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Before Fusion’s TV Debut, A Secret News Site Posts Stories

Univision-ABC backed news outlet aims to lure Hispanic viewers during a competitive time for TV news

 

A tiny Miami newsroom has been mixing it up online, winning some digital notice for its reporting on the topic of whether media outlets should drop the term “illegal immigrant” and for an off-kilter video exchange between its reporter and actor Jesse Eisenberg. But you may not have heard about it – and that’s intentional.

Fusion, a new English-language cable-news and lifestyle outlet backed by ABC and Univision aimed at U.S. Hispanics, isn’t expected to start broadcasting for weeks. But the operation has stealthily been publishing news online for months, albeit without an obvious  home page. To find its dispatches, one must go to the ABC News site and seek out a page labeled “ABC NewsUnivision.” Once there, a reader might click on a report about the Mexican state of Guerrro attempting to lure tourists despite troubles with robbery, rape and kidnappings or a story titled “One in Three Mexicans Wants To Legalize Weed.” There’s even room for a little satire.

“Not everyone does notice,” said Miguel Ferrer, vice president of digital for fusion. “We’re trying not to be seen too much.” The goal in the weeks before the cable network launches is “how to place stories on the tips of people’s minds or fingers.”

Ferrer’s efforts, however, are critical. They represent the first salvo of an effort by Univision and ABC News to lure a demographic expected to see income and presence grow in the years to come. A report released earlier this month by Pew Hispanic Center determined 82% of Hispanic adults in 2012 got at least some of their news in English, up from 78% in 2006. Meanwhile, the percentage of Hispanic adults who get at least some of their news in Spanish has declined, to 68% in 2012 from 78% in 2006. According to the Pew study, a record 31 million Hispanics aged 5 and older are proficient in English, up from 19 million in 2000 and 8 million in 1980.

Fusion will have to count on its ability to capture that audience at a heady time in the always-on business of TV news. Al Jazeera America is slated to launch in August, with the promise of a deep pockets and a deep bench of personnel that can tackle stories in depth. Fox News Channel, the dominant U.S. cable-news outlet, is rejiggering its long-staid programming lineup. MSNBC is readying the debut of a new online face for the network. CNN is showing new momentum since the installation of Jeff Zucker as president.

ABC and Univision announced their joint backing of Fusion in 2011, and Ferrer and a staff of approximately 15 content creators and technical staff have been posting stories for about two years. The goal, he said, is not to cover every piece of breaking news but rather to identify issues that will interest Fusion’s audience and then gauge response.

“When you are in the digital world, you have no choice but to exist in a 24/7 mindset,” said Ferrer. “Our focus is not to tell all the news but to really share angles and perspectives of important news stories that will resonate with our audience. So that gives us a bit of breathing room, if you will.” He estimated the site had attracted “well over half a million unique visitors pretty much every month for the last five, six, seven months.”

The staff is making use of digital assets once ascribed to Univision’s. The Twitter feed @univisionnews is now being used by Fusion, he said, as is a Tumblr once utilized by the Spanish-language broadcaster’s news operations. The digital assets will be rebranded once the cable network launches.

Meantime, there is a story about a dissident Cuban punk rock band called “Porno Para Ricardo” waiting to be read, as well as episodes of “The Jack and Alex Show,” a comedic look at news events, like the recent birth of the new heir to the throne in England.

Staffers really do want the work to be seen and passed along, said Ferrer – but making a bigger splash probably is not appropriate until more people understand the scope of the new network, details of which are expected to be unveiled soon. “There’s still so much work to be done to properly present Fusion in its entirely that we prefer to keep this for a time less obvious or discover-able,” he said. “But it isn’t because we don’t want people to see them.”

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