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Univision's Ramos Seeks New Audiences On Facebook — And Draws Millions

On the campaign trail, the chief anchor of the Spanish-language network Univision, Jorge Ramos, chases three quarries: voters, viewers and relevance.

A self-described dinosaur who insists on mastering new tricks, Ramos and his team now reach an audience of millions who are watching not on television, but via video streams on Facebook, captured by an iPhone clutched in a selfie stick.

The videos, long by network standards, sometimes run 45 minutes or an hour. They run on the social media platform's relatively new feature called Facebook Live. And they have achieved surprisingly strong results. On the night of the Iowa caucuses, Ramos' videos were viewed by 2.6 million people. On primary day in New Hampshire, his team posted three videos totaling 75 minutes. Although Univision did no marketing other than tweets and Facebook notifications, those videos from New Hampshire were collectively watched 4 million times. Those figures rival or exceed cable news figures, though they are not perfectly comparable.

"We are going where the audience is," Ramos told me as I caught up to him on the day of the New Hampshire primaries earlier this month. "There's a huge migration of eyes."

Ramos has three regular outlets for his reporting already; he is the co-anchor of Univision's nightly newscast of record, Noticiero Univision, and the host of its Sunday public affairs show, Al Punto. In addition, he is anchor of a weekly newsmagazine, America, on Fusion, Univision's English-language sister cable channel. In essence, Ramos considers Facebook Live yet another channel, reaching younger viewers more oriented to mobile devices than traditional televisions.

"For the first time, we are showing them exactly what you and I are doing — which are the basics of reporting: walking, getting the place, talking to people and to voters," Ramos said. "When people see the process at night on the network news, they see the refined product. And I think they're kind of tired of that. They want to see the real thing. And this is the real thing."

The experiment is driven by Ramos' team from Fusion, which is geared toward millennials, with a Latin flavor. Fusion has not been able to draw the audiences it had hoped for on television, but it has created an aggressive digital effort.

"What we've known all the time for Fusion is that if we try to compete with CNN or Fox, and do their ideas for our audience, it won't work, because that model has been tried, tested, and they've perfected it," said Dax Tejera, executive producer of America with Jorge Ramos. "It was increasingly clear to us that people were coming to see us through Facebook. And when Facebook Live became an option, and there is a lot of live coverage right now, it was a no-brainer." (The network has not yet figured out how to derive revenues from the videos: audience first, profits to be determined.)

Univision and Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos clashes with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Aug. 25.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
Getty Images
Univision and Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos clashes with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Aug. 25.

For all that, television has been the source of considerable success, fame and influence for Ramos, a veteran broadcaster of three decades. The Mexican-born anchor has been insistent that politicians and presidential candidates in both parties address thorny questions important to Latinos, especially those on immigration. Last August, Republican front-runner Donald Trump had Ramos thrown out of a press conference. Trump later relented and staffers let Ramos back in, but the incident sparked national attention.

Ramos' network shows continue unabated, as staffers toggle between platforms. Fusion anchor Mariana Atencio said she demanded to leave the network's Miami studios to join Ramos' team in New Hampshire so she could participate in the live-stream broadcasts as well.

The equipment is stripped down, almost entirely reliant on technology available to the average consumer. But it requires production vigilance nonetheless. Some footage is grainy, depending on the quality of wireless connections. There's also instant feedback, as viewers watching live can post reactions, emoticons and comments. Producers hover nearby to suggest questions or discussions based on the response on Facebook Live.

And the data allow Ramos' team to track not just the size of the audience but how viewers use the videos. "Since we're doing kind of raw coverage, and we're going for long periods of time, we're experimenting with throwing some Spanish in," Tejera said, estimating the split of Ramos' audience at about 50-50 between English-speakers and Spanish-speakers. "What I find remarkable is that when he switches languages ... the live viewing audience doesn't really take a major shift."

"Jorge will volley between [them] over the 90 minutes and serve those two audiences."

What appears on Facebook Live is extended and often proves thoughtful. Facebook offers its broadcast partners the right to stream up to 90 minutes a day live; the resulting videos are archived on one of the network's pages. The videos are raw in two senses. As they are initially streamed live, there can be no internal edits. And Ramos' celebrity and controversies make him a recognizable character.

At Merrimack High School in New Hampshire, Ramos held a microphone adorned with a symbol for Fusion, Univision's less well-known English-language network. Cars were backed up for an hour to park as voters sought to cast ballots. Despite a very slight Latino population in the state, many voters instantly recognized Ramos as Univision's most prominent journalist.

He pressed one vocal Trump supporter holding a big placard aloft about the openness of the billionaire's campaign: "Interesting that you say we're not haters," Ramos started. "Some people might think that Mexicans, Muslims, women might not be welcome."

Mike Malzone, owner of a ceramic tile company in Merrimack, said he disagreed. "We've never looked at people as color until the last seven years in this country," Malzone said. "Really. I mean, let's be honest with it."

Then Malzone turned the question back on Ramos: "I was disappointed with your station for quite some time because I could never SAP your station in English" — that is, receive translation of Univision's Spanish newscasts into English in real time. "You made me pay for that station. ... That wasn't cool, man. Right? Right? Is that racism?"

"No — it's not racism," Ramos replied, calmly. "We simply broadcast in Spanish. That's all. Now I am also working for Fusion, so you can watch whatever we do in both." The translation service is now available for Univision.

Ramos then moved the discussion of Trump and rival Ted Cruz forward. But it all was captured on the video stream. It's highly unlikely that a similar exchange would make ABC News' World News, or CBS's Face the Nation.

Ramos remains unsatisfied with the quality of the iPhone camera, but he thinks it will inevitably improve.

Still, he valued that contentious exchange with Malzone and the rawness of his stream. "I don't have the prompter or the lights or the set. It's the nature of our business — it's true reporting," Ramos said.

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David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.