One thing is clear to Cynthia Hudson, senior vice president and general manager of CNN en Español and Hispanic strategy for CNN/U.S.: there is absolutely no need for news services or anyone else to pander to U.S. Latinos or Hispanics in Latin American countries. In fact, if you want to earn the loyalty and business of this rapidly growing demographic, you need to do just the opposite, she says.
“There needs to be authentic voices talking to these audiences. We need to be more authentic and realistic about the voices and the content,” says Hudson, who will be honored with the PromaxIMPACT Award at PromaxLatino 2018 at Miami’s New World Center on Nov. 14. Hudson is receiving the award for her work as a champion of inclusion, engaging diverse audiences and embracing multicultural awareness through marketing.
“I remember one of the things I hated the most when I was working in Spanish language broadcast TV was that I didn’t feel we needed to be creating a Mexican casita every time we were creating a set. We needed to be a news brand and we needed to look that way. One of the first things I did when I got to CNN en Español in 2010 was get rid of the Mexican tiles that lined the columns on our set. News is news. I think that’s really important.”
Hudson has worked in Spanish-language content and news since she graduated from South Florida’s University of Miami with a degree in broadcast journalism. Her first job was as a news producer and reporter at Univision’s WLTV Miami. She quickly learned that while people were pushing her toward a career in front of the camera, she preferred to be the one calling the shots.
“I wanted to be part of the decision-making process and really be in the editorial gate-keeper position — driving the strategy, having the deeper conversations, getting into production and being behind the scenes. That was my first step toward programming and leadership. It was a great decision for me.”
She pursued that leadership path during her eight years at Univision, ultimately working as executive producer of the first U.S. Hispanic daytime magazine show, TV Mujer, which garnered Univision its first Emmy award for ongoing series production.
In 1992, she decamped Univision for rival U.S. Spanish-language programming service, Telemundo, where she was named vice president of programming and production. During her two years there, she developed the network’s first in-house telenovela production unit. That team debuted primetime scripted drama Tres Destinos in 1994.
Hudson then served as senior vice president of programming and creative services for United International Holding’s joint venture, United Family Communications, from 1994-97. While there, she created Casa Club TV, which was the first pan-regional Home channel for Latin America. Later, UFC was acquired by MGM and became MGM Networks Latin America.
From 1997-2005, Hudson worked as senior vice president and editorial director of Cosmopolitan Television, which was part of Hearst Entertainment and Syndication. There, she led the creation and development of the Cosmopolitan TV Networks, including Canal Cosmopolitan Iberia and Canal Cosmopolitan Latin America. She also laid the foundation for Cosmo TV Canada, overseeing design of its original programs, on-air packaging, promotions and program acquisitions, as well as of the creation and production of original formats and the network’s overall business strategy.
Hudson was named chief creative officer and executive vice president for SBS and managing director of Mega TV in 2005. She was responsible for SBS’ expansion, directly overseeing flagship network Mega TV as well as SBS’ and MegaTV’s evolution into new media.
She jumped to CNN en Español in 2010, marking her return to news.
Since getting to the network, she has taken it from a standard 24/7 headline service — a la the old Headline News — to three networks covering the U.S., Mexico and Latin America with a robust digital and social-media presence.
When it comes to covering the story of U.S. Latinos at this particular point in time when a caravan of thousands of displaced people is traveling through Mexico hoping to make their way to the U.S. as President Donald Trump issues harsher and harsher stances on immigration, Hudson says there are two perspectives to consider.
“First, is the Trump narrative with regards to Latinos and their role in the U.S.,” she says. “Sometimes, there is a lot of ignorance with regard to the history of the U.S. People don’t realize that Spanish was spoken on this content long before English was. The border crossed them — they didn’t cross the border. I think there’s historical ignorance about the role of Latinos and the importance of Hispanic culture in the U.S. I think that has been exacerbated by the dog-whistle commentary and nationalistic tenor of today’s politics.
“But the story of the real opportunities and realities of Latin America is that it’s an emerging market, and China and Russia are both trying to maneuver their way into it. Canada has understood this very well but the U.S. is facing some existential crises about what it means to be a Latino in America.
“I think it’s important to have all of those conversations. We try to have them at CNN and at CNN en Español a lot.”
In terms of how they report and cover stories, there is no different between the approach of CNN and CNN en Español — one is just in English and the other is in Spanish. Both networks produce their own stories in their native languages, working to address their respective audiences honestly.
“CNN looks for facts and truth and that goes across all of the CNN brands. We won’t report something we can’t absolutely prove. Our credibility and our brand goes hand in hand,” she says.
Hudson encourages her teams to cover stories from as many angles as possible, looking at all perspectives to provide stories with layers of depth and complexity that lead to greater understanding.
“I feel it is critically important to not just do one angle of a story. We do a lot of angles, starting with on-screen graphics that can provide different information, creating digital stories with layers of context and bringing on different guests. We report not just what happened but why and how it happened.”
Latinos in the U.S., Mexico and Latin America are heavy social media users and under Hudson’s leadership, CNN en Español has leaned into that, building out robust social media platforms across its brands.
“Social media is critical,” she says. “What we know is that Latinos in the U.S. and in Latin America over-index in mobile and social.”
As part of Time Warner, CNN en Español has just been acquired by AT&T. Hudson sees opportunity there.
“We have found that the social media aspect of news is really critical to engaging and informing audiences,” she says. “People are getting their first tidbit of news from social media. That social media strategy has been critical to us and to our growth.”