Nearly two decades ago, I started my career as a journalist in Boston at a Spanish-language weekly newspaper that had just launched. I was the first reporter hired, and after a couple of years, I became the editor. That publication, El Planeta, is still around.
Another thing that hasn’t changed? My conviction that there is a strong and growing need for Spanish-language content and that there aren’t enough outlets meeting that demand. Roughly 69 percent of US Latinos speak Spanish at home, or nearly 40 million people, according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center. Streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix are catching up to Latino viewers’ influence, clearly a smart move. But when it comes to news, there still seems to be a disconnect between Hispanic audiences and media leaders, particularly in the national, so-called mainstream media.
This vacuum of information has glaring implications — for instance, news coverage in Spanish about COVID-19 was “stunningly low,” according to a study published last fall. Similarly, Spanish-language misinformation about the pandemic was its own kind of virus, primarily on social media sites.
Then there are the electoral implications of missing a significant chunk of news consumers. Consider Americano Media, a conservative media startup that aims to be “Fox News in Spanish,” according to the network’s CEO and founder, Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo, as told to Politico last month. The network, launched nearly a year ago, has hired more than 80 Hispanic journalists and staff, and is expanding its radio presence to television. Americano Media wants to reach centrist Latino voters and lead them toward the GOP. (Latino voters, who make up the second-largest voting bloc nationwide, still overwhelmingly lean Democrat.)
But an analysis from Media Matters, a watchdog group that monitors conservative media, found that Americano Media “has provided right-wing radio programming for Spanish-speaking audiences with notable hosts who reliably spread misinformation and extremism,” wrote Leo Fernandez, a researcher with the nonprofit. The analysis provides examples where network hosts have promoted fearmongering claims that illegal immigration is bringing crime to American cities, racist talking points, and other conspiracy theories.
Garcia-Hidalgo told Refinery29 that his news team “works hard to report the truth and the hosts of our our [sic] opinion shows seek truth to arrive at their opinions.” He also said that the “slow but steady shift of the Hispanic vote toward Republicans makes leftists nervous” but that the shift is not due to misinformation or disinformation.
Brennan Suen, Media Matters’ deputy director of external affairs, disagrees. Suen said in an interview that various hosts from Americano Media have responded to his organization’s research by attacking the messenger instead of disputing the message, which is a tactic taken directly from Fox News’ playbook, he said. Suen said that a lot of the content of Americano Media is offered online, on YouTube or on Facebook Live streams, which amplifies its reach among Spanish-language audiences. That also means any misinformation becomes harder to detect because social media companies have been notoriously bad at spotting and tackling Spanish-language misinformation.
The good news is that Americano Media is not without competition from progressives. The Latino Media Network launched last year and is led by two Latinas, both former Democratic political operatives. The company raised $80 million to purchase 18 radio stations in the top 10 Hispanic markets. It’s a welcome move, particularly after reports showed how misinformation ran rampant in Spanish-language radio stations in Florida, which may have played a huge role in the gains Republicans have seen among Latinx voters in the last few electoral cycles.
“It’s important to invest in fact-based news” organizations, said Suen. But the right has been investing in its right-wing media infrastructure for decades and it’s leaps ahead of the left, he said. That infrastructure includes not only Fox News but The Daily Wire and other digital outlets that “are reaching people at a higher rate” than other media, according to Suen.
One thing is clear: There is an information war waging in Latino and bilingual communities leading up to the 2024 presidential election. It remains to be seen whether Latino and bilingual consumers will emerge as the winners.