by Jenna Spinelle
Latinx people represent 39% of California’s population and 25% of the Bay Area’s population but less than 10% of KQED’s radio audience. The station sought to bridge that gap by taking a deep dive into media consumption among Latinx audiences and bringing the community along in its journey to create more inclusive, equitable content.
To do this, KQED’s team engaged in a three-phase research project that included surveys and interviews with Latinx audiences. The findings revealed many of the core principles of community-centered journalism — people want to see news coverage and other programming that is empowering, inspiring and demonstrates an understanding of cultural heritage. Additionally, participants made it clear that Latinx people are not a monolith and countries of origin should be reflected in programming. Armed with this information, KQED is now working to create this programming, as well as additional opportunities for Latinx communities to engage with the station.
Organization Background: KQED serves the people of Northern California with a public-supported alternative to commercial media. An NPR and PBS member station based in San Francisco, KQED is home to one of the most listened-to public radio stations in the nation, one of the highest-rated public television services and an award-winning education program helping students and educators thrive in 21st-century classrooms. A trusted news source and leader and innovator in interactive technology, KQED takes people of all ages on journeys of exploration — exposing them to new people, places and ideas.
KQED wanted to better understand Latinx audiences and their media needs. The level of detail and nuance required for the organization to craft an audience-focused content strategy was not available from the organization’s existing audience data and website analytics or from industry sources like Nielsen. The research project aimed to provide a deeper look at media consumption, generational differences, languages used at home and in media, attitudes toward public media, and other unmet needs among Latinx audiences. This information would then be used to identify both short-term and long-term opportunities for KQED, as well as guidance on content, platform, tone and voice.
“KQED is one of the biggest public media organizations in the U.S., and we understand that there are a lot of folks who have eyes on it as viewers or listeners or people who observe the work that we’re doing,” said Ernesto Aguilar, KQED’s director of radio programming. “How do we create a sense of place with these audiences to engage with them and become more relevant to their needs?”
The project took place in collaboration with VHR Qualitative Research, a Latina-owned research firm in the Bay Area that has done hundreds of focus groups, workshops and other research initiatives with Latinx audiences. Participants included KQED members, those who were aware of the station but not members, and people who were not aware of the organization. All participants were compensated for their time. The research project included three experts who were interviewed alongside Latinx participants to ensure well-rounded data that would inform the rest of the qualitative work.
Aguilar recommends this approach to anyone looking to conduct audience research with communities that are new to the organization.
“Especially if a station has a relationship with a local nonprofit, or sees a chance to create a relationship with a nonprofit with a goal of helping bring more relevant news and information to a community, many of them are very open to it and want to see that presented to the wider community,” Aguilar said.
Tools & Technology
VHR conducted interviews (via Zoom due to the pandemic) with Latinx people in the Bay Area and sent a survey to Latinx people in the Bay Area and beyond. VHR also leveraged existing market research about Latinx audiences to round out its findings.
KQED’s research on Latinx audiences reflected many of the trends that emerged from other work in engaged journalism. Participants reported feeling that Latinx people were not represented fairly in mainstream media — often depicted as uneducated, undocumented and unreliable people in low-wage jobs whose communities are filled with conflict, corruption and crime. Additionally, content in Spanish is limited, and what’s available is often of poor quality and not appropriate for the entire family.
Respondents said they are hungry for high-quality English and Spanish content that reflects their full identities as Latinx people, including food, family traditions, arts and culture. Coverage should be intelligent, balanced and empowering to present a positive image of Latinx communities that people of all backgrounds can relate to. Participants also shared a desire to present Latinx voices through their own perspectives, focusing on sources of personal and community pride.
The research also revealed generational differences in media consumption and the types of content that are most appealing. Millennials and members of Generation Z felt it was important to uphold their Spanish-speaking heritage and pass along family traditions to future generations. As such, they seek out children’s programming that is bilingual or Spanish, which provides an opportunity for KQED to create that content.
“It prompted an interesting and important conversation of how we can build a bicultural experience for the audience, one that respects that certainly they have a very thoroughly American story, but one also has roots elsewhere and how to build content around that,” Aguilar said. “We’ve done that a little bit over the last few months with several different programming elements that we built. But I think it’s going to be an ongoing effort, not just for us, but I think for public media writ large.”
Here’s How it Happened
KQED’s audience research followed a yearlong effort to understand diversity, equity and inclusion within the organization. It looked at representation: feelings of belonging among staff, diversity of leadership, and how to build equity into story pitching and budgeting.
