Spanish content as a commitment
Natalie Van Hoozer explores bilingual journalism's opportunities and challenges
For this substantive interview, OIGO images and sections will be limited for email provider restrictions.
Translating content to Spanish and creating original journalism in Spanish have been ongoing projects in public media. Once either is created, how do you reach the intended audience? This OIGO, let’s talk to one of our industry’s most respected names in this area.
Natalie Van Hoozer is an independent journalist and translator based in Reno, Nevada. She works as a contributing bilingual reporter and the community engagement coordinator for KUNR Public Radio, the NPR member station for Northern Nevada and Eastern California. She is also the partnerships and community engagement strategist for Factchequeado, a fact-checking initiative to combat mis- and disinformation in Spanish in the United States.
As the U.S. representative for SembraMedia, a media nonprofit, she creates a community for independent, digital, Spanish-language media organizations across the country. Previously, Natalie was an Online News Association MJ Bear Fellow and a Solutions Journalism Network LEDE Fellow, as well as a program assistant at the International Center for Journalists, where she worked on Latin American initiatives. She is an alum of the Fulbright program in Argentina. ⬇️
What got you to where you are in public media?
Most of my public media story is tied to bilingual Spanish/English journalism, which is something that I love. I started in journalism when I was in the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada here in Reno, Nevada, where I'm based. As part of that, there was a student newsroom that had just launched, called Noticiero Móvil, when I was a sophomore in college. I got started with that right when it launched and was part of it for covering the 2016 elections. And then that work took me into some of my interning with KUNR Public Radio, because KUNR has such a meaningful relationship with interns from the Reynolds School. That's how I got started.
First, I did a business beat internship at KUNR. I started working in Spanish during that time, featuring Latina entrepreneurs here in Reno. From there, I went into internships with KUNR specifically focused on bilingual reporting. So, for years now, I've been in the NPR member station world, experimenting with how to do English and Spanish bilingual reporting and production. Now, I am a contributing bilingual reporter for KUNR and am the station’s community engagement coordinator.
What has been the thinking at KUNR around translations, and the strategy for it?
One thing we've learned is how to conceptualize what we want to translate, and what we want to report with a bilingual production process in mind from the outset. And also, is there anything we want to report in Spanish first?
For stations and people wanting to report in both Spanish and English, I encourage them to think about how they want to approach these different strategies for bilingual reporting, having a clear end goal in mind. If the goal is to get more content out to the public in Spanish, you need to think about if translation is the best way to meet those needs.
Initially, we were producing stories in English first, and translating those to Spanish, but with bilingual production in mind from the beginning. We'd look to get interviews in Spanish as part of that process, as opposed to translating everything. I really think that is an important thing to think about: how to make some component of the story originally reported in Spanish, or at least bilingual. There's a lot of rich, multilingual, multicultural content that can get lost in the production mix if you're only thinking about translation from English to Spanish.
Since this effort first got started – and I love the way you lay this out, thinking about who the content's for and the goals – how has that evolved?
When KUNR’s bilingual reporting efforts started, it was an initiative working with bilingual student interns from Noticiero Móvil at the Reynolds School. We really weren't thinking about it being a daily or even a weekly newscast. The goal was to get meaningful, feature-length stories out to the community in Spanish that reflect our local Latino community. Since then, our efforts have grown.
I came back to KUNR at the beginning of the pandemic, after my Fulbright to Argentina was canceled a few days after arriving in the country, because of the pandemic. When I arrived back in Reno during the early days of COVID, my colleagues at KUNR and I were looking at how to get information out more quickly to our Spanish-speaking community. We sought to produce more timely stories that needed to get out on a daily or weekly basis. When looking at the content and the length of our Spanish-language reporting, we've experimented with how to create stories that aren’t necessarily feature length, but still keep that narrative component.
Was there a particular set of stories within journalism that you started with initially, and has that changed?
A lot of the stories at the outset of the KUNR and Noticiero Móvil partnership, in 2017 and 2018, had to do with arts, culture, and immigration. Those were areas that we pinpointed where our bilingual work could strengthen coverage.
With the pandemic, we got into more public health and vaccine information. We even started doing Facebook Live streams. I hosted Q&A events, where we would collect people's questions ahead of time through a Hearken form, and then address those questions, as well as others that came up, live in Spanish on the Facebook stream. We covered topics like going back to school during COVID, voting processes and voting questions, resources for small businesses, and COVID vaccines. We've tried to expand what we offer to provide our community with resources and answer questions with content created as explainers as well.
How have you been listening to the community to inform the kind of journalism you're doing?
That's another point that I really love to talk about: how to build community engagement into bilingual content. The community should be part of your listening process from the beginning. I’ve seen first hand how building community engagement into the bilingual reporting process helps to create a more sustainable relationship with the community as well.
