At The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Dissection G in Miami, representatives from CIR, Univision, Fusion, The Center for Public Integrity, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Naples Daily News, CBS4 Miami, as well as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, took a day to share learnings and challenges associated with bilingual community engagement. Over the course of seven hours, the conversation, vacillating from English to Spanish and back again, touched upon bilingual journalism, Spanish speakers as an audience, and the challenges and opportunities of producing content in our current multiplatform moment.

From the rich conversation, a few common threads were carried throughout:

  1. We need to pull apart notions like Spanish speakers, Hispanics, Latinos and bilingual audiences. We should work to identify specific communities with particular needs, desires and media-consumption habits. Only then can we appropriately engage with these communities. The Hispanic community is not monolithic.
  2. Bilingual journalism – especially for broadcast – can fall flat. It is difficult to get compelling audio and video in more than one language. In the words of Alice Brennan, investigative producer at Fusion, “You can’t do an interview in English, and then say, OK, now can you cry for me again in Spanish, please?”
  3. Stories in Spanish might be different from stories in English. The narrative arc, the characters featured and the voices elevated might change if an investigation or story is reported in Spanish first. And that’s a good thing.
  4. Change can happen by highlighting the voices of individuals working together on the ground, not only by focusing on corporations and government. Community activist Cruz Salucio of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers emphasized that media attention to corporations violating agricultural workers’ rights and the lack of enforcement of these rights by government actors did not lead to change. Instead, by using the media to bring attention to the workers and show their perspective, corporations have come around and are adhering to the Fair Food Program.
  5. Collaboration is key. Bilingual reporting is resource intensive, and collaborations can help defray costs. Collaborations also can help reach more diverse audiences in an organic manner (see No. 1).
  6. There is a stunning lack of investigative reporting available in Spanish – often, this content is translated from English-language sources. More needs to be done.
  7. It’s too late to be having this conversation, but it’s good we’re having it.

Lindsay Green-Barber

Green-Barber is the director of strategic research at The Center for Investigative reporting. She works to identify, assess and rigorously test areas of programmatic work where CIR can have catalytic impact through its content distribution and engagement. She leads research and analysis and serves as an expert both internally and for external partnerships.
Previously, Green-Barber was an American Council for Learned Societies public fellow and served as media impact analyst at CIR. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York Graduate Center. Her doctoral research, conducted from 2011 through 2013 in Ecuador, focused on indigenous organizations’ use of new information and communications technologies for social mobilization. She also taught political science courses at Hunter College.