By: Dave Astor
Like America’s Latino population, the number of syndicated features by Hispanic creators is growing substantially.
Four such features were offered by major syndicates in 1992. But a decade later, the eight biggest syndicates distribute about 20 Hispanic-authored columns and cartoons. That’s still not a lot for eight syndicates with 700-plus features — “we need more,” said Universal Press Syndicate editorial cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz — but it’s progress.
“There’s been a slow awakening,” noted lifestyle columnist Ana Veciana-Suarez of The Miami Herald and Tribune Media Services (TMS).
“There’s still a long way to go, but the increase is encouraging,” added Op-Ed columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. of The Dallas Morning News and Washington Post Writers Group (WPWG).
One catalyst for this is numerical: America’s Hispanic population skyrocketed to 35.3 million in 2000 from 22.3 million in 1990, according to U.S. Census figures.
“That really made us pay attention,” said King Features Syndicate Managing Editor Glenn Mott, who last year asked Univision TV anchor Maria Elena Salinas to write a column that now runs in about 30 papers — a good total during a down economy.
“The more people you have from a particular culture, the more creative people you’re going to have,” said Glenda Winders, editorial director of Copley News Service. Navarrette added that with newspapers hiring more Hispanic journalists in recent years, more entered “the pipeline” to become columnists.
WPWG Managing Editor James Hill said syndicates and newspapers alike are more conscious of the need for diversity.
Hispanic-created features themselves are diverse. They’re by women, men, liberals, moderates, and conservatives.
Some creators often or periodically focus on Latino people and issues, including Alcaraz, “Baldo” comic collaborators Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos of Universal, and columnists Navarrette, Roger Hernandez of King, and Patrisia Gonzales/Roberto Rodriguez of Universal.
No Longer Niche Topics
Navarette said Hispanic columnists who write about Hispanic topics differentiate themselves from most other columnists, while adding that many Hispanic topics are now mainstream. “Somewhere along the line, they broke out of a niche and landed splat on Page One,” he said, noting that many non-Hispanics are also interested in Hispanic issues.
Indeed, some papers running Hispanic creators are in areas with few Hispanics. But Veciana-Suarez said many of her clients are located near big Hispanic populations, even though she writes a mostly general feature.
Features that don’t have Latino themes per se include the “Charlie” comic by Charles Rodrigues of Creators Syndicate, the “Vegetarian View” column by Orlando Ramirez of Copley, and “The Savings Game” column by Humberto Cruz of TMS. “There isn’t a Hispanic approach to credit cards and investing,” said TMS Sales Manager Doug Page.
Cruz has 80 clients for “The Savings Game,” and 15 to 20 for the “Retire Smart” column he co-writes with wife Georgina.
Interviewees said most features by Hispanics sell as well as other features. “It’s a tough market out there right now, but we’re happy with the list,” said Hill, referring to the 50 or so papers publishing Navarrette, who came to WPWG early last year. Another opinion columnist, O. Ricardo Pimental of The Arizona Republic in Phoenix and TMS, has 20 to 25 clients.
Given lifestyle-section cutbacks, many of those features have a tougher time. Veciana-Suarez runs in 10 to 15 papers.
The most widely syndicated creator of (partial) Hispanic descent may be Los Angeles Times/Copley editorial cartoonist Mike Ramirez, in several hundred papers.
“Baldo,” begun in 2000, has about 150 papers. Universal Vice President of Sales John Vivona attributed this growth to both the strip’s quality and its starring Hispanic characters at a time of rapid Hispanic population growth. “There had been a void on the comics page,” he said.
Hispanic creators also run in Spanish-language papers in the U.S. and abroad. Alcaraz, who entered syndication in 2001, said 20% of his 25 or so clients are Spanish-language. (A number of non-Hispanic features get translated into Spanish, too.)
Some Hispanic creators were born outside the United States, including two New York Times Syndicate columnists: Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto and Argentinian author Tomas Eloy Martinez.
Creators President Rick Newcombe — whose roster includes Linda Chavez’s column — was one of several executives emphasizing that they sign features because they’re good, not because of ethnicity.
Page added: “The key to success for any syndicated feature, including one that happens to be by a minority, is that its content has to speak to everyone.”