University of Miami

University of Miami

The Face of a New Cuban Diaspora

University of Miami is one of the 2017 winners of the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. See all 10 winners.


  • Sallie Hughes, Associate Professor, Department of Journalism and Media Management & Program in Latin American Studies, University of Miami; Senior Research Lead for Latin American Studies and Policy, University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas
  • Alejandro González, Chief Operating Officer, 14ymedio
  • Yoani Sánchez, Publisher, 14ymedio
  • Mario J. Pentón, Reporter, 14ymedio
  • el Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald
  • Telemundo 51

Describe your project

Students and professors will work with a Cuban outlet to test engagement, reporting and distribution techniques to transform recently arrived Cubans in Miami — an underserved population generally distrustful of news — into news consumers and contributors. The project also presents earlier generations of Miami Cubans with a more complete picture of the newcomers and their challenges. Uniquely, island Cubans may learn about Miami through the eyes of recently emigrated friends and relatives.

The project tests several engagement techniques:

  • Events (tertulias, held at community venues)
  • Co-produced topic agendas
  • Content distributed in popular media to expand reach

What is your live news experiment?

This experiment will be conducted as a capstone semester-long class offered to at most 10 students in journalism, Latin American Studies, media management and/or communications at the University of Miami (UM). The class will be co-taught by a UM journalism professor, the chief operating officer at 14ymedio and a 14ymedio journalist.

With the instructors’ support, students will develop and execute a plan to test each of the three engagement techniques.

The group will hold up to four gatherings, called tertulias, with Cubans who have arrived in Miami within the last three to 10 years. Each gathering will include informal one-on-one discussions as well as a focus group conducted in an informal setting to engage participants in meaningful dialogue about the diaspora experience and how local outlets can best showcase their interests.

The team will also work with Alejandro González, 14ymedio’s chief operating officer, to secure partnerships with non-traditional media and entertainment platforms in Miami that target Cubans who have arrived within the last 10 years.

Through these partnerships, UM students will then work with 14ymedio’s Miami-based reporter and a UM professor to produce a series of multimedia editorial pieces that would be distributed not only in 14ymedio, but also more widely in the non-traditional media platforms.

Students will have the opportunity to interview several of the people to produce up to six multimedia editorial pieces featuring the voices of this new generation of migrants in Miami.

If the experiment works, what do you think might happen?

UM students would value:

  • Engaging directly with communities they cover
  • Considering distribution before producing news
  • Embracing collaborations that increase reach and impact
  • Assessing distribution success.

By covering the Cuban community, students would:

  • gain perspective to lead future coverage of “trans-national” communities spread across borders, a common but poorly understood phenomenon
  • help improve journalism that builds bridges within and across communities
  • UM broadly would benefit by innovating journalism education to include cross-border communities

14ymedio would:

  • reach Miami readers who maintain strong connections with Cuba
  • attract new readers in Cuba thanks to Miami relatives who share 14ymedio content
  • cultivate partnerships amplifying its work.

Audience members would:

  • gain knowledge and tools to support successful incorporation in Miami
  • benefit from increased understanding among different generations of Cubans, whose diverse backgrounds and arrival contexts have sometimes sown division.

We will measure effectiveness in a several ways:

  • Student objectives: Instructors will survey students at the beginning and end of the course to measure learning objectives. Students will also be asked to complete a final reflection paper.
  • 14ymedio objectives: Students will analyze 14ymedio’s audience numbers and demographics after the series is published. In addition, tertulia participants will be surveyed before the event and after the editorial series has been published.
  • Audience objectives: We will gauge impact on the audience through insights from the tertulia participants’ pre- and post-surveys, and an online survey distributed to a random sample of readers.

How is this project unique and innovative?

This project is unique because students work with an underserved group neither they nor Miami’s legacy media frequently consider. Furthermore, as US-Cuba relations change rapidly, it conceptualizes Cubans as a cross-border community that builds its future together. The instructors, audiences and content synthesize ideas and experiences from both sides of the Florida Straits. Indeed, students will likely come from immigrant families, with many of them Cuban-American or representing other national origins with family members in two countries. We hope one day to include students in Cuba. Meanwhile, UM students will work with instructors to create a journalism model that supports community understanding in Miami and improves opportunities of newer arrived Cubans here. We believe the model could be adapted to other immigrant or refugee groups that are poorly covered or understood.

On the editorial side, the project challenges students to enter the community. The tertulias — held off-campus in the community — are innovative because they support building meaningful relationships with the people that journalists serve, a concept that has suffered during the digital age. The project also instills a distribution-first mindset. In a modern newsroom, journalists should consider how their story is read from conceptualization to publication. In asking students to develop and execute distribution strategies for their content, they will better understand the importance of expanding the reach of their work by working side-by-side with colleagues in audience development.

Ultimately, this project is unique — and important — because it breaks silos in the community and the newsroom to build empathy and foster collaboration.

What technology platforms will you use?

This project will use existing technology platforms.

Students will use video and photo cameras and audio recording devices — all available at UM — to produce multimedia content. The content will be edited on computers using popular editing software. The team will also use 360-degree cameras in certain cases to allow for more immersive storytelling.

Editorial content will be published on 14ymedio’s website and social media platforms. In working with other outlets and distribution platforms, the team will also distribute the content either on their website or social media.

If it works, how might this experiment change teaching at your school or media practices in your partner’s newsroom?

Our Latino/a media minor program is two years old. Offerings in specialized reporting remain limited. If successful, we envision this project becoming the minor’s cornerstone reporting class. It does exactly what we want students in the program to do — culturally aware, community-oriented journalism. Later on, we hope to offer an adapted version of the course to students elsewhere as an online-offline hybrid with an intersession or summer component in Miami. Miami leads the country in cultural diversity. The curriculum piloted here can help students around the country learn to better cover immigrant communities.

Additionally, the partner newsroom’s staff will better understand its audience and the importance that engaging new audiences plays in the overall operation. The partner might also expand distribution agreements with other Miami outlets after studying the results of this experiment.

The University of Miami team provided an update on its project in a March 2018 report.

Update: What have you discovered?

We’ve had several surprises, mostly positive although not without challenges. One is that the tertulias are a format that may be useful in bridging generational differences between senior media leadership who in many cases have arrived in the earliest Cuban immigrant generations and the mostly younger, newly arrived Cubans in our tertulias. We hope to explore further this development in later iterations of the class.

Another is that the students were craving to experiment with new approaches to journalism that allow them to tell the authentic stories of members of this underserved community. We are all learning together on this point – trying to incorporate ideas from ethnographers, “solutions journalism” and our intuition, while retaining professional judgment.