That time we changed the sound
Ten years later, what did public media learn about Hispanic audiences from the KPCC experiment?
A decade ago, L.A. public media's KPCC established new audience outreach. Attracting Latino/a/e/x listeners was a cornerstone of this campaign. Is it time to revisit the experience? It might be helpful for those invested in Hispanic audience growth now.
In late 2011, KPCC received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That $1.8 million launched KPCC's One Nation Media Project. Its goal was to provide journalism of special interest to English-speaking Hispanics.
Let's look at three parts of this project:
The mechanics: what was actually done
The mechanics 🔧
The 2015 Brown Paper by the defunct Latino Public Radio Consortium presents the work. Prominent in the paper are several matters undertaken by KPCC:
Retooling programming elements
Implementing a more conversational style
Strategic hires in various areas
Organizing events aimed at Hispanic community organizations and businesses
“KPCC was willing to take a risk in sounding ‘different’" the paper says. "They experimented with adopting best practices from commercial radio to the public radio sound.”
Current was among those promoting the project.
Change management ♟️
Not easy. Directors and staff left. KPCC workers voted to unionize. The most famous departure was Madeline Brand, the station’s biggest name at the time. The LA Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine offered up the more salacious details. Ex-station head Bill Davis, who was tapped in December to run the Station Resource Group, expressed regret in the handling of the Brand situation.
Moreover, a subtext goes unwritten in the public media record: power. As the LA Weekly asks in the above piece: “For KPCC, the question is not whether changing its programming to appeal to an ethnically diverse audience is a good idea… The question is whether three older white guys — Bill Davis, Russ Stanton and Craig Curtis — are the right people to decide what Southern California diversity should sound like.“
This never seemed to be addressed in a transparent way. Curtis was out a year after this piece. Stanton was out a few months after Curtis.
The English-language strategy seemed posited on a big-picture idea of inclusion. Paraphrased: communities of color want an invitation to the party, not a separate party.
In today's parlance, it feels presumptuous to suggest that what people who rely on Spanish really want is to be invited to media that uses virtually no Spanish. Or that something as superficial as banter builds trust with said people. A more contemporary question is, “are we assuming the audience wants to be at our party in the first place?”
Also, implicit to the positioning is an either/or of language. The Brown Paper explores the decision to focus on English, but doesn't get into details of the why. The idea to do content in both languages never appears to enter the strategy. Such may be an artifact of the period, too.
This isn’t to say English-only content is not a viable approach. It has been tried a lot, however, and seldom do we talk about why it’s not hit.
So, did it work? 🤔
Good question. According to the Brown Paper, KPCC's strategy leaned on adopting commercial radio norms. Explicit efforts to challenge public radio's sound should give credit elsewhere. Namely, Chenjerai Kumanyika, who wrote the influential "public radio voice" essay in 2015. Still, KPCC's effort could be seen as affecting other stations.
The New York Times in 2014 wrote, “KPCC’s Latino audience has… jumped in the last two years, to a six-month average of nearly 20 percent, Nielsen data shows.” This article has been quoted to me a few times. However, days after that piece ran, Nielsen acknowledged flawed data in L.A.
What about the arc of listenership? You can watch a few years of KPCC’s trajectory since the grant at Ken Mills’ old blog. Today, KPCC floats in the lower end of Top 20 stations in its market. Around half a dozen Spanish-language outlets outperform it consistently. Radio Online lists station rankings for the area.
I like KPCC. The spirit of my comments is to assess service to the Latino/a/e/x community. I also want to take a longer look at public media's Hispanic engagement.
Some ways up ☝🏼
Hispanic engagement strategies by nonprofits have accelerated over the years. The KPCC experience and wider nonprofit endeavors may help us craft approaches.
Need an interesting reference? Try the Latino Network of the American Alliance of Museums’ Strategies for Engaging and Representing Latinos in Museums. As the title suggests, it’s about museums and diverse engagement. What they don’t tell you is public media can learn a lot from museums.
First, two gentle reminders about knowing your community:
Identify existing Latino demographic, geographic and historical data
Understand to what degree Spanish–or other languages–are spoken in the community
These points sound obvious, but the data is crucial. Also, the document offers several guiding questions. I’ll reframe them for public media:
To what extent are Latino audiences explicitly considered and invited to participate in the development of events, programming, engagement, education activities and marketing materials?
