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Ethnic media is more than a niche: It’s worth your attention

July 25, 2013

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ethnic-newspapers-990-ccKarl Rove gets it. So do major advertisers, broadcast networks, and their digital offspring. To be a viable political or commercial force in America’s future, you must be able to understand and connect with an audience that is heavily made up of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans.

No surprise there, right?

Then why is there a paucity of research, education and funding aimed at producing excellent journalists and sustainable news outlets to serve that important and expanding audience? Why is ethnic media still relatively invisible to media analysts, foundations and journalism schools, and what are the costs to us if this trend continues?

New York City is, admittedly, an extreme example of media diversity: Three million residents — 37 percent of the population — are foreign-born, and less than a quarter of those residents report speaking only English at home. Not surprisingly, there’s a vibrant ecosystem of ethnic media to serve a population that speaks more than 170 languages. But a version of New York’s mishmash exists in suburbs and small towns across America. Multicultural media are everywhere.

So it’s puzzling that we still hear (including from my esteemed colleague Jeff Jarvis) about the declining fortunes of New York’s “three daily newspapers” when there are 18 dailies serving the city, nine of which are published in languages other than English. Some are simply reprinting news about their home countries and offer little local coverage. But many, like the Chinese-language World Journalor El Diario-La Prensa, offer page after page of local news and have reporting staffs that would be the envy of many metro dailies. The combined circulation of these 18 dailies exceeds 500,000. (By contrast, the New York Daily News delivers about 270,000 papers to the city’s five boroughs.)

To get our arms around this sub-set of the local media sector, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media recently conducted a survey. The resulting directory, Many Voices, One City, includes information about 270 community and ethnic outlets that produce news in 36 languages, whether for print, radio, TV, or the web. We know there are many more such news outlets and we intend to keep adding to our soon-to-be-released online version of the directory.

Buried in our findings were some interesting nuggets: Of the 270 outlets, 31 cater to Latino audiences; the Pakistani community can choose from nine news outlets. And though the most recent U.S. Census identified just 7,000 Nepali residents in the city, the local Nepali community is served by three newspapers, one of which distributes 7,000 copies every fortnight. Overall, the sector remains active: In the last two years, for instance, there were 21 new entrants.

Unfortunately, there is little research about the business models of these ethnic and community publications. Anecdotally, however, they look and feel very different from the ones that are often the subject of media analysis. Sixty percent of those we surveyed have no circulation revenue; they rely almost exclusively on local advertising. Nearly half publish weekly newspapers, earning praise from advertisers who like the fact that the papers lie on kitchen tables for days at a time, available to multiple readers of households that are often multigenerational. Read more at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

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