TOPICS > Nation

The Spanish Media Organize their Listeners to React to the Immigration Bill

April 11, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


JEFFREY BROWN: Millions have gathered in scores of cities in a seemingly spontaneous eruption of pride and protest. But recent demonstrations from Los Angeles to Washington have been, in fact, a carefully choreographed action, and the movement was helped in part by the fast-growing Spanish-language media in the United States, from the radio airwaves, to television, and in newspapers.

Spanish-language media have covered the story in all its myriad facets, and, in many cases, helped compel thousands to the streets. Today’s headlines say it all. “Historic March,” said El Dia of Houston.

“Historic Outcry” said Hoy of New York City. One speaker at yesterday’s rally in Washington was Pedro Biaggi, the popular morning drive-time host of El Zol, a Spanish-language station in Washington. He exhorted the crowd in much the same way he had his listenership.

PEDRO BIAGGI, Radio Talk Show Host: I love it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Biaggi and his colleagues across Hispanic media are finding a larger audience every day. According to New American Media, a consortium of ethnic news organizations, 87 percent of Hispanic adults use Spanish-language media on a regular basis. And nearly 30 percent prefer Spanish-language newspapers to their English-language counterparts.

And, on television, Univision and Telemundo have become juggernauts. Period. In Los Angeles, Univision’s KMEX affiliate is the most watched station in the market, period.

And joining us to discuss the role of Spanish-language media is Pedro Biaggi, who we just saw in our setup piece — he’s the morning deejay on El Zol FM, heard in the Washington, D.C., region — and Felix Gutierrez, professor of journalism at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and author of several books on Latino media.

And welcome to both of you.

PEDRO BIAGGI: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Biaggi, starting with you, tell us more about what your station has done, in terms of not only covering these events recently, but promoting them, in a sense.

PEDRO BIAGGI: We have delivered the message, the right message, which is the peaceful aspect of it, you know, the way we should dress for the day, the intentions that we have behind this. I mean, that really has been I think where the difference comes, where we’re delivering a message that you must wear a white shirt, that you must carry the American flag.

I mean, it’s — it doesn’t get any more complicated than just delivering the — the pure and simple message of — of where we’re going and why we’re going there.

JEFFREY BROWN: And — and how unusual is that for you, to get that involved in this kind of an action?

PEDRO BIAGGI: Well, it’s not unusual at all, because I’m just getting involved in what moves my audience in a day-to-day basis.

You know, there is the passion aspect of it. You know, what are we going through? What are we living through?

And it’s just as usual as every day, you know, we deliver and we share, you know, what are we going through, what are we living through in this country. So, it’s not unusual at all.

JEFFREY BROWN: And do you — and — and how do you — is the audience grasping for it more now, particularly now because of this issue?

PEDRO BIAGGI: Well, maybe the media realizes or feels it stronger now, but my audience has been reacting to it from the get-go, you know, strongly, and absolutely passionately about it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Gutierrez, is this a new role for Spanish-language media or something that has been with us for a long time?

FELIX GUTIERREZ, Latino Media Scholar, University Of Southern California: Well, it’s an old role for Spanish-language media. Out here in Los Angeles, our first Spanish-language newspaper, which was 1855, was called El Clamor Publico, The Public Clamor. And it was a newspaper that was, at that point, looking at what was happening as the Yankees into this area, after it was taken from Mexico, and telling the Latinos, the Mexican residents, to stand up for their rights.

In the 1930s, we had a very popular radio personality here, Pedro J. Gonzalez, who also urged the listeners as the repatriations, the people we will be sending back during the Depression, back to Mexico, that they should stand up for their rights. And, in the 1950s, with Operation Wetback, and the 1970s, with the illegal alien roundups that were taking place. La Opinion, the newspaper here, the daily, were very strong in alerting people that this thing is happening. It’s happening to you, and it’s not right. And here’s what your rights are.

JEFFREY BROWN: Paint a picture for us, Professor Gutierrez. Paint a picture of Spanish-language media today. How — how diverse, in terms of voices, in terms of politics, in terms of ownership?

FELIX GUTIERREZ: Well, it’s — it’s a growing medium.

And it used to be a — a medium of chance, not a medium of choice. You would speak Spanish, and so you would just go to one or two stations. But now, here in Los Angeles, we have 16 radio stations, about six TV stations, two daily newspapers all in Spanish. And this is part of a nationwide trend. It’s big business. It’s not mom-and-pop local operations, but Univision, Telemundo. Telemundo is part of NBC.

We have the big newspaper chains, like Hearst, Tribune, Belo, Knight Ridder, all doing things in Spanish, one way or another. So, it’s a great place for opportunity. And radio is particularly strong, because there’s a strong personal connection with personalities on the air.

