Latino Kansans work to fill Spanish-speaking news media and information gap

Claudia Amaro started Planeta Venus in 2015 on a local Wichita radio station before moving online last year. This was Amaro's second venture into news media after a newspaper she and her husband launched in 2004. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — While living in Wichita, Claudia Amaro has twice jumped in to remedy the striking lack of critical information getting out to the local Latino community, launching first a Spanish-language newspaper and later a radio program.

Research indicates a gap between growing Latino populations and the number of Spanish-language or bilingual media sources available to those communities nationwide. In Kansas, a handful of Spanish-speaking community members, like Amaro, are working to fill this void.

Amaro never received formal training in journalism but said it has always been an interest. As a child, reading was one of her favorite activities. This love for literature, combined with a background in activism, led her and her husband to launch her first Spanish newspaper, Cronos de Wichita, in 2004.

In 2005, Amaro returned to Mexico to fight for asylum for her family. When she returned in 2013, she found pertinent information was still not reaching the Wichita Latino community.

“When I went to meetings with family members and friends, I would bring something up happening in the city and nobody knew about it,” Amaro said. “I was wondering how come all these things are happening and people are not learning about them. I felt that gap and that need for communication to the Latino community.”

It is often up to community members, sometimes without previous experience in journalism, to ensure this gap is filled. In the pandemic, some Kansas Latino media entrepreneurs say equal access is even more important.

Two corporations currently dominate the Spanish news market — Univision and Telemundo. In a recent City University of New York study on the state of Spanish Language Media in the U.S., 136 of the 181 TV stations identified were part of these two giants.

While these larger stations have increased local focus in recent years, they often do not staff enough reporters to adequately cover the communities they serve, Amaro said.

The study also identified 244 Spanish-language newspapers, 32 magazines and 37 radio stations nationwide. Most of the stations were small and owned by Latino community members.

In Kansas, the study found only four media outlets to serve nearly 350,000 Latinos, and three of those were in the Kansas City area.

In 2015, Amaro took action again and launched a community-centered radio program called “Planeta Venus” through La Raza 99.7FM, a Wichita radio station broadcasting a Regional Mexican style.

“I said, ‘Hey, will you allow me one hour a week so I can talk to people and bring some information to the community?'” Amaro said. “Of course, I’m not going to know everything, but I can bring experts who know more.”

Amaro said it took her about a year to begin to receive community recognition for the weekly program, but over time more people tuned in every Monday at 8 p.m.

Around November 2019, Amaro decided to take her program off La Raza and move it online after both she and a guest were threatened outside the station on separate occasions. Since moving online, Amaro has found an even larger audience and gained additional recognition.

In March, she was awarded a grant through the Wichita Community Foundation to bring on two interns to aid with gathering and translating critical COVID-19 resources. She said the program also has had success connecting with the community over the last few months through Facebook.

“During this pandemic, I think I was able to reach more people and more areas of Kansas,” Amaro said. “It’s still mostly Wichita and Southwest Kansas, but there is a gap to fill in the future.”

Amaro’s program has focused on everything from CARES Act programs to voting information as Election Day approached. She said she still calls into La Raza for five to 10 minutes every Tuesday to share some of this important information on one of their programs as well.

In the future, Amaro hopes to expand her audience and find a way to monetize her program to build on her successes. It is badly needed work, Amaro said, especially now as local, state and federal entities push out guidance and information at a fervent pace.

“I hear from a lot of people that are worried because they don’t understand the information they see on social media,” Amaro said. “They don’t know what’s happening or what to do. It’s important we keep communicating with the Latino community for that reason.”

Long legacy in Spanish-language media

Unlike Amaro, Marco Alcocer had a history in Kansas journalism before launching his solo venture into Spanish-language media. Alcocer, the editor of El Perico Informador y Parlanchin, a bilingual print publication, worked first as a writer and anchor for Univision Kansas.

The September 2020 edition of Marco Alcocer’s El Perico Informador Parlanchin. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

Alcocer launched El Perico Informador y Parlanchin seven years ago. The name of the paper roughly translates to “the chatterbox parrot that keeps you informed.”

The paper is distributed to 15 cities around Kansas and focuses on informative, cultural and educational stories from across Kansas, Mexico, the U.S. and Latin America. The publication often stays away from overly political subjects, instead choosing to highlight more positive aspects of the Latino community than are often covered in the mainstream news media.

“I come from news, so I wanted to give something different,” Alcocer said. “The idea is to bring small, concise stories with good information that bring people up with positive scenes. I want to bring something that not just the Hispanic people, but especially the Latino community can be proud of.”

Alcocer said he hopes his monthly paper fills the void he sees in reporting from national outlets like CNN and Fox News. He says often they only provide the problem in an issue but do not dig any further.

“They don’t look at the source of the problem,” Alcocer said. “You know, it’s different to say this is what is happening than it is to ask what is causing these problems and how those problems can be solved?”

Many of Alcocer’s readers do not understand English very well to begin with, so poor or insufficient reporting from national news outlets sometimes can confuse them, he said.

Spanish-language media provides a connection to their cultural roots and a sense of trust in the news they receive through it, Alcocer said.

“It’s important for them to have easy access to a publication where they can easily see what is the situation and what is this issue,” Alcocer said. “In that way, it is important not just to the Spanish-speaking community but also for the English-speaking community to have a publication that they can rely on for information.”

Alcocer finds the most pleasure in bringing variety to Kansans’ doorstep. He said hearing from several viewpoints is critical to a well-functioning society.

“There is value in every culture. There is not only one line of thought. That’s what I want people to see,” Alcocer said. “There exist all these opinions, not just what you see on TV.”

Struggles amid COVID-19

Not all Spanish-language or bilingual publications are faring well amid the pandemic. Pablo Candia, editor of Informativo Hispano Americano, a bilingual publication based in Dodge City, said when the pandemic arrived in March, it killed his paper swiftly.

The final print edition of Informativo Hispano Americano, Candia’s bilingual publication in March 2020. Candia said the COVID-19 pandemic killed his newspaper. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

After the state went into lockdown, Candia immediately began to field calls from small business owners telling him they would have to cancel advertisements. Circulation took a major hit when places that had distributed the paper since its launch in 2012 closed their doors.

Candia started his paper in western Kansas with a slightly different aim than Alcocer and Amaro in Wichita. When Candia launched Informativo Hispano American, local Latino community newspapers were only targeting Spanish speakers.

“We changed that pattern because the English-speaking community needs to be reached and our strategy played a unifying role,” Candia said. “Second, The Hispanic community had grown, and schools reflected a new demographic trend with many Hispanic bilingual students.”

Candia carries with him a long history in media and communications. He began writing for La Prensa, the largest newspaper in his home country of Nicaragua, when he was 18. He spent time as the public relations officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross before earning his print communication degree after moving to the U.S. in 1990.

In 2013, the Ford County Extension Office of Kansas State University presented Informativo Hispano Americano with an award for outstanding and dedicated service to the community.

In 2015, Sen. Bud Estes (R-Dodge City), who was a state representative for Dodge City at the time, invited Candia to the statehouse as a special guest in recognition of his involvement in the community through the paper.

Despite those successes, Candia is calling it quits, although the paper remains active through its Facebook page. In addition to leaving the newspaper business, he retired from a 20-year career as a substitute elementary teacher and has plans to leave the country.

Candia said he will always carry his successes reaching all, not just the Spanish-speaking community, in his future ventures.

“Our publication also attracted Anglo readers because they also could read the newspaper,” Candia said. “Many even told me that thanks to our newspaper they were learning Spanish. And that was a great reward.”