The fastest-growing TV network in America.
The largest public radio newsroom in Florida.
One of the biggest publishers on the East Coast.
If these don’t sound like descriptions of Miami media companies in 2018, you haven’t been watching your Twitter feed.
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After suffering through a nearly decade-long transition as traditional revenue sources evaporated, Miami media players appear to be finding their paces. While the nation’s increasingly fragmented media marketplace has posed problems for both companies’ bottom lines and broader citizen engagement, Miami outlets are simultaneously reaching audiences beyond Dade’s borders and zeroing in on blossoming communities in their backyard.
For Miami-Dade Beacon Council President Michael Finney, these strides have been “critical to the success of selling this region.” He was among a dozen speakers at a recent panel on the state of Miami’s media, hosted by the Miami Herald.
By his count, Finney says, there are now about 70 media companies with offices in Miami, employing “thousands” of individuals who often earn salaries that approach or surpass six figures.
Many of these companies are international players who now use Miami as a regional home base. Sony Latin America, HBO Latin America, Fox Latin America, and Disney Latin America, to name a few, are all based within just a few miles of each other.
It is not surprising that many of the success stories come from media geared to Hispanic audiences. Last fall, Harvard Business School named Telemundo the fastest-growing TV network in America. According to LinkedIn, 285 individuals now list Telemundo as an employer and South Florida as their location; a new $250 million headquarters is due to open in West Dade next month.. The company is led by Cesar Conde, who grew up in Miami and previously ran Univision.
To increase its reach, the network had to completely rethink what its audience wanted, Telemundo Networks President Luis Silberwasser told panel attendees. Still, it remains focused on Spanish-language content. Out went traditional telenovelas. In have come new formats, including original miniseries centered around larger-than-life figures like singer Juan Gabriel. The move has pushed Telemundo into first-place prime-time weekday ratings among Spanish-language viewers 18-49.
“We are all dealing with a more fragmented market,” Silberwasser said. “So we have to become better at what we do best.”
Univision remains the dominant player among American Hispanic television viewers. Its broadcast efforts are now led by Jessica Rodriguez, who has been named to the new post of president and chief operating officer of Univision Communications, Inc. (UCI) Networks. That includes Univision Deportes, which last year captured the most soccer viewers of any network in America according to company data.
Following the success of last year’s “El Chapo” miniseries, Univision has signed a deal with co-producer Netflix for additional programming. Meanwhile, its Fusion Media division continues to buy up digital brands, including websites owned by Gawker Media, now known as Gizmodo Media Group, as well as nationally renowned satire outfit The Onion, which mostly publish in English.
“We’re asking ourselves what does it mean to be second- or third-generation Hispanic” — and adjusting programming accordingly, Rodriguez said.
As Telemundo and Univision continue to make a name for themselves on the national stage, here at home, the Miami Times, the city’s largest black-owned newspaper, continues to grow alongside the city’s booming black working and middle class.
“We’re looking to grow our newsroom because there’s so much going on in the black community,” Garth Reeves III, vice president of business development for the paper, said at the roundtable. Reeves represents the third generation of his family to oversee the paper, something he says has allowed it to remain a credible voice among black Miamians who may bristle at critiques of prominent community leaders.
“Our job is to hold the black community accountable,” he said.
While Miami Herald continues to deliver a daily print product, much of the focus has shifted to digital. Its combined websites — MiamiHerald.com, elnuevoherald.com and miami.com draw more than 30 million page views per month — a reach that is far greater than its print products.
The company has also expanded to new sources of revenue as its traditional print advertising base of retailers — an industry fighting e-commerce — has evaporated. It now handles publishing for dozens of other newspapers and brands, including hotels and cruise lines, along with its own glossy magazine Indulge, said Alex Villoch, president and publisher of the Herald, which is owned by McClatchy.
The combined revenues allow the Herald to stay true to its core mission as a local and regional news outlet. “The mission is impact,” Herald executive editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez said at the roundtable. “Our mission aligns with what the community wants. They want public accountability. They want to see what’s happening to their tax money.”
The Herald is not the only traditional media outlet that is finding renewed stability. With a staff of 19 that stretches from Key West to Tallahassee, public radio station WLRN is the largest public radio newsroom in Florida, according to Tom Hudson, vice president of news and special correspondent for the station. He says they plan to have 21 employees before the start of the summer, and still have one full-time opening.
Hudson says the station has benefited from the surge in civic engagement that’s come in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Forty percent of their revenue now comes from donations by members, who he says are seeking “more contextual, more deep news and storytelling.”
“They come [to WLRN] wanting to know what’s happening in their local community — they want to hear community voices,” he said.
More citizens may be re-engaging. But they are also spending an increasing amount of time consuming news online. As a result, they are getting funneled to Google and Facebook, which are capturing 90 percent of the growth in digital media spending, according to Andrew Sherry, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for communications. And as those giants have grown in power, they have also become “vectors of misinformation, disinformation, and divisive rhetoric,” he says.
Case in point: following the Parkland school shooting, Herald reporter Alex Harris saw her Tweets doctored to change their meaning; the fake Tweets subsequently went viral. Around the same time, someone mocked up an entire MiamiHerald.com story page warning of another school violence incident that was also widely shared on social media.
“This is fraud,” Villoch said.
For Sherry, these incidents represent one of the gravest threats to local media, which have traditionally struck a neutral tone.
“Whatever the causes are, the consequences are serious,” he said. “Democracy stands on a foundation of trust, transparency and accountability.”