“The efforts are part of a larger road map of audience research by our audience intelligence team that began a few years ago,” Aguilar said.
The external research took place in three phases from March through August 2021 — secondary research, qualitative research and quantitative research. Secondary sources included a media data report from MRI/Simmons. The qualitative phase included 29 video interviews with 29 people in six Bay Area counties conducted in English and Spanish; participants included couples and multigeneration families, along with the three experts in diverse areas related to Latinx communities. The quantitative phase consisted of a survey of 534 bilingual and English-dominant Latinx people.
“The most important parts [of this project] were things like really getting into people’s lives. I think a lot of us just want to share what’s going on in our worlds,” Aguilar said. “When you show an interest in what people are experiencing, they’re willing to share those types of things, oftentimes, but that also begins a bigger conversation around what their desires might be, or what their needs might be, and how media is helping them.”
KQED took the results of the research and set a goal to “grow and retain loyal and engaged, younger and more ethnically diverse audiences and members.” A more diverse audience includes bilingual and English-dominant Latinx people who are looking for high-quality, balanced, open-minded cultural, educational and informational content that helps them see different perspectives and new ways of doing things and perceiving the world. Progress toward the goal began in fiscal year 2021 and continues into fiscal year 2022.
Short-term opportunity areas include social media, TV and events. Long-term opportunities include podcasts, YouTube and other digital content. Across all platforms, the content will focus on news and science, food, documentaries, and programming in English and Spanish.
The first iteration of KQED’s Latinx focus included the launch of its KQED En Español Instagram account and an events series in fall 2021:
- ¿Dónde Esta Mi Gente?, a cabaret-style performance curated by Bay Area writer, performer and storyteller Baruch Porras-Hernandez
- La Doña, a concert by the Bay Area artist whose music is inspired by the historically Latinx Mission District of San Francisco
- A conversation with Victor Aguilera, a Bay Area chef and founder of the delivery service Arepas en Bici
- A panel on police misconduct records with Alex Emslie and Sukey Lewis, KQED criminal justice reporters and hosts of the On Our Watch podcast
Events were part of KQED Live, the station’s new live event series hosted in its San Francisco headquarters, and streamed live through YouTube. Two events were broadcast on 88.5. Recordings of the events are available on YouTube in English and Spanish.
Here’s What Worked
1. Listening to community needs
By covering topics like food, the arts and criminal justice, the events spoke directly to what KQED heard from the interviews and surveys. They also offered an opportunity for non-Latinx audiences to learn more about the culture and issues facing Latinx people.
“Sometimes there’s a perception in public media that we can’t add in English or Spanish together or that we can’t have too much Spanish on the air because people don’t understand it,” Aguilar said. “But donors and longtime listeners understand that things evolve. And life is about change. They want the station to be successful and to welcome in the next generation.”
2. Sharing widely to expand understanding
The pillars of creating positive change and more fully representing the Bay Area will guide KQED’s content strategy into 2022 and beyond. Aguilar recalled a long-held anecdote in public media that will have the opportunity to shine as the Latinx initiative unfolds.
“Someone once told me that great radio is being able to feel like you’re at a dinner table with other people and hearing their experience,” Aguilar said. “Everyone gets a chance to learn something about somebody else and have their own world expanded as a result.”
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Reflecting on Loss
In addition to events, KQED launched a digital content initiative this fall called Ofrendas, named after the Mexican tradition of placing offerings on a home altar to honor someone who has passed away. The broadcast and web audio series featured San Jose residents paying respect to the people and ideas that shaped their lives. The series includes personal stories from people who have lost loved ones and gone through other heartbreaking experiences. KQED is still trying to figure out how to present the gravity of these stories in select on-air windows.
“Some of them are funny, of course, and some of them are interesting, and some of them remember people who have had deep legacies,” Aguilar said. ”But this has been a year of loss for a lot of people. It’s been positive as a whole, but also prompted a lot of reflection for people. … Listeners get a little bit closer to their neighbors and to other people in this community.”
2. Reaching the youth
Moving forward, KQED still has some work to do when it comes to reaching younger Latinx audiences in a meaningful way that goes beyond sharing content on social media. Aguilar cited the example of building on a relationship that a Latinx child might have with KQED — how can the organization remain relevant in their life into adulthood while still creating quality educational programming?
The answer to these questions could mean developing relationships with Latinx content creators or doing programming with school districts in the Bay Area. KQED’s Education department is now engaging in work with area schools and its fourth annual Youth Takeover initiative in April wherein high school students collaborate with KQED producers, reporters and staff to create stories reflecting their experiences and those of their communities.