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13 Mar 2011

On the Internet, does anyone know whether you’re black or Latino? (Part one)

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March 13, 2011 Category: Stateside Posted by:

By Richard Prince


Now that AOL’s acquisition of Huffington Post has closed, Arianna Huffington will oversee AOL Latino, AOL Black Voices and other AOL sites as part of the $315 million deal that puts the Huffington Post under the AOL umbrella.


Between now and July, HuffPost GlobalBlack, a new black-oriented Huffington Post project, expects to hire about eight staffers as it brings to life a brainstorm from Huffington and Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television.


As Peter Steiner’s New Yorker cartoon famously pointed out, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. But do people know whether you’re black or Latino? Or at least that you have those groups’ best interests at heart?


Whether these ventures can show the love could be key to their success.


Passion play or business deal?


“The last decade is full of failed websites targeting Latinos,” notes Monica C. Lozano, chief executive officer of ImpreMedia, which calls itself the nation’s leading Hispanic news and information company. Its network includes nine print publications and 11 online properties, claiming a monthly reach of 7.7 million adults and monthly distribution of nearly 7 million. It is not Hispanic-owned.


“What is the motivation? Is it to have a relationship and to be committed to quality and relevancy?” Lozano asked rhetorically in a telephone interview, directing her question at all such ventures.


“I want people to have a relationship with the communities they serve. … If you’re motivated not by serving your customers but by serving the advertisers, you end up making different choices. If it’s not core to what you do, it’s tangential … and when you don’t get the traffic on the Web,” you move on to something else.


In its announcement of the GlobalBlack venture, Huffington intimated this was something more than just a business deal:


“This is a two-way partnership, with HuffPost GlobalBlack content and vision informing all of HuffPost’s coverage, and HuffPost’s editorial and reporting team covering stories shaping the black community.”


Huffington isn’t just facing the love question. Others view GlobalBlack as a return to segregation.


Separation or integration?


Ruben Navarrette, columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group, wrote, “If Huffington wants to bring more nonwhite voices into what is still the predominantly white world of online journalism, more power to her. But instead of relegating African Americans and Latinos to the back of the bus in the form of special sections, what she should do instead is publish more African-Americans and Latinos on the main website where all the traffic goes.”


In 2005, such sentiments were enough to scare the New York Times Co. away from labeling its weekly in Gainesville, Fla., the Gainesville Guardian, a “black newspaper.” Clint C. Wilson, a Howard University journalism professor, called it instead a “white newspaper in blackface,” and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the chief organization of black-press publishers, denounced the idea. The Times retreated to calling the Guardian a community newspaper and fired the managing editor who had labeled it otherwise.


Still, the trend of mainstream ownership of ethnic publications continued.


Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. created in 2008. NBC Universal launched, a site focused on news and video appealing to African Americans, in 2009. Fox News launched last fall, and hired Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, formerly corporate executive editor of impreMedia, as its senior editor.


These sites employ writers and editors of color. But the idea that Arianna Huffington would have ultimate control of AOL Latino and AOL Black Voices gave many pause. [Part Two of this article in next week’s issue of the SUN]

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