The Futuro of Media
Maria Hinojosa makes the news
By Roberto Santiago
Futuro Media is likely the most ambitious and impressive Latino-owned and operated media success story in years. Based in Harlem and founded in 2010 by Mexican American journalist Maria Hinojosa, Futuro Media adopted a nonprofit business model that depends primarily on tax deductible funding from foundations, corporate and individual donors instead of chasing after mainstream advertising.
“I created Futuro Media when I found myself without a job during the time that the nation was still in a deep recession,” said Hinojosa, the winner of the Nieman Foundation’s I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence in 2020. “Although I had never run a company before, I had a wealth of experience as a producer, as a journalist, and in fundraising when I was at PBS, which is also a nonprofit. I did not want to go back to the jobs that I had already done, so I decided to jump off the cliff and see if I could create the kind of Latino media company that I always said I wish existed.”
The author of three books, Hinojosa is one of the nation’s most distinguished journalists. Since her early days as a radio journalist, she’s been in the fight to increase coverage of Latino issues in the media. Prior to founding Futuro Media, Hinojosa worked for CNN’s New York bureau and was known for her coverage of immigrant communities. At PBS, she headlined Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One and also anchored the public affairs show Visiones at WNBC-4 in New York City. But Hinojosa is best known to the general public for being the host of National Public Radio’s (NPR) Latino USA, the Peabody Award-winning Latino news and cultural affairs show she anchored since the early 1990s.
In addition to four Emmys, Hinojosa received the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Reporting on the Disadvantaged. In 2019, she was named the inaugural Distinguished Journalist in Residence at her alma mater, Barnard College.
The genius of Futuro Media is successful word-of-mouth marketing, which Hinojosa insists was something that just happened and was not planned out. Futuro Media skillfully utilizes its interactive websites, podcasts, and various social media platforms to both alert and get its programming to the public at large. The public then inevitably shares stories they like with their friends on their own social media platforms, who also do the same, creating a domino effect.
“When we heard that people learned of [us] via social media by sharing Futuro Media stories with each other it was a confirmation to us that we were producing the kind of stories that people wanted to hear or read,” Hinojosa said. “I come from a radio background and I never believed that radio was dead, but I knew the means of getting a radio segment out to the public had changed and was being done via Podcasts. Today, most people listen to a podcast when they are driving or relaxing at home.”
Futuro Media, which has 40 employees, is currently comprised of several media properties. The first is Latino USA, distributed by NPR from 1993 to 2020, and now by Public Radio Exchange (PRX). It’s on more than 275 public radio stations around the nation, including the top 10 markets. The show continues to be anchored by Hinojosa and became part of Futuro Media in 2010. Some of its most recent episodes include: A Spoken History of the Nuyorican Poets Café, 9/11’s Immigration Legacy, and At Odds with Cuba’s ‘Myth’.’
Created by journalist Julio Ricardo Varela, Latino Rebels is an independent digital media site that offers news, commentary and analysis of the U.S. Latino world. Latino Rebels also produces Latino Rebels Radio, a weekly interview show that has consistently been in the Top 10 Latino podcast lists. Latino Rebels is also in early production of a new late-night show, thanks to support by 150/Warner Media.
A Harvard graduate, Varela is the now the company’s editorial director and co-executive director, and contributes heavily to Latino USA as well. His past work experience includes being a digital producer for Al Jazeera Media Network; a columnist for NBC Latino; and a vice president and editorial director for Houghton Mifflin Company.
Latino Rebels covers Washington, D.C. thanks to the aggressive, smart and thorough reporting of Pablo Manríquez, a one man Washington DC bureau who tracks down and interviews elected officials as they are going between offices through the tunnels of the Capitol.
Manríquez’s first unofficial day of covering the Capitol was all done outside of the building. It was during the January 6 insurrection, the day angry Trump supporters stormed the Capitol hoping to overturn the election. “I just happened to be wearing my Milwaukee Bucks cap that day, which somehow endeared me to some of the rioters that I was interviewing,” Manríquez said.
For now, trying to make sure Manríquez has press credentials to do his job is the main focus. “It’s a constant struggle,” said Manríquez, whose stories are focused on immigration and how government policies impact Latino Americans.
Prior to becoming a correspondent for Latino Rebels, Manríquez worked for a number of media outlets and organizations including the Center for Investigative Reporting, Roll Call, and Fox News. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. “I'm grateful to Futuro for giving me the opportunity to report immigration news from Washington," Manríquez said.
In The Thick, which describes itself as “a podcast of about politics, race and culture from a POC perspective” is hosted by Hinojosa and Varela. It was created in 2016 out of the need for diverse representation and coverage of the 2016 presidential election. Recent episodes include White Violence on Steroids; Feeding the Climate Monster; and Take Your Job and Shove it.
Futuro Studios is the company’s original programming division. It has produced several critically-acclaimed podcasts such as Anything for Selena, Suave, La Brega and Loud: The History of Reggaeton.
Futuro Unidad Hinojosa (FUH) is Hinojosa’s newest division, with a focus on investigative journalism and original programming. In 2021, FUH produced The We Imagine … Us Project, which is distributed by PRX.
Hinojosa says that Futuro Media does not have the resources to produce and film original programming for television, but hopes that by working with organizations like Netflix, partnerships may open up in the future. “Futuro Media has been represented by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) since 2019,” Varela said.
While most Latino-owned media companies struggle to attract dwindling advertising dollars, Futuro Media has found foundations that support its enterprising Latino-focused journalism such as the Ford Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, Knight Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, The Libra Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, Art for Justice Fund, The New York Women’s Foundation, The Libra Foundation, and Hispanics in Philanthropy. Futuro Media also has numerous individual sponsors comprised of listeners and viewers as well as corporate donors.
“What I think is really important is that we have solved the representation issue in the Latino community and that we are reaching an ever growing and loyal audience with the information that they want,” Varela said. “The Golden Age of Futuro Media is happening now. We are breaking new ground and creating new opportunities.”