC News spokeswoman Julie Townsend, who's representing this joint venture. Tell me, Julie, where are we and what do we see in front of us?

JULIE TOWNSEND: We're in the kitchen on the fifth floor newsroom and the sign says: Un Poco Investment of Time, Your Return Will Be Muy Grande. And it's a sign encouraging our employees to sign up for Spanish lessons, which we launched just last week.

FOLKENFLIK: Those Spanish lessons are free for anyone who wants them, courtesy of new ABC News President Ben Sherwood. It's one of the ideas that grew out of the meeting he held with Conde and other Univision executives, in anticipation of this year's presidential campaign coverage.

BEN SHERWOOD: They wondered if Jorge Ramos could participate, in some way, in an ABC News debate. And that was really the top of their list, was could Jorge perhaps ask a question or moderate one of the debates with some of our anchors. The answer to that was sure, no problem

FOLKENFLIK: They began to dream up bigger ambitions.

SHERWOOD: We had also noticed they had put out some announcements about how they were interested in building some new channels. And our idea was let's build the channel of the future aimed at English speaking Hispanics, with culturally relevant programming. It's as simple and as bold as that.

FOLKENFLIK: Roughly one-in-six Americans is Latino. But that share is likely to rise, as Hispanics accounted for more than half the growth of the U.S. population between 2000 and 2010.

Mark Hugo Lopez is associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: It's really this group of particularly Latinos born in the U.S. with those immigrant parents, these you people who are able to navigate both of these worlds, that these efforts seem to be appealing to.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet the strategy is not without its risks. English speaking Latinos turn to the same news sources as everyone else - cable news, big newspapers, Yahoo!, Twitter and Facebook. But Spanish language outlets give greater coverage to stories that affect Latinos directly, such as voting rights, immigration, and developments in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Lopez points to a 2010 survey by the Pew Center. It found Hispanics who relied upon English language media outlets, did not understand nearly as much about that year's census as those who followed Spanish-language news organizations.

LOPEZ: They identify as Hispanic. They call themselves Hispanic. But they aren't necessarily getting the same sort of news coverage directed specifically to them, about being Latino or about what it means to be Latino. Or, in the case of the census, about the role the census plays for Hispanic communities.

FOLKENFLIK: So why would Latinos turn to this unnamed channel, as opposed to Univision in Spanish or ABC in English? Because, Jorge Ramos says, they will be able to expect fuller coverage of issues that affect them in the language in which they're most comfortable.

RAMOS: We need to have more voices being heard on TV. And those voices that we hear on a daily basis in Spanish are not being heard on English - it's time that that starts to happen.

FOLKENFLIK: ABC's Ben Sherwood says the two networks are playing the long game.

SHERWOOD: We're looking for unique, indispensable products that we can put out there, and this is that. This is white space. No one is doing this.

FOLKENFLIK: Demographics as destiny.

David Folkenflik NPR News, New York.



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