On the morning of Sept. 13, just hours after Univision announced that it would air two special television events where Latinos could “meet” President Obama and his opponent, Mitt Romney, comments, questions and concerns began to pour onto the Univision News Facebook page.
Among the hundreds of posts was one comment from a young man, posing a question to the Republican nominee: “Mr. Romney, I want to know how much longer I have to wait before I’m able to walk the streets without fear of being deported.” Other questions revolved around such subjects as job creation, education and health care.
Univision’s Meet the Candidate event, a two-part series with both candidates, moderated by anchors María Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, aired on Sept. 19 and 20 and was streamed live on Facebook. It was only the latest in a string of special events, TV coverage, voting initiatives and “Twitter parties” launched by the nation’s top Hispanic networks to not only inform Latinos on the 2o12 elections, but to mobilize those eligible to vote to do so on Nov. 6.
The same week as the Univision announcement, Telemundo had made its own headlines by landing the first interview granted by Obama to a Spanish TV network after the Democratic National Convention. The interview, conducted by Telemundo’s main news anchor, José Díaz-Balart, first aired on English-language news channel MSNBC and later on Telemundo’s nightly newscast.
The following week, Diaz-Balart sat down for a one-on-one with Romney.
Every four years, as the race for the White House enters its final, crucial days, Hispanic pundits and activists assure voters that this election will be the one decided by U.S. Latinos.
An estimated 22 million Hispanic- American citizens are eligible to vote in 2012, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of these, as many as 12 million are expected to cast a vote on Nov. 6, an estimated 26% increase from 2008.
The Latino vote could be particularly crucial in battleground states with large Hispanic populations, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, where strong Hispanic turnouts on Election Day could determine several congressional races as well as the U.S. presidency.
“Hispanics will play a key role in electing the next president of the United States, and these [TV news] events will help address key issues so that the more than 20 million Hispanics expected to vote this year can make an informed decision,” César Conde, president of Univision Networks, said in announcing the network’s Meet the Candidate events.
The increased participation by Latinos in the upcoming election is partly the result of a sheer increase in numbers: The 2010 U.S. Census put the total number of Latinos at more than 50 million.
But it is also the result of expanded political coverage — and activism — by Hispanic media outlets, which this year are pulling out all the stops to have that segment of the electorate covered.
“We are devoting a lot of new resources and investing like never before in our electoral coverage this year,” Willie Lora, news director for CNN en Español, told Multichannel News from the network’s booth at the DNC in Charlotte, N.C.
Lora and his team of reporters and main anchors had also traveled to Tampa, Fla., a week earlier to cover the Republican National Convention.
CNN en Español’s political coverage was on full display during both conventions. It was the result of a year-old initiative, titled “Voto 2012,” which aims “to become the point of reference for Spanish-language political coverage,” Lora said.
For the first time, CNN en Español will leverage resources from both CNN/ USA and CNN International, even tapping into physical resources at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta.
During primetime on Nov. 6, CNN en Español will broadcast live from Studio 7, CNN’s newest studio that features interactive graphics, “magic walls,” “active walls” and all sorts of “toys” that will allow the network to integrate its presentation with social media, analysis, anchor commentary and exit polls.
“It will be a big night for us,” Lora said.
Telemundo’s news producers are putting the final touches on the Election Day coverage that is expected to dominate its airwaves on the first Tuesday in November.
“We plan on taking an approach that will bring you information from the moment you wake up and until a new president is declared,” Sylvia Rosabal, senior vice president of news for Telemundo, said.
As during past elections, Telemundo will be tap into the resources, reach and coverage of NBCUniversal corporate sibling NBC News. “The political team of NBC News is also the political team of Telemundo,” Rosabal said.
Univision and The Walt Disney Co.- owned ABC, which next year will jointly launch an English-language cable news network aimed at Hispanics, have already began working together. The networks this year partnered with National Journal magazine to produce two events at the Republican and Democratic conventions.
The events featured Univision News anchors Ramos and Salinas, as well as Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.
“We’ve been working [with ABC News] for a while, but I can tell you this was really our first event working together as a team,” Isaac Lee, president of Univision News, said of the invitation-only events, which also featured high-profile guests including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rep. Xavier Becerra (DCalif.).
As networks beef up coverage plans in the 43 days left before the elections, the question of Latino voter participation lingered in the minds of many who doubt Hispanics will truly influence this election unless they vote in droves.
“If the 20 million or so Latinos who are eligible to vote cast their vote in this election, we will be able to make a difference,” veteran CNN en Español anchor Patricia Janiot said. She doesn’t think that will happen in 2012, though: “Unfortunately, our birth rates are way higher than out political participation.”
As networks get ready to go all out with traditional TV coverage, the Nov. 6 promises to be a banner night for Twitter and other social-media platforms, an arena in which Latinos are particularly active.
For CNN en Español, currently the No. 1 Spanish-language news destination on both Twitter and Facebook, social media is key. “People are getting their news on their mobile devices,” Janiot said. “Nobody is waiting for the 6 p.m. news.”
CNN en Español will leverage its presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google Plus to offer real-time content that will incorporate user-generated videos, photographs and texts not only from U.S. users, but from viewers around the world.
The immediacy of Twitter and other platforms has forced news anchors to focus on more than simply delivering the news. They must now offer more analysis and explain the things that matter most to Latinos.
“We cannot compete with the immediacy of Twitter,” Janiot, a CNN en Español veteran who has been an anchor since 1992, said. “The way to compete these days is with context and analysis, and not only through breaking news.”