Mulder: The New York Times’ Spanish-language website is an important step for U.S. news outlets

Ellie Mulder

Three days ago, The New York Times launched a version of its website written entirely in Spanish, and I have one thing to say: It’s about damn time.

I should also say that I am not Latina, so I cannot speak for the Hispanic community, nor do I want to — but after 10 years of studying the Spanish language, I wrote the capstone essay for my Spanish degree on the importance of having prominent and well-made Spanish-language news available to the growing Hispanic population in the United States. It’s a topic I feel passionately about, in part because I know how strongly the news can inform people’s perspectives, as well as how tied language is to identity, the issues we focus on and the way in which we process our experiences.

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A letter from Lydia Polgreen, a deputy international editor at The New York Times, was posted on the Spanish-language version of its website. (Screenshot courtesy the New York Times.)
A letter from Lydia Polgreen, a deputy international editor at The New York Times, was posted on the Spanish-language version of its website. (Screenshot courtesy the New York Times.)

The website is based out of Mexico City, but presumably much of its readership will come from the United States, where there are about 41,300,000 native Spanish speakers and about 11,600,000 who speak some Spanish, according to a recent report created by the Instituto Cervantes. This means the United States now has the second-highest number of Spanish-speaking residents — fewer than Mexico but more than Spain.

In Colorado, an entire 5.06 percent of residents speak only Spanish, and at Colorado State University, there are several programs designed to accommodate Hispanic students. This population must be addressed, and residents who are more informed about and engaged in what is happening around them because they are able to read a news product catered to them can only improve our society.

On Jan. 29, before the new website’s official launch, an article explaining the Iowa caucuses was published in Spanish, titled, “¿Por qué Iowa? Guía para entender la primera parada hacia la Casa Blanca” — “Why Iowa? A guide to understanding the first stop on the way to the White House.” Many United States residents don’t fully understand the Iowa caucus, myself included, so it’s logical that those who speak Spanish might especially benefit from an explanation of our political system.

From what I can tell, Spanish-speaking North Americans often lack quality news — other than a few obvious exceptions, many of which are television-based, they are expected to survive on news from small niche sites and local weekly or monthly publications. For many Latinos in the United States, political, environmental and law-based news, well-researched news and unbiased news is notably unavailable in their preferred language or is not catered to them.

According to a NiemanLab article written about The New York Times’ new website, “The Times decided to focus on a Spanish product first because the language is so widely spoken (a Spanish government report last year estimated that there are 559 million Spanish speakers globally, including 470 million native speakers). That many Spanish-speaking countries are near the United States meant the staff didn’t have to battle time zones or travel far to conduct research.” The article also noted that the website’s primary audience is expected to include readers from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Spain.

The website will primarily feature translated articles and columns from The New York Times, but there will also be some original reporting. It is in the beginning stages, and we can only wait and see if it will be read, how its readers will engage with it and what kind of impact it will have, but it is undoubtably a step in the right direction. It is an acknowledgement of our evolving culture during a time when immigrants are being discriminated against and told to assimilate — to deny their native language and traditions — so they might be accepted.

This is the second time The New York Times has launched a version of its website in a language other than English — in 2012, the newspaper introduced a Chinese version of its site, which is still operational. On June 27, 2012, a note to readers was published in English, explaining why the new website was created and adding that “the site is edited specifically for readers in China, presenting translations of the best of The Times’s award-winning journalism alongside original work by Chinese writers contributing to The Times.”

But unlike with the Chinese-language website, readership of the Spanish-language website will likely include many who live in our own country, and as a society, we should not hold information hostage from those who do not speak English (or who or prefer not to). We should embrace everything that comes along with being one of the largest Spanish-speaking countries in the world, including catering news to the growing Hispanic population.

Collegian News Editor Ellie Mulder can be reached at letters@collegian.com or via Twitter @LEmarie.