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Paola Marizan creates unapologetic bilingual content
America Amplified's project manager pushes public media to innovate and imagine
One of the greatest threats to public media is a crisis of imagination.
How do we envision our future? How do we interrogate our past to ensure a better tomorrow? How do we bring fresh thinking to all we do?
Paola Marizan is among those helping us think bigger.
As project manager at America Amplified, she cites engagement as key to trust. Marizan is also courageous when it comes to asking tough questions. She's heard plenty of resistance to Spanish-language content. She’s fearless in talking about why new audiences are everything. Her response is important to reflect on. In essence, "we in public media make lots of programs that aren't for me."
Such is a blind spot we do not discuss enough. Who is (fill-in-the-blank) heard by and resonating with? If the who list is the usual audience, where is there space for innovation and audience development?
Marizan graduated from the University of Southern Indiana with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism. She has worked in print and broadcast, and has developed her skills as a Spanish translator throughout the years. Her podcast, ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest?, was part of PRX’s Project Catapult. It’s produced out of WNIN.
Our discussion focuses on her work, knowing your audience, and public media’s potential for expansion. 👇🏽
What brought you to public media?
I started studying journalism and I came into the newspaper in college. I was not aware of public media at all. At that time, I actually was more aware of the mainstream kind of media.
Because of one of my friends in college, I became really passionate about NPR. Just having that relationship with somebody who already knew the type of content that NPR produced, and all of the shows that were part of it, and how, in different areas of the nation, you have a different perspective.
After that, I discovered an internship at a local NPR station in Indiana, and I decided to join them. They saw an opportunity, with me being bilingual, to bring in a new audience. They wanted to create a bilingual program. So, I started doing that very early on in my career, as an intern. I continued from there and it shaped where I am now.
What were the greatest challenges in that experience?
Not having a roadmap was one of them. It feels great when somebody goes before you and you can see what they're doing. Coming in, not being in an area where there's a huge Spanish-speaking population, or where there wasn't a lot of Spanish on air, creating bilingual content and seeing where it fit has been hard. We were trying to attract the audience but, with no experience coming in, this was a challenge. Then we relied on an assessment of the community. We started to understand what the community is talking about and what the organization is not talking about. Now, not only in the creation of the content, but also in the tone of our voice as a podcast, you can hear how our work has shifted. We’re focused on how we can serve them better.
What you said speaks to a challenge public media is struggling with: language. Do we do things in English? Or in Spanish? What did you find is the best approach?
Bilingual millennials are our target audience. These millennials speak both in English and Español and they don't have any problem going back and forth. So, I thought, ‘why should we change how we talk to each other if we’re trying to make the audience feel engaged?’ We're trying to make them feel at home in a way. So, why wouldn't I want you to relate to me in the way like I'm even speaking to you, and telling you the news or a story.
We had a lot of pushback, not only from more not-so-welcoming community members who didn't want to hear Spanish on air. But also GMs at stations who were asking, ‘well, why do we have to do Spanish on air? The population is not that big, so we don't think that it's necessary.’
One of the things that we did at the beginning was we talked to the community. We took time to not only think about what we wanted to create, but how; what platforms we were going to use; and also what was the community interested in. Were people speaking both English and Spanish at home? What was more comfortable for them?
We were able to stand our ground and, say ‘we decided to start with that and we're going to stick with that,’ and seeing how far we can take it and how we can mold it through time. If we have to change or shift something, we can do that, but we are going to continue being bilingual.
What were the ways that you addressed the resistance?
Whenever people would say, ‘well, why should we do this?’ I would say, ‘why not?’ And I would wait for them to give me an answer.
That was the first thing, which could’ve gotten me in trouble a couple of times. But knowing your facts is crucial. Do a lot of research on the audience that you're trying to reach, and own that. Those are things that they don't know. If they don't know that, they're not able to make an informed decision.
Know your numbers, know your facts, know the reason why you're doing this. If they hear conviction, it is going to be easier for them to join you in your work. Sound sure. And sound like you know that this is the thing you should be doing. Be sure about what you're talking about, with the information you have. Continue to do the legwork. When you hear somebody pushing back, don't get discouraged. That's going to happen with everything you do.
There's programming that I don't understand why it's being produced, but it is, so we all have some of that. And if it's not for them, then you shouldn't be worried about it. We thought about that, fearlessly. Like, my content is not for a middle-age white male, for example, who doesn't speak Spanish. That is not my target audience. So, I'm not going to speak about certain topics and I'm not going to speak a certain way. Even though I do take that into consideration, I'm going to tailor my content to my audience.
It’s a little bit challenging to get to that mentality. I have developed more conviction in what I'm doing and grew a thicker skin when it comes to content creation, through the years. Others saw that and believed our work could be beneficial to public media, especially because we have so many stations that are interested in reaching the Spanish speaking population.
What have you seen in the public media system that has given you optimism?
It's beautiful to see how stations are being pushed to pivot and change and create spaces for people of color, people of emerging communities, the LGBTQ+ community and many others. Those spaces are being created because we're being pushed to, and I'm glad about that. That gives me a lot of hope. As new or younger staff members are coming in and taking leadership roles, they are injecting new energy. That makes me feel that we're on the right track and we're going to start getting it right.
Are there initiatives at stations that you feel are most successful?
It's hard to measure success with so many different communities and stations – all with different resources. I am glad to see radio stations taking on new initiatives, like WhatsApp newsletters, to reach Spanish-speaking communities or emerging communities. I've seen that boom of wanting to create new content and new spaces. But they're in their starting stage still. Speaking about public media, something that has worked is, when you're creating content, think about making it online first instead of on air first.