During the height of the pandemic, we were doing those Facebook Lives, with support from the Facebook Journalism Project and America Amplified. As far as in-person engagement, we do make an effort to table at community events, and recruit participants for conversation programs. We were involved in StoryCorps’ One Small Step program last year, doing that in both English and Spanish.
In addition to participation in community events building brand awareness, we like to give people an opportunity to participate in the content that we're creating – whether that's as part of a conversation program or subscribing for the WhatsApp newsletter in Spanish that we’re piloting, called Tu Voz. Events are a great spot to let people sign up for the WhatsApp newsletter, and show it to them, as well as let them know they can send us questions via WhatsApp. Really enforcing that interaction with the community is what we try to do with those in-person events.
Something that I want to do more of is an information needs assessment. I know El Tímpano in Oakland is one of my favorite examples of how to do that community listening and analysis before you start to offer content.
Have there been any particular difficulties that you faced?
As far as challenges, sustainability is something we are continually working on. It's not easy, because we constantly need to evaluate what resources we have to work with to make bilingual reporting and production sustainable for the reporters, and develop a sustainable relationship with the community. The last thing we'd want to do is launch something, build community trust, and then not be able to offer that service anymore. A great resource for us in this regard has been collaboration with other media partners, especially Noticiero Móvil. We also work regularly with the Nevada Independent en español.
Another challenge is providing the necessary resources for reporters to work in both English and Spanish, including translation and editing support in Spanish. If you're like me, I learned Spanish as a second language, and I work in it all the time. However, I do need that second set of eyes on my work in Spanish, just like any reporter would want for their work in any language.
Thinking through how production and editing support can be there for reporters as much in Spanish as it is in English is critical. Something we've worked on at KUNR over the course of several years is that we now have more staff members who are bilingual. This means we're now getting to put into practice a really powerful technique I've seen with bilingual initiatives: If you have two highly bilingual reporters, where one is Spanish dominant and the other is English dominant, they can support each other and double check each other. We're trying to put this strategy into play now to address some of those sustainability and production challenges.
In terms of the relationship with the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR, how does that particular workflow go?
When I was a student from 2016-2018, I had the opportunity to apply for an internship with KUNR that was funded by the Reynolds School of Journalism. It was a paid position, and I received dual editing support, input on the English story from Michelle Billman, the news director at KUNR, and Spanish story editing from the editor at Noticiero Móvil. I know the Reynolds School is always looking for more students interested in working bilingually in both Spanish and English.
Are there any other challenges that you've had to deal with?
Another thing we've also thought through is how to plan funding for bilingual initiatives. For my work at KUNR, some of that funding has come from specific, grant-funded projects. When that’s the case, the challenges come with trying to provide consistency with the content we offer, so our work isn’t just intense for one project, and then stops with the end of the grant. Thinking through funding sustainability is important to consider for any project, especially so for bilingual initiatives.
What advice would you have for funders when they're considering support for these kinds of initiatives?
We've made sure to communicate internally on our team, between management and reporters, and then externally with funders that this bilingual reporting and engagement work is a time investment. We're in it for the long haul. We really want to be thoughtful and realistic about the deliverables we agree to, about how much we promise to do in a certain amount of time, because we need time to continue building that community trust. Time is also needed to figure out our bilingual workflow and make sure we have enough people involved in the work. We try to make sure that we're intentional with the time that we give ourselves, for both production and for building those community connections, and it's key that the time commitment is understood by funders as well.
What has been the most effective means that you've seen for building community trust?
Having a dual digital and in-person approach is really key. In-person initiatives can create fabulous connections that we can't get in the digital world. However, when we offered Facebook Live events, I saw how the space we created was accessible to people in a way that in-person events are not. Streaming to a social media platform allowed people to tune in, maybe when they're driving home from work, or fixing dinner for their kids. And if we had evening events or midday events only in person, we wouldn't be able to reach those people. The usefulness and the impact of digital engagement is something I like to keep in mind.
Consistency is also something that I want to keep working on, in terms of what we offer. With Tu Voz, our Spanish-language WhatsApp newsletter, we want to provide content on a consistent basis, so people know when to expect it. This helps with building trust. It also gives community members a space to get to know you where you're not asking for an interview or other kind of transaction. Having a place for that brand awareness can be really beneficial, a space where people aren't being asked to do something for you, but just get to know you.
To your point about consistency, having that stream of content creates that habit that builds on that trust. Any tips for creating habits for audiences?
I want to recognize that providing content consistently is something that we are always working on, especially with our Spanish language or bilingual offerings. Unfortunately, it does fluctuate based on staff size and who is able to edit content in Spanish. Keeping these things in mind, we’re always thinking about how to create content that may not be our full concept, but is a stepping stone in the right direction. For example, in the future, I'd love to see us provide a daily newscast in Spanish that we offer on WhatsApp. For now, I’ve started with a monthly news roundup on WhatsApp, of news in Spanish from across the state and the country, featuring content from organizations outside of KUNR, in addition to what we are able to create in-house.
