Q&A with Melanie Davis, Managing Partner, El Hispanic News

Melanie holds up an award received by El Hispanic News from the National Association of Hispanic Publications, honoring the next generation of publisher leaders.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity, and looking forward to continuing the vision to serve, communicate with, and help build our community,” says Melanie Davis, who takes on the reins of El Hispanic News, the largest bilingual newspaper in the Pacific Northwest.

Publisher Clara Padilla Andrews is heading up a new publication in New Mexico, and will divide her time between the two states. Here in Portland, Melanie will manage the day-to-day operations of the award-winning newspaper.

“I work with a great team of individuals who are committed to community and civic duty, and I am eager to apply my knowledge and expertise in growing the business and staying true to our mission,” says Melanie. “The community continues to rely on El Hispanic News for vital information for and about the Latino community, and we will continue to work really hard to serve that purpose. My most important charge is to make sure that we’re thriving in the area of communication, and we truly reflect the voice of all aspects of the community.”

In a Q&A with Colors of Influence, Melanie talks about lessons learned from years of working in the newspaper industry, and shares her vision for the paper, moving forward.

What was your career path leading up to your current post? I started working for Juan Prats, founding publisher of El Hispanic News. A few years later, Clara Padilla Andrews purchased the newspaper. My role at that time was sales. I had a pen, paper, phone and a desk – that’s all that I needed as a salesperson.

Selling ads to local companies, I encountered people who would tell me “No.” I always knew even then that we needed more research on the community to quantify the buying power of the Hispanic community. It soon became very important for us to become more research and data-driven.

That change was very exciting. My father always emphasized the importance of having a strong understanding of mathematics. We partnered with research outfits to do readership studies. We have a very clear picture of the performance of the local Hispanic market and community.

My work has involved a lot of research, data-collection, identifying and building relationships, and organizing events with mainstream partners. It’s vital for El Hispanic News to build those communication bridges between our readers and the mainstream community.

How has the target readership of El Hispanic News changed over the years? We’re able to quantify exactly what our readers are doing. We’re the oldest Hispanic publication in the Northwest. We’ve had a loyal readership since the very beginning, when Juan Parts launched the bilingual paper in 1981. We’ve maintained our bilingual focus to allow people who do not read Spanish to understand the needs of our community.

The needs and issues important to the Hispanic community parallel those of the mainstream. We’re concerned about the economy, business, health, education and national issues.

Understanding our readership is important in delivering information that’s relevant to their lives. We have the most extensive readership study that truly gages the Latino consumer pulse, for those company/agency’s interested I can be contacted directly.

We found that 96% of our readers are between 25 and 54, and 58% are women. Some 77% are married. There is a myth that Hispanics don’t put our money into banks. The truth is about 77% of our readers have checking accounts, and more than ¾ have multiple investment products like CDs, mutual funds, stocks and bonds.

Research also allowed us to be more strategic about our coverage. Through local and national partnerships, we have built bridges to connect institutions with our community. In 2000, we partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to launch the “Get Out, Get Counted” campaign, to make sure that accurate data is gathered about our community.

The National Association of Hispanic Publications has named El Hispanic News as the No. 1 bilingual newspaper in the country, in terms of readership. There’s a lot of diversity in the Oregon Latino community, which includes Cubans, Puerto Ricans, El Salvadoreans, Chileans. The majority of Latino Oregonians are Mexican or Mexican descent. Many of our readers were born in the United States.

Brown is the new pink, but we find that there is still apprehension among mainstream businesses to build relationships with minority markets. Sometimes, people let their own prejudices get in the way of doing business.

What do you consider as the most important service that the paper delivers to the community? We’ve been able to help many nonprofit organizations throughout the years. Clara Padilla Andrews was involved in starting groups serving the community: Hacienda, the Latino Network, El Poder de la Mujer, and more.

On our own dime, we have inserted voter registration cards in our publications. We have also hosted our own “Get Out the Vote” campaign to get more people engaged. We’re a nonpartisan publication, but it’s important to us to make sure that our readers vote and participate in the democratic process. Particularly for the Latino community, being an economic power doesn’t mean anything if we’re not out there voting for the issues that are important to us.

What accomplishments are you most proud of? I was fortunate to have worked with Juan Prats. The day that our family took over the business, I realized that he trusted our family to keep El Hispanic News going. I grew up in this business with very strong convictions to maintain the reputation of the paper in representing our community. I’m very proud to work with my family, because we have the opportunity to keep it real for our readers. We represent our people very well.

El Hispanic News has been a woman-owned publication since 1995. This is not common in the publishing industry. I’m really excited about being one of the very few women publishers of ethnic publications in the country. As a Gen X Chicana, my goal is to bring a fresh, new and innovative perspective to the paper, while also preserving the values and ideals of the Latino community. I’m not afraid to put myself out there and do what needs to be done.

As a woman of color leading a media outlet in the Northwest, what are some of the most challenging aspects of your work? Maintaining trust is important. Being a media outlet, we hear different sides of any story, and it’s important to us to stay true to the information that our community needs.

What personal philosophy has helped guide your leadership style? I’m the seventh generation into this country. I’m very blessed to have indigenous and Spanish blood. I’ve been lucky to grow up in the public eye, among great leaders. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be mentored by the best in the publishing industry, and our political family locally. Everyone who has helped and taught me has always told me to be true to myself, and success will follow.

What do you find most fulfilling about the work that you do? The work we do is exciting. We cover a wide variety of issues that are of interest to the community. We’re able to have candid conversations with political leaders about immigration reform, union rights, advocating for health issues. The work is hard, but at the end of the week, it’s well worth it.

Our newspaper is the only paper distributed to worker camps, los campos, because we’re trusted both by the people working in the fields, and the people who own the farms. Often, workers don’t have access to television, radio on the Internet in these camps. El Hispanic News is a primary source of information, and people are very eager to read our paper to learn what’s going on. It’s fulfilling to know that people trust our family enough to serve this important information-sharing purpose.

In some cases, people will call us before they contact political leaders to find out about an issue. The community sees as an advocate for issues that matter the most to their families. Trust goes both ways; our readers hold us accountable for the information and perspective that we provide.

Retaining the community’s trust isn’t easy. My large family is matriarchal, and we understand the family and cultural structures of the families we serve in our community. We’re part of this community. We have the opportunity to write about issues that matter to Latinos from the perspective of a member of the community. When other papers write about the Latino community as the “other,” we get to write about “our” people, and tackle issues that matter to “us” as a people, as a community.

Colors of Influence Fall 2008

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