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How Fox Pioneered A Formula For Latino News

Francisco Cortes started at Fox as an apprentice, then rose through the ranks to become Fox News Latino's first director.
Francisco Cortes started at Fox as an apprentice, then rose through the ranks to become Fox News Latino's first director.

This is the first in a three-part series about major American networks trying to appeal to a broader Latino audience.

In a glass-walled conference room at Fox News in New York, reporter Bryan Llenas and two of his colleagues discuss the nature and success of their news site, Fox News Latino, largely aimed at English-speaking Hispanics.

Maybe a dozen feet away, two pundits can be seen heatedly arguing in a Fox News TV studio.

"Fox News Latino is different than Fox News," Llenas says with a smile. "You know what? That's the purpose — to add value."

As Hispanics make up an increasing — and increasingly important — part of the U.S. population, major media companies are courting them with a newfound intensity. Latinos make up one-sixth of the nation's population, but accounted for more than half of the country's population growth from 2000 to 2010, according to the latest census.

The Univision and Telemundo television networks have sewn up much of the nation's Spanish-dominant viewers; in fact, Univision is one of the nation's highest-rated broadcast networks in any language. But news organizations see major opportunities in targeting Hispanics who predominantly speak English, and Fox News Latino has been enjoying a strong head start by tweaking the formula that defines the cable network that gave it life. The site drew 3.3 million unique visitors in June, according to estimates from Omni Site Catalyst provided by Fox, and that's considered a strong showing for a niche site.

"They're very good," says Angelo Falcon, a political scientist, activist and president of the National Institute for Latino Policy. "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."

Speaking To The Latino Community

Fox News Latino doesn't treat American Hispanics as a monolithic cultural, economic or political force. And that can be credited with some of its early fortune.

The site started up in late 2010, with a push from Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. Fox News Latino Director Francisco Cortes was rising through the ranks — from an apprenticeship named for Ailes to a senior producer for Fox's news programming — when he was summoned by his bosses.

"Mr. Ailes himself ... wanted to see how to strategize on how to speak to the Latino community," Cortes recalls. "They wanted to know ... how do we go about talking to one of the most influential groups in the U.S."

With colleagues, Cortes devised a website that features staff-written pieces and aggregates news coverage from other sources, particularly abroad. The site's articles are largely in English.

"Our target audience is second- and third-generation U.S. Hispanics," Cortes says, "but we also don't want to ignore first-generation Hispanics who have deep ties to their homeland."

The site has paid particular attention to such stories as the recent presidential elections in Mexico, the triumphs and troubles of Hispanic politicians, and congressional clashes over immigration policy. Lighter pieces include a look at a Mexican-style rodeo held in the Bronx.

A Divide Between Fox News And Fox News Latino

Yet some Hispanic activists and critics on the left say there is a pronounced divide between their treatment on the Fox News Latino website and on Fox News itself, especially on the cable channel's highly rated opinion shows.

"You have someone like Bill O'Reilly who's always out looking to take potshots at Latino advocacy groups and Latino issues. [He's] very anti-immigrant," says political scientist and activist Falcon.

O'Reilly would undoubtedly disagree with that assessment. But during one recent exchange, he invited a Latina campaigning against use of the word "illegals" onto his top-rated Fox News show, The O'Reilly Factor,only to ask her four times whether she was an illegal alien. (The activist, Monica Novoa, said she was not, all four times.)

But the website also has the potential to inform and influence the news channel's coverage.

In March, for example, Fox News Latino's Llenas appeared on Fox News to describe the results of a poll commissioned by the website. Llenas noted that Hispanic voters care more about the economy than immigration, but said that the latter issue defines their moral compass.

"Eighty-five percent support undocumented workers working in this country," he said on the air. "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."

In May, Fox News' Geraldo Rivera wrote a column for the site denouncing pundits — including those on the Fox News channel itself — for using the term.

Competition Is Catching Up

Now, however, the site is facing new competition in their pursuit of English-speaking Hispanics.

A year ago, The Huffington Post created HuffPost LatinoVoices, and a few weeks ago, NBC News unveiled its version.

NBC News' top digital executive, Vivian Schiller, says news officials all over are seeking to tap into the same growing and previously underserved market.

"Advertisers are interested in reaching Latino audiences. And so this is a commercial venture in the sense that we sell advertising, and we think it is a good business," Schiller, a former NPR CEO, said during a public question-and-answer session at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. "But it is also a critically important project for us, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to serve diverse audiences."

Fox executives say they are driven by the same impulses: to find future sources of profit and to serve the public better.

A One-Stop Shop For News

Elizabeth Llorente, senior reporter at Fox News Latino, grew up in Union City, N.J., with a blend of American tastes and those of her family's native Cuba. She's a fan of Celia Cruz and the Rolling Stones. Before joining Fox's new website, Llorente won awards for her coverage of immigration issues at the Bergen County Record in New Jersey.

For intellectual nourishment that touched on her interests, she says she used to concoct her own stew from a variety of news sources: "I'd go to The New York Times; I'd go to Univision; I'd go to the ethnic newspaper serving the community."

"Here at Fox News Latino, it's all there for you," she says, "so you don't have to be making your own stew."

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