martes, 19 de septiembre de 2006

Grito de calidad

Esta columna salió publicada en Marketing y Medios de septiembre.

A couple of years ago, while giving a speech to a group of NAHJ members in Harlingen, Texas, weeks before the launch of Rumbo del Valle, a reporter asked me why was a Spanish-language newspaper needed in the area. Looking at a restaurant menu in front of me, I noticed it included ceviche, which was described in English as “Mexican sushi.”

“It is necessary”, I said, “for all the people who already know what ceviche is.”

The fact that the daily was going to be in Spanish wasn’t nearly as important as the fact that we were working toward bringing relevant information to Spanish-speaking immigrants in that part of the country.

Unfortunately, the age-old discussion about language preference among Hispanics still shapes the debate about what Latino print media should be. Should the publication be in Spanish, English or bilingual?

Even for publications that focus on one of the preferred languages, there are plenty of challenges. For one, education levels among groups of Latinos are a big obstacle to finding readers. (While 25% of all people of Mexican origin 25 years or older have an education of some college or above, only 14% of foreign-born Mexicans had a similar level of education, according to the Census.)

Thus, beyond the chicken and egg discussion of language, one of the real challenges for editors and journalists of Spanish-language publications is the way to approach the different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, the obvious cultural differences among groups, and the newly adopted set of needs borne from being new to this country. For the most part, a publication aimed to recent arrivals has to focus on service oriented journalism that helps navigate the new country without alienating them from their homeland.

Unfortunately, many Hispanic publications are only half-baked products translated from mainstream publications that barely understand the market and write about Hispanics, and not for them. A recent search in Google News for the word Hispanic showed among the first query results a story from a Virginia Web site stating that “Latino signifies someone from the Americas, and Hispanic denotes someone of European” descent. A New York Times review of the movie ‘Quinceañera’ explained that it is “the traditional ceremony that celebrates a girl’s official passage into womanhood at 15.”

While these efforts to understand Latinos are commendable in mainstream media, it is pathetic to find them in publications supposedly geared toward foreign-born or US-born Latinos. How many stories on quinceañeras, charros and Day of the Dead can a reader bear? Put other way, how would an English-speaker react to a description of a hamburger -- a meat patty sandwich very popular among Americans?

One reason for this lack of relevance in Latino coverage, according to several editors and academics I spoke to, is that Spanish-language print media hasn’t been able to find the resources and apply the standards that govern the work of English print media. Hispanics publications are born to an environment of prejudice, where both readers and advertisers are convinced that the product is mediocre, even before they read it. Sometimes the publications feed these misconceptions with low quality journalism, lack of training and a limited a career path for Spanish- speaking professionals in the US.

But Spanish-dominant readers do care about quality: they obsess about proper language usage and accuracy related to their favorite topics. Unfortunately, when there’s quality, it often goes unnoticed, especially by non-Spanish-speaking publishers, salespeople and advertisers. How to achieve quality? Sure, money helps. But also well-trained personnel are needed to put out a mistake free, interesting and relevant publication. If media outlets want quality, they should shy away from half-baked products and mediocre translations. As my longtime friend and syndication guru Gary Neeleman likes to say, prepackaged products don’t work.

Hispanic media has the edge when it comes to Latino-specific interests. But few publications really build on this advantage, making it seem that in most cases they’re condemned to be a sub-product of their mainstream media counterparts.

Media outlets need to show commitment to the market, because what readers want is good, tasty ceviche, and not culturally-confused and inaccurately translated Mexican sushi.

2 comentarios:

Alfredo Sepúlveda dijo...

Gabo, ¿la escribió usted? Está muy buena. De todas maneras creo que es mejor hacer el esfuerzo de llevar buen periodismo a esta comunidad que sentarse, no hacer nada y dejar que el culo engorde escribiendo artículos sobre el pasaje a la "mujeridad" de una chica de quince años. Una vez más, me postro ante usted, maestro.

Santigo Daydi-Tolson dijo...

Since the article is in English I use the same language in my comment. To such a good analysis of the situation little can be added. I would like thought to point to the fact that Mexico is not a reading country and one could not expect that Mexicans in the USA would do different. Other Hispanic communities are not much different. But what I think should be stressed is that, as you write, all that writing for the Hispanic public is basically wrong. There is a sector of well-educated Hispanics who would probably read a publication in Spanish if all those references to the "Hispanic culture" were avoided and the self-centered culturalims of the Hispanic one-sided tunnel vivion of those who insists in "tradition" were erradicated from the world of journalism. But, of course, there are many publications in other languages, including English, that give you good reading material free from the narrow-minded cultural parrochialism of too many Hispanic journalists, intellenctuals and artists.