Bringing Back the Nightly News… en Espanol

Spanish-language media giant Univisión announced last week that its local evening newscasts in Los Angeles and New York were the first- and second most-watched local broadcasts nationwide among all viewers in any language in the coveted 18-to-49 age bracket (otherwise known as the media’s Holy Grail).

The announcement is especially striking given the continued shrinking viewership of traditional English-language nightly newscasts produced by local affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

On any given night, KMEX, the Los Angeles Univision affiliate, dwarfs its English- language competitors with evening newscasts that draw 331,000 viewers. The closest English-language newscast in the same area lags KMEX by more than 70,000 viewers.

In recent years, Spanish-language stations (including Telemundo, owned by NBC-Universal) have consistently had the most viewers in cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles and New York.

What is news to those unfamiliar with Spanish-language television (usually known more for pulp fiction-y telenovelas or evening soap operas than hard-hitting news segments) is the dramatic difference in the quality and depth of Spanish-language local newscasts compared to their English counterparts, according to a recent analysis by journalist and New America Foundation Fellow Joe Mathews. Case in point: Mathews describes one evening when Univisión affiliates KMEX and KVEA took an in-depth look at the Iraq war and the impact of home foreclosures on local communities—while the English-language newscast gave a two-minute news summary followed by a lengthy assessment of late-night spas in the Los Angeles area. (Click here to hear the ‘On the Media’ segment from public radio where Mathews discusses his findings in greater detail.)

Univisión and Telemundo reporters are often the first to cover press conferences on a range of issues, including local schools, workers’ rights and immigration reform. Mathews cites his own experience as labor reporter at The Los Angeles Times, where the only competition on his beat were reporters for local Spanish-language outlets.

The networks are rising stars at a time of growing awareness of the ways Latinos are altering the U.S. economic, media, and political landscape. In May, the Census Bureau released data underlining the growth of the nation’s Latino population, which now tops 45 million, or 15% of the total U.S. population. A Pew Hispanic Center report also notes that Latinos voted at record levels in the recent Democratic primaries, and accounted for more than 30 percent of votes cast in electoral bonanza states of California, New Mexico, and Texas.

Spanish-language television is trying to educate voters with its ‘Ya es Ahora! Va e Vota!’ (Now’s the Time! Get Out and Vote!) campaign, which recently won a Peabody Award. Spanish-language media outlets of many types are encouraging Latino viewers and readers to become more engaged on civic issues. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) and other large Latino civil rights groups have teamed up with Univisión on large-scale citizenship and voter outreach campaigns in years past, and are seeking to register and mobilize millions of Latinos to vote nationwide through the Ya Es Ahora! campaign.

Latino media personalities have also taken on immigration as a key organizing issue. El Piolín, a superstar in the behemoth Spanish-language Los Angeles media market who plays many roles (activist, radio DJ, comedian, journalist), helped galvanize hundreds of thousands of immigrants to march in the 2006 demonstrations in favor of immigration reform.

The increasing clout of Spanish-language media comes at a time when both Presidential campaigns appear to be increasingly aware of Latino voters. As Feet in 2 Worlds’ Aswini Anburajan wrote recently, John McCain has unveiled a raft of Spanish-language ads targeting Latino voters in major swing states like New Mexico and Arizona. Both McCain and Barack Obama appeared at the League of United Latin American Citizens annual conference today and NALEO’s annual conference last month; the two candidates and both will also address activists, analysts, and advisors at the NCLR conference, which begins this weekend.

Stay tuned to your local Spanish-language affiliate for more different takes on the news.

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