This is a very young, very engaged audience online. And there's a huge opportunity.
That's the one thing we kept saying, that there's a big opportunity. This community I'm speaking to in Indiana has a lot of potential. And when you engage the community and create content for them, they become loyal listeners. After that, they become supporters. If you're trying to up your revenue and bring in extra dollars without having to do a radio drive for three or two weeks, think about how can we make money other ways, with the content that we are already creating.
Something I guess that comes to mind is, some of the radio stations that we're working with at America Amplified right now are hiring people who are Spanish speakers or who can translate the content that stations are already creating. Think of creating content specifically for this community, or tailor existing content to that community to bring them in and engage them that way. And start talking to them. What are they interested in? How can you create content for them?
If could go back to you who started along this path, what would you tell yourself?
Pay attention more. When I started, there was a lot of pushback. I was young, so I always thought of the pushback, but not as constructive criticism. If I would have stopped and listened, I could have thought more about it. ‘Is there anything I could be doing better?’ Learning how to kill my darlings right at the beginning would have saved me a lot of time, energy and tears. 🟢
La próxima (y más) ⌛
Next OIGO arrives Feb. 4. With 2022 in full swing (¡¡¡!!!), it’s time to talk Hispanic demographic trends. To serve an audience, it’s helpful to know what is happening with them. And the intricate lives, language questions and generational shifts are crucial for public media to discuss. I’ll explore the data with you. 📊
Thanks to those who came to this week's webinar on Spanish-language content and Latino/a/e/x audience. Timed with it, Gather released a case study on KQED's work on this topic. I'll do an OIGO sometime on efforts in the Bay Area.
Last OIGO’s examination of the KPCC One Nation Media Project drew a ton of feedback. “Interesting” was a word I heard often from current and former employees. It turns out people have been curious about the results as far as listenership is concerned. An outcome I didn’t address was the addition of talents that are still impacting public media. A part I’ve gotten positive feedback for is critiquing the top-down approach of the period. Thanks to you for sharing the conversation. I’m happy to hear your thoughts anytime. 💌
Cafecito: stories to discuss ☕
After skirmishes over diversity (see Grace Lee's OIGO convo), PBS unveiled commitments to filmmakers of color. Some deflection here (i.e. the system is decentralized and confusing) and not enough taking ownership, but let's see where it goes. 🤔
More for the NPR-hosts-leaving thread. 🚗 Simon Owens asks if we’re in an era where journalists are finally being paid what they’re worth. He points out top names with personal followings have huge value. Media organizations that recognize it are willing to pay more. The possible downside? Disparities that drive down the salaries of younger, inexperienced journalists.
Telemundo this month announced the launch on Peacock of Tplus. The service is open-ended so far, but English-language content is expected to be part of the mix. 📺
There has been much coverage about disinformation impacting Latino/a/e/x communities. Graciela Mochkofsky reminds us to watch for stereotypes, too. "The problem with narratives about Latinx gullibility is that they tend to conclude that an 'external' intervention is needed to rescue these communities," she writes. 📲
KVON in California’s Napa Valley flipped formats from sports talk to Spanish hits. Such a change is not unusual, but the backstory is. 📻 The owners say wildfires swept the region in 2017. It pivoted to providing emergency information in English and Spanish. Then, KVON switched format, and today centers community engagement in its mission.
The Objective hosted an insightful conversation with Francisco Vara-Orta, the first director of diversity and inclusion for Investigative Reporters and Editors. Among the takeaways are challenges of serving communities when metrics are not there. “I don’t think it’s the only way to measure sustainable progress if you don’t have great data to start with,” he says. “Especially around identity, people do not always want to disclose their background. That can make it hard to know how to tailor the programming.” 📂
El radar: try this 📡
Analyze how Latino lawmakers shift policy. ⚖️ Iowa Public Radio’s Kassidy Arena (profiled in December 10’s OIGO) covers a small town that elected a majority Latino city council. West Liberty’s population is 4,000. With a majority minority tilt, it also contradicts the homogeneity stereotype. The moves so far are aimed at inclusion. Such reporting may nudge other stations to look at leadership in rural electoral politics.
See how others are doing Spanish-language news. 📰 New Hampshire Public Radio and the Granite State News Collaborative posted the first update from ¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire? in many months. The Spanish-language news initiative launched in 2020. Along with the five-minute news program, audiences can subscribe to a WhatsApp newsletter.
Collaborate with Spanish-language news locally. 🔁 WBUR and Boston's El Planeta did a pop-up newsletter in 2020. The partnership did not end there. Their alliance has morphed into regular translations of stories WBUR produces. Check out the latest here. Fresh copy is up now.
Look into school board representation. 🍎 More Latino/a/e/x students are in public schools than ever before. So why are there so few Hispanic school board leaders? Education Week just conducted a survey of 1,500 school board members. Over 85 percent say their boards have no Latino/a/e/x members. Why does that matter? “Advocates and board members alike believe Latino representation on school boards is necessary to ensure that Latino students’ educational needs are met and their voices are heard when decisions are made over everything from who gets hired to teach in a district to how funding is allocated,” Ileana Najarro writes.
Seek out independent student journalism near you. 🖊️ University student activities are intended to develop professional and leadership experience. Student media is among them. Yet, editorial independence has been a tension for years. At Hofstra University, there is a college radio station and student newspaper. Students have opted to create a separate nonprofit media group. Today the Hofstra Clocktower is covering race, diversity and related subjects. What’s happening on campuses near you?
To quote the amazing Maritza L. Félix, “te mando un apapacho.” Thank you for reading!