Sunday, November 13, 2005

RUMBO and Spanish-Language Media

Crime and courts reporter Regina Rodriguez knows the importance of covering the Hispanic community in Austin, though she admits her job can present some tough challenges.

Regina Rodriguez interviewed by Ruth Liao on Nov. 11 at the Rumbo offices in East Austin.

“You have to love this career,” she said. “Journalism is not easy, especially when you are reporting outside of your country.

Rodriguez, who went to journalism school in Venezuela, works for RUMBO, a year-old Spanish-language daily which publishes Monday through Friday. Her publication represents the new community which her newspaper is trying to cover: first and second generation Hispanic families, many of them immigrants from different countries.

A national radio show in town, Latino USA, seems to cover the same turf, but from a different perspective: national and international news, but through an English language radio station.

Both represent the diversity of the Hispanic media in Austin and where one can listen and read about the Latino population. Whether in English or Spanish, the focus remains on an ethnic community.

For RUMBO, the daily publication is split into different sections: the local news pages in the front are produced by the Austin staff. The Texas, Mexico, U.S. Latin America and World sections are from other staffs in the state, such as RUMBO’s headquarters in San Antonio. The paper also circulates in Houston, San Antonio and McAllen, with all of the page designing and top editors at the headquarters.

Rodriguez said writing her stories can be difficult at times, especially when she needs to talk to people after someone has been killed, such as the recent police shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha in southeast Austin. But she said she realizes how important it is for members in the community to know about problems such as crime and drugs, especially if it’s in their own neighborhood.

“As a journalist, it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Rodriguez said. “You have to work with the community.”

At the RUMBO office off E. 11th Street, the new office building represents the changes in the neighborhood with predominantly Hispanic and black residents. The brand-new modern office space houses creative advertising firms on the same level of the newspaper’s, and out the back window of Rodriguez’ office, new housing development can be seen.

RUMBO photographer Thomas Meredith said the newspaper gives him an opportunity to cover a community he wouldn’t normally focus on at a mainstream newspaper. He’s gone to shoot stories like a Peruvian independence celebration or about health issues concerning the Hispanic population. A University of Texas graduate, Meredith said he isn’t required to be fluent in Spanish, but enjoys working with people from other countries such as Rodriguez.

“I’m the lone staff photographer,” he said.
“I definitely have more freedom working for RUMBO.”

Samples of Rodriguez's work:

For Latino USA, the radio show airs stories of both national and international importance. The show airs nationwide, distributed by national public radio, but is produced at the edge of the University of Texas campus.

Recently, the show aired a story about day laborers in Austin, and how the workers were protesting at a local city council meeting. Producer Alex Avila said the staffers at the Austin bureau sometimes produce their own pieces, but coordinates pieces from all over the country and world.

“We’re the only radio bilingual network,” Avila said. “The mainstream media misses stories, they’re still thinking in very black and white.”

With their host, Maria Hinojosa, in New York and more than 115 freelances set up on a e-mail listserv, Avila said weekly coordinating meetings help the editorial process roll. He finished a phone conference with editorial producers in St. Louis Wednesday morning, before he pointed to a whiteboard scribbled with story names and assignments.

“The producers are here in Austin,” he said. “We do the dirty work.”

Mixers with DAT, cassette and minidisk players were hooked up next to sounding boards and microphones. In an un-air conditioned building tucked at the back of campus, the space seemed to date back to the 1970’s. But the studio serves as the station’s nerve center, mixing stories from New York and California and Peru.

Avila said the station has been uploading its audio content on a Web site since the mid-1990’s, but has recently added new elements such as podcasting.

He said Latino USA was currently going through a redesign of the Web site, and hopes to see more interactive features and changes within the next few months, though he wasn’t sure exactly what those changes would be. Even with podcasting, not much research has been done on the target audience, he said.

“We need research to find that out,” Avila said. “We don’t know what the audience wants to hear.”


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