Dispatches from the new news landscape, Univision edition

By Felix Salmon
July 12, 2011

Univision is a massive television network in the United States, which has had a lot of success providing popular programming in Spanish. It’s had a news operation for a while, but nothing investigative — and up until now it has made a point of telling only upbeat and positive stories about the hispanic population in the US.

And that’s only the beginning of why this story is so interesting. Univision has done a great job of providing it in a range of formats: there’s Spanish-language video, of course. But there’s also a detailed Spanish-language web story, complete with supporting documents, as well as an English-language version of the video and a clearly-written story, in English, posted on Univision’s excellent Tumblr.

The news here is that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has a brother-in-law with a rather embarrassing past:

Cicilia was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana belonging to a crime ring implicated in the death and dismemberment of a federal informant, as well as the bribing of several Miami police officers.

And there’s a meta-story, too, about the way in which Rubio’s office refused to respond to Univision’s enquiries, instead trying to quash the story entirely by going above the head of the news department and complaining directly to Univision’s CEO.

“Quite simply, the pursuit of this story and the targeting of the Senator’s relatives, who are private citizens, is outrageous,” said Alex Burgos in a letter to Univision CEO Randy Falco seeking to kill the story. “They do not hold public office and are unrelated in every way to his service in the United States Senate… This is not news. This is tabloid journalism.”

The lesson here is that as the number of investigative reporters on local newspapers continues to shrink, this kind of news will increasingly come from brand-new outlets, which include not only blog networks like Gawker but also hybrid creatures like Univision Investiga. This increasingly-diverse news ecosystem raises interesting questions for the likes of Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos, who refused to deal with Univision Investiga in the same way that he would deal with an English-language national news network, or for that matter the Miami Herald, where the author of the story, Gerardo Reyes, won a Pulitzer. Instead, Burgos decided that the best response was an aggressively adversarial one, where the full power of the Senator’s office would be used to try to ensure that the story never got out at all.

I don’t think that tactic was wise. Very few of the newer media outlets are subsidiaries of companies which are open to political coercion in this manner — and of course Burgos’s attempts here didn’t work very well either. Rubio and Burgos may not be happy about the increasing diversity of news outlets covering them, making it harder for them to control the flow of news. But outfits like Univision Investiga are entirely legitimate, and have to be treated that way.

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