Who in your organization is working on Latino engagement? Does this responsibility fall on one department or functional area, or on several areas? To what extent are experiences and results shared with other departments or staff?
To what extent is leadership involved in Latino engagement? Is this work a “special” project or is it embedded in the organization’s work and mission?
Does your organization have an engagement plan for Latinos? How does it fit into the institution’s strategic priorities?
Does the organization have funds to engage Latino audiences? If not, are there fundraising opportunities to make Latino engagement and collaboration an institutional priority?
Does the organization have Latino staff, board members or executive leaders who can influence and shape narratives, strategic priorities, and the ability to hire and raise funds?
I'd be curious how your public media organization would answer any of these questions. 🟢
La próxima (y más) ⌛
The next OIGO is in your inbox Jan. 21. Paola Marizán join us. Paola is a rising star in public media. Her brilliant ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? podcast has won awards and attention. Now, she's project manager for America Amplified, an initiative that expands community engagement. You'll love Paola's smart takes on inclusion in public media and what it means to speak to new audiences.
I’m participating in a Local That Works webinar Jan. 18 with an excellent panel. We’ll be talking about engaging Latino/a/e/x audiences. You are invited to attend. Registration is here.
Cafecito: stories to discuss ☕
The latest defections from NPR are creating conversation about diversity. I have no doubt there is disaffection in public media. Also, I appreciate Isabel Lara's view on companies doubling down on audio and poaching talent. To be continued...
The Austin American Statesman has a fun profile of Roger Mendez, known by his online persona El Chivo, and his use of Facebook Live to address Spanish-speaking audiences locally. The former radio host now uses social media to support Latino/a/e/x families and businesses in Texas.
I touched on the movement against Latinx a few newsletters ago. El mero mero Russell Contreras covers the latest. Class divides and perceptions that the term appeals only to rich white liberals should be on your station's radar.
Spokane’s new all-Spanish radio station has put forward an interesting model. It is making room for syndicated programming, local nonprofits and regional Mexican music on the same channel. Reportedly commercial, it is also offering free time on the schedule. Can it work?
Fusion TV shut down this month. It launched in 2013. The Univision subsidiary targeted English-speaking millennial Hispanics with news, commentary and comedy.
Over the holidays, ethnic media sought to block an FCC requirement to disclose foreign government-sponsored programming. The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and National Association of Broadcasters argue the Commission’s mandate violates the First Amendment. Let the speculation on the backstory begin! Details are at Radio World.
El radar: try this 📡
Talk with media serving communities of color. WILL did just that. Producers hosted a wide-ranging discussion on community information issues. Black and Latino/a/e/x publishers also conveyed their challenges and needs.
Investigate how changes in immigration law are affecting locals. KQED’s Tyche Hendricks has authored two must-read pieces that should get public media asking residents more about their experiences. She chronicles the life of Rosa Diaz, who was nearly deported, and a difficult system that no one explains and can kick you out at a moment’s notice. Hendricks also examines the situation facing asylum seekers under rules put in place by President Biden last year. I hope more stations inquire further.
Ask if urban planning in your city is leaving out Spanish speakers. StreetsBlog Chicago asks about the Chicago Department of Transportation’s efforts to engage Spanish speakers. “[I]t is obvious that the difficulty of translating urban planning terminology extends beyond providing information and resources in Spanish,” writes Ruth Rosas. “The content presented is inaccessible even to English speakers. Often, CDOT planners and engineers use unfamiliar words and phrases such as curb bump-out, chicane, refuge island, road diet, and so on. Semi-ambiguous or unclear words like livable, improvement, equitable are thrown in.” How does your city discuss bike lanes, transportation and quality-of-life measures with Spanish-language communities?
See who’s targeting families of the missing. People migrating to the U.S. by illegal means disappear along the dangerous path. Some are kidnapped. Families struggle for answers, and scammers are out there to prey on them. Telemundo published painful accounts of families ripped off by criminals. What's happening in your city?
Thank you for your attention and support!