Is Ethnic Media Alternative?

When Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was thrown out of a Donald Trump press conference it was for many Americans their first time encountering the man who some call the “Latino Walter Cronkite.” For many of Latinos in the United States, Ramos is a familiar face. He has delivered the news for years as the anchor of the nightly news on Noticiero Univision. While being just a few channels away from the mainstream networks, Ramos and the rest of Spanish language news remain foreign to most Americans. 

The concept of alternative media, partly outlined by Lievrouw, is media that is not the mainstream media. In practice however, this concept of alternative media is difficult to define. An outlet could publish alternative content; yet follow a hierarchal model similar to other mainstream publishers. Can ethnic media be considered alternative? Instead of targeting a national audience, as mainstream media does, ethnic media targets a niche audience of a particular ethnicity. Ethnic audiences often turn to and trust ethnic media before mainstream news. For immigrant communities, ethnic media connects them to their sending country’s culture and news amidst the foreign and unfamiliar in their new home. Finally, ethnic media also provides important spaces for ethnic groups to form community.

However, there are also some aspects of ethnic media that prevent it from being completely categorized as alternative media. For one, ethnic media outlets are not immune from market forces. In fact they be more susceptible to market fluctuations because of their smaller audiences. Ethnic media outlets are also often owned by major media conglomerates of other ethnic media, mainstream media companies or foreign media companies. Ethnic media also often reuse content from sending countries mainstream media to fill their pages and airtime. Finally, and most importantly, ethnic media can also fall prey to replicating hegemonic discourses on race and power from both countries they operate in. 

I’ll analyze Spanish language media in the United States to be more specific on these claims. Spanish language media is the most prominent ethnic media system in the United States; Univision will often beat English language networks in key demographics in ratings. There is a vibrant network of national broadcast channels, Univision and Telemundo, their local affiliates and Spanish daily and weekly newspapers in most major American cities. An important point, almost all of these outlets was started in the United States not in Latin America, although strong ties remain. 

NBC Universal owns Telemundo. Univision recently partnered with ABC to produce Fusion, a Bilingual channel directed towards Latinos who seek programming in both languages. These moves can be celebrated as American Latinos moving closer into the national imagination and agenda as important player and also be concerning. Univision and Telemundo derive much of their non-news content from Mexico. 

Specifically, Univision imports popular telenovelas from the near monopolistic Mexican media giant Televisa. These telenovelas, popular and engaging as they may be, have been rightly criticized for the racial order they celebrate – elevating European aesthetics as the most desirable and placing Mestizo and black aesthetics in subservient, if even visible, roles. They also strongly tie the racial order of Mexico and Latin America with the economic order of capitalism, white characters are of capital and are rarely even seen working.

When imported to Latino audiences in the United States, what do these telenovelas represent? Nostalgia, even for a past that didn’t exist, is powerful in telenovelas. Images of working ranches, happy priests, and happier house servants fill the screen. I suggest these nostalgias, when viewed from the U.S. attempt to create a Latin American that didn’t exist and simultaneously draw Latino audiences into accepting Univision as the authentic voice for Latinos in the U.S.

ImpreMedia owns two of the largest Latino newspapers in major markets, La Opinion in Los Angeles and El Diario La Prensa in New York. In addition, La Nacion, the leading conservative newspaper in Argentina, recently bought ImpreMedia. El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish newspaper in Miami, is the sister paper of the Miami Herald. 

To be fair, Spanish language news in the United States cover news that is often “missed” by the mainstream English news. Spanish language journalists have dual loyalties, one to objectivity but also toward representing Latino audiences. For his part, Ramos doesn’t ask, “Univision wants to know…”his questions are usually formatted as “Latinos want to know.”