How LATINEXT will address the news needs of Chicagoland’s Latinx community

Hoy’s closure highlights the urgency for a new, responsive and sustainable model for high quality Spanish language journalism to address the vast and growing news deserts outside of city limits.

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Photo illustration by Olivia Obineme

For almost 20 years, we have been chronicling the death of the news industry. We blamed the economy, Craigslist, corporate consolidation and social media. Rarely did many journalists take responsibility for any of it — not for a lack of imagination or tepid efforts to adapt to a changing society and consumer habits. It was easier to point fingers than try to build for what’s next. 

The last few weeks have highlighted the urgency with which we must now act. The mega merger of Gatehouse and Gannett and Alden Global Capital’s purchase of a controlling stake in Tribune Publishing overshadowed the news that Hoy, once the nation’s largest circulation daily Spanish-language newspaper and a Tribune property, will close next month.

The end of Hoy has hit me especially hard. As a first generation American who grew up around Spanish-language print and television, Hoy represented a special kind of public service journalism. It’s the place I got my start as an editor about a decade ago. At 29, I was given the tremendous opportunity and terrifying responsibility of leading a dynamic team there, growing the staff and print distribution, investing in multimedia producers and partnerships, launching a nightly newscast, and earning the publication its first and only Investigative Reporters and Editors award. That team taught me many valuable lessons and forgave me many more rookie manager mistakes.

Hoy’s presence — daily and in those blue honor boxes — was a reminder of the large and regional Latinx community. Its existence meant that for at least one immigrant family, we could go from enduring abject poverty abroad to one of the most important jobs in Chicago journalism in one generation. 

But the publication suffered from acute disinvestment almost from the day it was born in 2003 out of Éxito, a beautiful, community-centered weekly tabloid that was folded to accommodate Tribune’s ambitions to establish a “USA Today en español.” 

I left in 2014 because I couldn’t pivot Hoy hard enough to avoid this fate and knew I would need more skills and experience to take Spanish-language journalism in Chicago to the next level. After serving as an investigative editor at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and then managing editor of digital at The San Francisco Chronicle, I came back to the city last year to captain The Chicago Reporter as one of just a handful of Latinx publishers in the country. Many of the innovations I have touched were influenced by my experience and time at Hoy. 

Now with its departure, the ball is in our court.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked whether I think Chicago will cease to be a “two newspaper town” but I never tire of telling people it never was. Chicago has always been a fantastic news town — teeming with newspapers — and today it is a vibrant laboratory of what our society will increasingly depend on as legacy news organizations struggle to survive. In fact, The Chicago Reader announced last week they were going nonprofit, following a similar shift by The Salt Lake Tribune

Things will get better. I know this because we’re working on a big part of it right now. We’ve actually been building it almost since the day I returned to Chicago. 

One of the first people to welcome me back was Teri Arvesu, Univision Chicago’s Head of Content, who was a partner on a Reveal investigation into the temp industry. Together with Stephen Keppel, VP Social Impact at Univision & Executive Director of Univision Foundation, we created LATINEXT, a hybrid, multiplatform news team focused on the needs of the 2.1 million Latinx people living in and around Chicago. 

We’re done waiting for anyone else to step up and “solve” this problem for many reasons. Chicago still has too many Latinx journalists to put into this world. Vast and growing news deserts stretch from the city’s limits to the state’s borders, with dwindling if any news coverage for burgeoning immigrant communities. There are too many information needs all over our region that can no longer be ignored. We need to reframe our relationship as a community, one in which we work together to understand our most pressing issues. 

To do this, we need to put the service back in public service journalism. And LATINEXT will be that: Journalism as a service

That’s why we’re starting with WhatsApp. We obviously can’t do this alone. And won’t — if we’re not serving you. So we need to hear from you directly as we re-engineer our organization. 

Over the next few months, we will be actively engaging with anyone who wants to help us shape the future of media we want to see in our communities. We have learned a lot from our friends at other local media nonprofits and will partner with them to redesign a more supportive and responsive news organization. We will do it by phone, email and in person. And we will come to you.  

We have an opportunity to shape the future of Latinx media and we can’t let it get away. It’s not up to Tribune Publishing to ensure that we have a responsive and sustainable public service model for regional media for, by and about the Latinx community. It’s up to us. 

Here’s what’s coming in the next few months and how you can help:

Building capacity across the region

This project will focus on highlighting Chicago’s rising Latinx voices, in Spanish and English, while reporting on and engaging with our growing and changing communities. Our initial focus will be on Aurora, Elgin, Berwyn, Joliet, Waukegan and other communities that are far outside the typical coverage zones of mainstream media and the new ports of entry for immigrants. This focus also positions us to better cover the region’s changing demographics and the suburbanization of poverty, which will be core to fulfilling the Reporter’s mission. If you live in any of these communities and want to help, let us know. 

Modern news for modern people

LATINEXT will produce a level of journalism that currently does not exist, and do it for one of the most vulnerable and underserved audiences in our region. It will also help equip and train a new generation of journalist that blends enterprise and deep investigative journalism with cross-platform publishing techniques. Our initial focus is on mobile engagement but we want to accommodate as many platforms as possible. Tell us how you prefer to get your news.

Engagement, the old fashioned way

We will be present in each of these communities through at least three events in 2020, which will create spaces to connect, share content and discuss ideas. We don’t yet know where we’ll have our first event, but if you want us to consider your community, tell us why. 

Hybrid organizational structure

The project will be managed by Teri Arvesu, me and an editor who will serve as project manager for the team and our partners. We are encouraged by the support we have received so far — more to come on that front soon — and will be recruiting and training bilingual journalists as we secure funding. The LATINEXT team will all be employees of The Chicago Reporter.

Focus on sustainability

We are very focused on establishing a diversified revenue strategy that includes sponsorship, advertising, grants and community support to design a more sustainable funding structure. Our unique combination of reach and record of impact is complemented by the blending of our for-profit and nonprofit business models. We believe there is a rich enough combination of funding to support a nimble team of this size and structure.

How you can get involved

You can support us now by providing feedback, subscribing via WhatsApp, staying up to date via email, following us on Facebook and Twitter and by donating specifically to LATINEXT. All contributions made to LATINEXT between now and Dec. 31 are currently being doubled by NewsMatch! 

I hope this gives you some hope. We are committed to ensuring that we have a more equitable media ecosystem. Help us make it happen.