Marisa Treviño wanted to have a voice all her own. And she emphatically wanted to reach Latinas/Latinos in English, not Spanish. Because, as she sees it, that’s where the power lies.
“To get ahead in this country, you have to know English,” she says. “You just do.”
Her forum is latinalista.net, which Treviño, 51, launched in 2004 from a small home office in Rowlett. This was well before some in the so-called “mainstream media” embarked on seemingly endless cycles of budget-cutting, downsizing, and stare-in-the-mirror contemplations about whether even a long-term, reasonably profitable future is in the cards.
Re-starting from scratch, as I did with unclebarky.com in September 2006 after 26 years as The Dallas Morning News’ TV critic, increasingly seems like the wave of the now—not the future. Still, it can be more than a little deflating to learn that your very own “niche” remains a well-kept, under-publicized secret to many of those who claim they hung on your every word back in the day.
In that context, it shouldn’t have been in the least surprising to hear that Dallas-Fort Worth’s most prominent Hispanic communicator, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) anchor Gloria Campos, says of Latina Lista: “I never knew it existed.”
Not that she doesn’t think it’s a very good idea. More on this later.
I hadn’t heard of Latina Lista either until the day after the Nov. 4, 2008 elections, when I was e-mailed a link to several webcast interviews by former KDFW-TV (Channel 4) reporter Rebecca Aguilar.
Aguilar hadn’t been seen—on any form of video at least—since being suspended by her old station in October 2007 before getting terminated in early March of 2008. It was all tied to her controversial—and heavily publicized—interview with an elderly West Dallas salvage business owner who had shot and killed two alleged burglars within three weeks time. But then you probably already knew that.
There was no controversy here. Aguilar was merely doing one-on-one interviews with people, mainly Hispanics, gathered outside the Dallas County Democratic Party’s party site in the Bishop Arts district. She had the field to herself, because no one else was asking them what they thought of Barack Obama’s election. Four separate videocasts then were streamed on Latina Lista, which paid Aguilar nothing for them. That’s all the site could afford, but in this case talk wasn’t cheap. Voices were being heard that otherwise wouldn’t have.
“It was frustrating not being able to get more positive stories on Latinos into the newscast in my 27 years in mainstream media,” Aguilar says. “Some of the television stations I worked for had little time to explore issues that affected the Latino community. Stories about Latinos and for Latinos were an afterthought because stories on murders, robberies, and rapes took priority. Although we did make an effort to interview Latinos on Cinco de Mayo.”
Treviño used to swim in the mainstream, too. Born in Madrid, Spain, and raised in Tampa, Fla., she initially wrote nonfiction articles for children’s magazines after moving with her husband to North Texas. Her work regularly appeared in Dallas Child and the now defunct Dallas Family magazine. She also worked for D as the magazine’s calendar editor.
Changing course—after taking a few journalism classes at Eastfield Collegee—Treviño began writing opinion columns aimed at adult readers. The Hispanic Link news service started publishing her work and she later wrote frequent op-ed pieces for The Dallas Morning News. But that wasn’t nearly enough for her.
“I realized I could do with a blog on a daily basis what I was doing for newspapers and magazines on a monthly basis,” she says. “So I created Latina Lista to fulfill this desire I had to be published more often.”
Her web site’s newspaper-like masthead promises, “Anything and Everything From a Latina Perspective.”
Treviño says the site began drawing national attention after she started writing pointed commentaries on issues such as immigration, education, and what she perceives as the stereotyping of Hispanic women in prime-time Spanish language telenovelas.
In a 2005 column, she wrote, “Perhaps the worst offender when it comes to promoting archaic depictions of Latinas as dimpled, over-sexed bombshells can be found on Spanish language television. … We won’t be able to forge new images for ourselves and change how others see us unless networks like Univision and Telemundo start becoming more discriminating in what shows they bring over from Mexico and South America, where most attitudes toward women are still in the Stone Age.”
“I realized I had to speak out, because I wasn’t seeing much in the mainstream media—especially from female voices,” Treviño says. “That’s when I started hearing from CNN and the BBC.”
USA Today likewise contacted her, and she continues to write an opinion column for the newspaper. She’s also a periodic commentator on KERA-FM (90.1) radio, another offshoot of the attention she’s drawn as the sole proprietor of Latina Lista.
Like most lone-gun bloggers, Treviño’s influence so far doesn’t add up to much financially.
“The only thing that really pays is USA Today,” she says. But her husband, who’s a physician’s assistant, “is very supportive—for right now.”
Campos, who draws an annual six-figure salary as co-anchor of WFAA’s 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, says that her station and others pay increasingly less attention to the Hispanic community.
“Obviously mainstream media doesn’t do a good job,” she says. “Just because I’m at Channel 8 doesn’t mean we’re addressing Hispanic issues. It’s very hard to get any kind of coverage in that regard. In fact, I think we’ve kind of regressed. We’re trying to get the biggest bang for the buck, and those issues kind of fall by the wayside.”
WFAA’s La Vida and Metro programs, which respectively targeted Hispanic and African-American audiences, were folded into the now-defunct weekly “lifestyles” program Young Street in January 2008.
Airing at 5 p.m. Sundays, Young Street was barely a blip last fall against NFL football games. In its last telecast of 2008, the program drew just 6,643 viewers opposite the Dallas Cowboys’ season-ending blowout loss to Philadelphia, according to Nielsen Media Research figures for the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Treviño says that Latina Lista averages 1,200 visitors a day.
“So yeah, maybe there is a niche market,” Campos says. “More and more people are getting plugged into the Internet, but I don’t see us creating anything like Latina Lista here.”
Treviño says she’s learning to downplay “negative news” on the site while continuing to address hot-button issues in her commentaries. One of Latina Lista’s newest “content partners,” Hawaii Hispanic News, has made it a point to do only positive stories.
“And I’m finding that that’s what this community wants to read,” she says. “They don’t care about who’s being locked up or charged with murder or drunk driving or whatever.”
Someday maybe Treviño will be able to pay her contributors—as well as herself. Like many bloggers, she’s in search of a “business model” that will make Latina Lista a gainful enterprise as well as a labor of love.
In the meantime, readers can contribute to the cause by purchasing Latina Lista merchandise ranging from T-shirts to coffee mugs to mousepads. Everybody’s gotta re-start someplace.