At a time when Latino representation in media is still lacking and the power of Latino outlets owned by Latinos barely even registers, it was exciting to hear in early June that two Latinas with ties to former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised $80 million to form a new national network of radio stations. The Latino Media Network, as it's called, is acquiring 18 existing radio stations.
One such network is a popular conservative Miami station, which explains why my excitement was not shared by the likes of Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio, who voiced his concern for the threat of "left wing operatives" infiltrating the airwaves of a powerful bloc of his own voters.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis echoed that sentiment when he shared a campaign statement with Fox News that described the move as a "pro-socialism, radical agenda."
For the past 11 years, while growing my own digital outlet to the point where it now has a presence on Capitol Hill, I have seen Latino media startups come and go. So what network founders Stephanie Valencia and Jess Morales Rocketto have done in forming the Latino Media Network is critically important, especially if media makers are serious about tapping into the power of a U.S. Latino population that is linguistically, politically and culturally diverse.
Changing the Direction of Spanish-language RadioJune 8, 202207:22
There is speculation however, mostly fueled by conservative Latinos, that because Valencia worked in the Obama administration and Morales Rocketto worked on Clinton’s and Obama’s presidential campaigns, their radio network will be a Latino mouthpiece of the Democratic Party.
Those critics are especially concerned because one of the radio stations the Latino Media Network is acquiring is Miami’s Radio Mambí, which prioritizes topics including Cuba and favors former President Donald Trump. The station, which its critics accuse of “pushing right-wing and sometimes racist disinformation,” has been a darling of the Latino right for years. Now that it’s owned by a pair who favor Democratic causes, conservatives fear the station will be the darling of the Latino left.
Valencia insists that won’t happen. “We will not change the spirit of Mambí, which has served the Cuban community for decades,” she said in a Wednesday interview. “The idea of a free Cuba will remain a flagship issue for the station. That said, we believe in journalistic integrity, a balance of points of view and journalism based on verifiable facts.”
There is no question that Latino Democrats have been raising the problem of disinformation with Latino voters, or that Miami radio stations are among the worst offenders. Despite Valencia’s promise of “journalistic integrity” and balancing viewpoints, there’s the risk of oversimplifying the situation by fighting Republican hyperpartisanship with Democratic hyperpartisanship. Only time will tell.
That said, the company’s advisers include prominent award-winning journalist Maria Elena Salinas (one of the most accomplished Latina journalists of her generation) and prominent Latino Republican Al Cardenas. These might be the advisers who can make sure the network treads lightly politically.
Critics are especially concerned because one of the radio stations the Latino Media Network is acquiring is Miami’s Radio Mambí, which prioritizes topics including Cuba and favors former President Donald Trump.
Calling the new project “Radio Soros,” per one critic, might make for a nice soundbite; and George Soros, the philanthropist who is known to fund Democratic and progressives causes and is often a target of the right, is reportedly associated with an LLC that has invested in the network. But, as Valencia said Wednesday, he “is merely one of the investors that has lent the money at market rates and who, like our other investors, has no influence on the editorial line of any of our stations.”
As someone who now leads a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit media company, I can report that such a funding firewall is real. No funder or donor or investor should expect to get to tell journalists what we can cover. The pressure on LMN will be the pressure to succeed. The question remains whether it can succeed and, if so, how it will: as an outlet for just Democratic voices or as a network where the conversation will include everyone in the community?
Spanish language disinformation in the Latino communityNov. 13, 202106:38
“One of the driving forces behind this project was the desire to bridge the gap in Latino media ownership and representation in the U.S. by keeping these Spanish-language radio stations in Hispanic hands, run by people from the community and for the community,” Valencia said.
Such a historic announcement from two prominent Latina Democrats has caused political ripples that are rarely seen. It’s no wonder Valencia and Morales Rocketto are already feeling the heat from conservative Latinos who have rarely been challenged — as well as conservative lawmakers like DeSantis and Rubio who depend on their support.
Perhaps the kind of disruption Valencia and Morales Rocketto are providing is exactly the kind of disruption the market needs.