JEFFREY BROWN: And a medium of choice, he referred to it, Mr. Biaggi, so, you have to — you have to get listeners, in your case, in any way you can, I suppose, just competitive, the way everybody else is.

PEDRO BIAGGI: Well, basically, entertainment is the name of the game. In the morning, people are driving to work in my case in particular. And they need to forget. They need to entertain. They need to laugh.

So, that has been my way to get to my audience. We are laughing. We are joking. We are having a great time. And, in between, you know, I have to deliver the messages of — of what is happening in our day-to-day lives, you know, the things that are making a difference for our people.

So — but, basically, we’re having a good time. The idea is to have a good time. There is not a — there is not a particular strategy or a particular technique that you do in the morning or you do in — in communicating to people, in my case. My idea is to have a great time, to make you laugh. And, once I got you laughing, I will tell you what’s going on.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, give — but, given the diversity…


JEFFREY BROWN: … and given the competitiveness that Mr. Gutierrez was just talking about, in this particular instance of the last couple of weeks of all that’s going on, is there more of a coordinated effort? I mean, are you talking with other media outlets? Is there some sense to get a particular message out about these demonstrations on particular days?

PEDRO BIAGGI: To be honest with you, there is not a particular coordination with anybody. This is a day-to-day, you know, passion.

You know, my passion is totally involved in this. My — my — my — my team of — of workers, people that work with me, putting it together, you know, we’re not necessarily consulting or — we’re just — you know, we’re in tune to what’s happening. We’re in tune to what’s happening to our culture, to our people, and to our listeners.

And that’s what I focus on delivering a show every day. I don’t particularly have an agenda on — on getting, you know, this message or that message, you know, what’s happening today, and I will be looking at what’s happening today. I will be telling you about that tomorrow.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Professor Gutierrez, there has been a lot of mulling lately about how the mainstream media really picked up on all this quite late in the game, raising the question about whether it is missing a lot of what’s going on in this country. What do you think about that?

FELIX GUTIERREZ: You can’t be well informed if you pay attention to the so-called mainstream media, the general circulation dailies, network TV, for instance.

People just have more choice. And if you want the full picture, you have to go to the media that you’re most attentive to. It might be in your language. It might be where you live. There’s a variety of choices available to you now. And just one medium can’t take the whole picture.

And if the general-audience media had been paying more attention to the Latino media the week before the demonstration here in Los Angeles, where we had half-a-million people, they would not have been surprised at what turned out on Saturday. That was a consistent message, and, as we counseled earlier, that people should show up, they should demonstrate their rights, and that they should do so in a peaceful way, which is part of our First Amendment rights in this country.

JEFFREY BROWN: I saw one analyst, Professor Gutierrez, refer to it as a parallel universe, where the Spanish-language media exists almost separate and apart from the mainstream media. Is — is that the way to think of it, or do you see some growing intersections?

FELIX GUTIERREZ: Well, I have seen — I have used the term parallel, but what I meant when I said that was that it parallels the format.

So, you will have a radio station that’s all sports in Spanish. You will have an oldies station. You will have a station that — that gears to women or to romantic music and such, that you have choices within that format.

What the New American Media surveys show is that most people — or a lot of people who use ethnic media also use general-audience media, but few people who relate to general-audience media primarily also use ethnic media. So, we’re getting a bigger picture, because we’re using media from more than one source.

JEFFREY BROWN: How do you see this, Mr. Biaggi, about the parallel universes?

PEDRO BIAGGI: Well, if we’re living in it today, you know, whether it’s in English or Spanish, especially in my situation, I have to be in tune to what’s happening with — you know, with our world in general.

And what affects me as an immigrant in this country probably is what I pay more attention to. So, just based on that, that’s how I — I mean, you know, it sounds more complicated than — it’s sounding more complicated than it is. It is a really simple way of going about informing our people, you know? So, maybe — I don’t know if I’m getting away from — from your question, but…

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, do you see — do you see — do you know whether your listeners are also listening to English-language media as well, or are they existing largely in a Spanish arena, media-wise?

PEDRO BIAGGI: Well, I think, in the majority of the numbers, they’re living on the Spanish existing media, yes. And — and, therefore, it is my job to communicate what’s happening in the overall picture, you know, in the simplest way, you know, in Spanish.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mr. Gutierrez we just have 30 seconds or so.

But do you see — do you see changes coming, in terms of the listenership, the audience, for Spanish-language media?

FELIX GUTIERREZ: Well, the big change we’re seeing is that these media promoting themselves over the years as having purchasing power, being able to drive the readers and listeners and viewers to audience — the audience into the market, into buying products.

Now you’re seeing that purchasing power translate into political power. And this is a signal moment for us. And, in that regard, it really is a historic time.


FELIX GUTIERREZ: Let’s see if they continue it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Felix Gutierrez, Pedro Biaggi, thank you both very much.

PEDRO BIAGGI: Thank you.