US Ethnic Media: Overlooked In Science Journalism

Newspapers--and their localized science and environmental coverage--might be in decline across the U.S., but new ethnic media outlets, many of them in languages other than English, are thriving.

These outlets will be centrally important for reaching broader audiences with localized and relevant news and information about science, environment, and health. For example, many of these audience segments may have the greatest need for news about the health consequences of climate change or how to adapt to the rising price of energy. Yet, ethnic media are rarely if ever mentioned in discussions of science communication and journalism. One way to engage with the more than 60 million Americans who rely on ethnic media is to enter into partnerships where centrally produced science-related media content is translated, distributed and shared with these organizations.

This type of initiative is ideally suited for the type of non-profit university, foundation, and government supported science journalism initiatives that I discussed at Knight Science Tracker earlier this week.

From a recent news report:

Nearly 60 million Americans now regularly get information from ethnically oriented TV, radio, newspapers, and Web sites, many of which are published or broadcast in languages other than English -- and that number is on the rise.

As mainstream newspapers and cable news channels in the United States are losing more money, readers, and viewers each year, ethnic media appears to be "maybe the most vibrant part" of the media landscape, said pollster Sergio Bendixen, releasing the latest statistics today. "The ethnic media is growing, and it is growing at a very impressive rate," Bendixen told a meeting of media producers here.

Spanish-language television giants Telemundo and Univision have captured large shares of the U.S. viewing audience, but smaller Spanish stations are having an impact as well. Channels have popped up to serve Hispanic populations in new locales like Raleigh, North Carolina and Seattle, Washington, Bendixen said.

Other non-English stations, like VATV in Washington, DC and the California-based Saigon Broadcasting Television Network, which air programs in Vietnamese, are reaching more and more Americans too. A new station in San Francisco caters to that city's large Chinese-speaking population.

And the majority of African Americans report watching BET or other television channels with African American-oriented programming on a regular basis.

To determine where the 69 million Hispanics and African and Asian Americans in the United States get their information, Bendixen's company conducted a poll in eight languages -- Cantonese, English, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog (a language of the Philippines), and Vietnamese.

They determined that more than four out of every five Americans of those ethnic backgrounds are now being informed on a regular basis by ethnic media. Many consider non-English programming their primary source of information, though most also get information from mainstream, English-language media like CNN, Fox News, and the major networks CBS, NBC, and ABC.

The number of U.S. adults consuming ethnic media is up 16 percent -- from 51 million to 57 million -- since 2005, when Bendixen conducted the first poll of this sort.

Newspapers like the Chinese-American daily Sing Tao, the Muslim-focused Azizah Magazine in Atlanta, and the Minnesota-based Korean Quarterly play a powerful role in informing local communities across the United States, says New America Media, the non-profit group that supports ethnic media producers nationwide and commissioned the poll by Bendixen.

The group says advertisers, lawmakers, and others would be wise to pay more attention to the sector.

Every day of the week, Chinese and Korean Americans can be seen sipping tea and reading newspapers in their own languages at sidewalk cafes in New York, San Francisco, and many cities in between. A few blocks away, newspaper boxes vend La Opinion or El Tiempo Latino. And stacks of Bangladeshi newspapers sit on the counter of Bangladeshi groceries.

Among all the ethnic print media, African American newspapers and magazines showed the sharpest rise in readership, up 42 percent since 2005. Poll respondents said coverage of national politics was a significant reason they read African American publications like the Oakland Globe. Bendixen couldn't say for sure that the candidacy and election of Barack Obama has caused this spike in readership, but he suspects the two "are linked."


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