This is a great entry point to talk about SembraMedia and some of the work to shore up leadership and vision.
To give an overview, SembraMedia is a nonprofit that supports media entrepreneurs, predominantly in Spanish, across the globe.
We know that journalists don't necessarily have business training that will help them keep their independent media project sustainable in the long term and avoid burnout. Our concept is that we provide that business training to journalists through our online school, through grants, mentorship programs, and other endeavors. As SembraMedia’s ambassador in the U.S., I run our directory for Spanish-language independent digital media in the U.S., which also includes Spanish/English bilingual outlets.
I am constantly working to build a sense of community among these Spanish-language independent, digital media across the U.S., so we can provide support to each other that outlets and journalists might not be getting elsewhere.
I would suspect quite a few of these independent outlets would love to collaborate with a public media organization or any other journalism outfit.
Yes, exactly. The media organizations in the U.S. SembraMedia Directory are always looking for ways to collaborate both locally and on a more national level with other outlets. If anyone is interested in learning more about the independent, Spanish-language media organizations that I work with, please let me know!
Where do you see the biggest needs for these independent organizations?
A lot of the needs these organizations have come down to business training – how to handle advertising or potentially navigate something like creating a branded content agency so that you can support your journalism with other initiatives in your skillset. One thing we really try to emphasize for media organizations at SembraMedia is to have multiple sources of revenue and have other skills that you can monetize to fund your work. We also educate media entrepreneurs to look at all the different ways they can monetize the content they produce.
Speaking of content, I want to talk a little bit about Factchequeado and some of the work that you've been doing there. It feels transformative.
Yes! Factchequeado is an initiative launched by Chequeado, which is a Spanish-language fact-checking organization out of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Maldita.es, another fact-checking organization in Spain. The two organizations came together because they detected how much disinformation was going around in the U.S. in Spanish, and there wasn't an organization fact-checking Spanish language disinformation here like they do in their respective countries.
At Factchequeado, we produce verified fact-checks and explainers. We are also building a community of media partners across the country that we then share that content with. Those media partners then have more verified content in Spanish to share with their communities. We also invite our media partners to weekly meetings, where we have them share feedback with us, especially about the disinformation they're seeing in their communities. We also discuss how the content that we're producing is working for our partners, if it’s useful. And we modify what we do going forward, what content we create, based on what we hear from our media partners.
For those who may not know, can you give a brief summation of what we're talking about with disinformation and misinformation in Spanish-language media, social media channels or other avenues?
Overall, Spanish-language information that's going around, especially on social media, is not fact-checked nearly as much as content in English on social media. That's one uphill battle that organizations like Factchequeado are working on. We want to produce and share correct information, through fact-checks and explainers that debunk misinformation in Spanish, so correct information is circulating to combat the disinformation. We use that approach on both social media and on our website. Take WhatsApp for example - it's very easy to share a message, even though you don’t know who the author is, or where it came from, because the message was forwarded to you.
We provide training to newsrooms and community members, to give people the tools to identify mis- and disinformation. We also encourage them to think about how the information that they share can impact everyone else, and to make sure that information is true before they share it. If you don't know those things, it's better to not share that information. Send that information along to us at Factchequeado so we can fact-check it. We are trying to help Spanish speakers in the U.S. build their thought processes related to how to identify and handle questionable information when they receive it.
That's an interesting approach – ask people to take a pause and think about the impact.
We have a chatbot on WhatsApp where people can forward information that you find suspicious. You can send our Factchequeado account a message like any other account on WhatsApp. We will fact-check that information and get back to you on it, all within WhatsApp, which is a platform people are already using. And we’re always looking for more media partners to work with us to combat mis- and disinformation in Spanish! If you are interested in learning more, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And finally, how can public media think about bilingual content?
When thinking about creating bilingual content for U.S. public media, I think it’s important to think about how to help reporters have access to professional translators and interpreters, or at least help the reporters receive training on what is needed for translation and interpretation. I love to remind my public media colleagues that translation and interpretation are professions in and of themselves. As journalists, we have a lot to learn from professional interpreters and translators, and having the opportunity to work alongside them can be really beneficial for bilingual reporters.
Sometimes there's an overreliance on apps or asking staff to do extra work.
Exactly. So my point is to value professional interpreters and translators. If reporters are being asked to do that translation and interpretation work, it should be valued with additional compensation and time. In public media overall, I would like to see more of this compensation, as well as training provided to bilingual reporters related to translation and interpretation. The translation and interpretation processes aren’t just a matter of language, but one of communicating across cultures. Providing bilingual reporters with access to professional translators and interpreters, as well as training, allows them to do their best work and communicate authentically with a variety of audiences. 🟢
La próxima ⌛
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