Increased Coverage in Spanish
Keyed to Hispanic Population Surge
By Bill Dawson
The U.S. Hispanic population is booming, which in turn is catalyzing major growth in Spanish-language newspapers and electronic media.
Riding both of those related trends is an accompanying increase in environmental coverage en español, as well as outreach to Spanish-language press and public by government agencies and others in the environmental arena.
Evidence of these developments abounds:
Last year, Editor & Publisher noted that the nation's Hispanic population grew by nearly 60 percent to 35.3 million between 1990 and 2000, and that the National Association of Hispanic Publications had recorded a 565 percent rise in advertising revenues for Spanish-language and other Hispanic papers in roughly that same period.
"The chains that made America's family-owned hometown paper an endangered species are now targeting a market that until recently was served largely by precariously financed Mom-and-Pop operations," the E&P article noted.
Since last year, a "chain" of four new Spanish newspapers named Rumbo has been launched in Texas -- San Antonio, Houston, Austin and McAllen, with the latter serving the Lower Rio Grande Valley region that encompasses a number of cities and smaller communities.
Conceived by a former Wall Street Journal editor, the newspapers are principally aimed at a 21-year-old to 54-year-old audience comprising first and second generation native Spanish speakers. For more details, see this article in the Austin Chronicle.
The Rumbo papers joined an already thriving Spanish media market in Texas that includes numerous older newspapers, along with newer titles that were recently introduced by major media corporations. The latter includes Knight-Ridder's Diario La Estrella, affiliated with that company's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Belo's Al Dia, affiliated with its Dallas Morning News. This growth has been manifested in other ways, such as the Houston Chronicle's increase in Spanish content, especially in selected weekly neighborhood sections.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has noted a recent corresponding increase in calls from reporters for Spanish-language news organizations, said Andy Saenz, communications director for the state's principal environmental regulatory agency. The calls have been received at headquarters in Austin and public information officers in the TCEQ's regional offices.
While Saenz was reluctant to label it a definite trend, he observed that this increase in queries by reporters for Spanish media seems to have accompanied the introduction of the Rumbo papers in the four markets that they serve.
Generally, queries from reporters for the Spanish-language press relate to the same major issues of interest to the mainstream press, such as ground-level ozone and water pollution, Saenz said.
Lina Younes, a former Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rico newspapers, is the Hispanic liaison in the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Public Affairs, a position that was created by the Bush administration at EPA and other federal agencies. She said she believes there has been a general increase in interest in environmental subjects in the Hispanic media.
Focusing largely on local issues, this interest has been especially notable in EPA's Region 6 (Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana) and Region 9 (California, Arizona, Nevada, Pacific Islands and Tribal Nations), as well as in Puerto Rico, Younes said.
EPA has recently increased Spanish content on its website, which now includes a newly consolidated Spanish home page. Among other related EPA actions, Region 6 recently introduced its own Spanish-language web page. About a year ago, the Dallas-based regional office also assigned a media officer to translate all press advisories and press releases into Spanish and handle calls from reporters who prefer talking with the agency in that language.
Region 6 spokesman David Bary said he believes such efforts to keep the Spanish-language public and media informed have generated more calls to the regional office from reporters and citizens.
Public opinion polling consistently finds strong interest in environmental issues among Latinos and strong support for environmental initiatives.
In its August 22 issue, for instance, Time reported its own far-reaching survey of U.S. Hispanics' attitudes. Eight-six (86) percent of the respondents said that "environment" was an extremely or very important issue for them. That meant it ended up being ranked as their fourth most-important issue in the poll, trailing only "education," "jobs/economy" and "homeland security," and ahead of others including "bilingual education," "immigration" and "U.S. policy toward Latin America."
Opinions have translated into voting behavior in the nation's most populous state, the San Jose Mercury-News' Paul Rogers reported in 2002:
"Driven by a yearning for clean water, reduced smog and more places to play, Latino voters are turning out to the most devoted environmentalists in California. The latest illustration came last week, when exit polls showed that 74 percent of Latino voters approved Proposition 40, a $2.6 billion parks and open space bond measure on the statewide ballot that won by 57 to 43 percent."
Coverage and presentation of environmental issues naturally vary among Spanish-language papers.
The one with the largest readership, Los Angeles' La Opinion, highlights its attention to the environment by maintaining a special page on its website where links to the most recent environmental articles are displayed together.
Three new Spanish-language papers called Hoy, launched by Tribune Company in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York since the late 1990s, often approach environmental issues in concert with occupational coverage, particularly as they affect Hispanic neighborhoods and industries locally, said Javier Aldape, the newspapers' editor and vice president for product and audience development.
"Environmental issues probably run hand in hand for us with workplace issues, with probably a little more focus on the workplace," he said. The Hoy papers don't have environmental beat reporters, per se, but cover environmental issues from a "quasi-structured" general-assignment system, he said.
A different approach is followed at two affiliated papers named El Diario, which serve the metropolitan area that straddles the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo in Mexico) at the western tip of Texas-El Paso on the north side and Juarez on the south. Erick Falcon has held the environment beat at El Paso's El Diario, but now is expanding his duties to encompass the same role for the Juarez edition.
The El Paso-Juarez area presents a classic opportunity to cover challenging transnational environmental issues. Earlier this year, Falcon produced a series of articles in covering a Texas permit hearing before the TCEQ commissioners, in which they considered whether a smelter would add unacceptably to El Paso's air quality problems. Not addressed in the proceeding, Falcon said, were questions regarding the same plant's potential impacts in Juarez, just across the river in Mexico.
He said the main issues he covers include lead and arsenic contamination of soil in El Paso, toxic waste dumping in Juarez (which has an industry-based economy) and groundwater concerns in both cities. Air pollution and bi-national environmental efforts occupy his attention at times, as well.
From her national perspective at EPA headquarters, Younes said major issues of interest to the Hispanic media in general are environmental justice, the Superfund program, water, asthma and lead poisoning.
The Spanish television networks Telemundo and Univision, for instance, have contacted the EPA while working on stories involving topics such as radon, asthma, pesticide use, and environmental issues related to the controversy over military activities at Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Environmental coverage in Spanish is not confined to newspapers and television. On radio, Radio Bilingue, the national Latino public radio network headquartered in California, announced in July a new series of programs on its 10-year-old Linea Abierta show, featuring both news stories and call-in shows "to inform listeners on the threats to community health in areas with the worst pollution in the country."
Linea Abierta airs its Spanish-language programming on 44 stations in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Mexico. Funding for the environmental series was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (which also supports Environment Writer) and the James Irvine Foundation.
Meanwhile, the Society of Environmental Journalists is responding to a perception by numerous leaders and other members of a growing need for its services among Spanish-language news media in general.
Initiatives undertaken by SEJ include a new section in Spanish on its website and a special focus on issues related to the U.S./Mexico border and Latin America at the organization's upcoming annual conference in Austin, Sept. 28 to Oct. 2.
Some of the conference sessions will be translated simultaneously in Spanish, such as a September 30 panel discussion on cross-border wildlife migration and management.