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ethnic media in the u.s.: a growing force

Ethnic media in the U.S. is flourishing: What started out as niche media serving small communities has grown in the last decade into thousands of media outlets in dozens of cities. According to a 2005 poll by the consulting/polling firm Bendixen & Associates, 13 percent of the adult U.S. population "prefers" ethnic media over mainstream media, and one-quarter of the U.S. population regularly consume ethnic media.

FRONTLINE asked some top ethnic media editors and publishers to respond to a series of questions: How does Chinese, African American, Latino and other ethnic media in the U.S. fit into the overall changing landscape of U.S. journalism? What will the growth of ethnic media mean for the news business in the U.S.? Are ethnic media publishers more optimistic than mainstream news publishers about the future?

participants

Yuru Chen, editor in chief of the Chinese language World Journal newspaper based in Brisbane, Calif.

Joseph Leung, editor in chief of Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language daily published in San Francisco

Melanie Polk, publisher of the L.A. Watts Times newspaper, an African American weekly based in Los Angeles

Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, editor in chief of the Spanish language daily El Diario/La Prensa in New York City

Kathy Williamson, editor in chief of Our Weekly an African American weekly based in Los Angeles

 

1. As someone who is in the business of ethnic media, how do you see the business landscape changing? How has demand changed the business of ethnic media?

Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush
Editor in chief, El Diario/La Prensa

Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush

Ethnic media is changing profoundly. Growing immigrant communities have made cities and neighborhoods across the country far more multi-ethnic and diverse. From Mexicans in Georgia, to Somalis in Minnesota and Bangladeshis in Queens, N.Y., the multicultural mosaic of this country has been dramatically reshaped in the past decade. And more diversity is to come. According to the last census, for example, one out of every four schoolchildren in this country is Hispanic. In 15 years, according to estimates, one-quarter of all women in the United States will be Hispanic.

Numbers alone do not tell the tale. The growing economic importance of these immigrant communities is not only reshaping the U.S. economy -- from city neighborhoods to small towns and rural areas -- but also reshaping those of countries around the world. … The flip side of growing influence abroad is growing influence here. Recent immigrant groups have begun to climb the ladder of local politics, and also the struggle over immigration has brought to the fore a whole new generation of politically-engaged local leadership.

All this is happening at a time of retrenchment in mainstream media. Journalistically, the consolidation of mainstream media has increased the homogenization of outlets and led to a loss of independent sources with distinctive personalities and viewpoints. It has also increased the distance, literal and figurative, between those who decide what is news and those who live it, particularly with regards to growing immigrant communities.

The holes in mainstream media coverage were never more obvious than in the coverage of the debate on immigration reform. It took 250,000 people marching in protest on the streets of Chicago (and 500,000 in Los Angeles and 125,000 in New York a few days later) for the mainstream press to discover an issue that had been roiling in the pages of El Diario/La Prensa and the ethnic press for months. Similar examples abound, ranging from music (Reggaeton anyone?) to sports (the World Cup).

By contrast, ethnic media has remained, by and large, close to the communities they serve. And the challenge, going forward, is to step up our journalistic coverage of the struggles facing our communities -- immigration, civil rights, economic opportunity, cultural diversity -- which also happen to be some of the most fundamental and divisive issues facing the broader society.

These issues make for good journalism. They also happen to make for good business. At a time when English-language newspapers are losing readers, El Diario/La Prensa's audited daily readership increased by more than 25 percent to 266,812 over the past year. The number of unique visitors to our Web site has more than doubled over the same period to 247,450 per month.

Yuru Chen
Editor in chief, World Journal

Ethnic media has seen continued growth because the ethnic population in America is growing -- in California, for example, ethnic minorities make up more than 50 percent of the population. So the demand for ethnic media has increased. Similarly, the Chinese media has also grown. The growth in the Chinese media sector means that each Chinese media outlet has to stay competitive and serve the Chinese community better in order to survive. The growth in the ethnic media sector also means that the relationship between mainstream media and ethnic media has become more important. This relationship is collaborative, not competitive. Actually, the very definition of "mainstream media" is in question nowadays since California is now a minority-majority state.

Melanie Polk
Publisher, L.A. Watts Times

As a community newspaper in today's business environment, we are called upon to provide more service for the same or less annual revenue by advertisers. Corporate clients are seeking to expand their exposure through us beyond our printed pages with event planning, Web site exposure and other value-added campaigns. Our creativity and resources are stretched beyond the traditional realm of newspaper publishing.


 

2. Who is advertising in your publication? What is your competition for advertising dollars?

Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush
Editor in chief, El Diario/La Prensa

Most of our advertising comes from local businesses. We receive some national advertising as well, but Spanish language media has historically been underrepresented in national advertising campaigns. This means that although Hispanics represent over 12 percent of the population, far less than 12 percent of advertising dollars are spent on the Hispanic media. This gap is particularly pronounced when it comes to print media and the over 50 percent of U.S. Hispanics who prefer to read in Spanish. As advertisers have become more aware of the importance of reaching the large and growing Hispanic market, this gap is narrowing. This is both the opportunity and the challenge.

Melanie Polk
Publisher, L.A. Watts Times

We maintain a stream of corporate, government and local business clients. More so than any rival newspaper, our actual competition is the sliding scale between indifference and ignorance among a large contingent of media buyers. We experience indifference from a variety of ad buyers who, despite media studies to the contrary, believe they can engage the African American community through mainstream newspapers. We frequently encounter ignorance from media buyers who have no awareness or respect for African American spending power. Some ad buyers do not realize that African Americans, as an otherwise disenfranchised population, still consider advertising in the African American media as a direct invitation to the community.

Yuru Chen
Editor in chief, World Journal

In the World Journal, almost all our advertisers are Chinese businesses, ranging from high-tech corporations to small businesses. Mainstream corporations such as banks, although much less frequently, have also advertised in the ethnic media. During the boom in the Silicon Valley, mainstream corporations even advertised in our paper in English. Our competition is other Chinese media: We all have to split this pie.

Kathy Williamson
Editor in chief, Our Weekly

Kathy Williamson

The lion's share of our advertisers are small to medium size "mom-and-pop" businesses. Other advertising dollars come from agencies and corporations. Our competition for advertising dollars is the other top black newspapers in Los Angeles. Since we are labeled as "the black press," we collectively lose out on mainstream ad revenue, although African Americans remain huge consumers and have more unprecedented purchasing power in much broader areas.


Joseph Leung
Editor in chief, Sing Tao Daily

Our advertisers range from local Chinese retailers such as Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and also mainstream corporations, such as AT&T, Ford, Honda, JCPenney, GM, Macy's, etc. Our competitors are other Chinese publications, and other Chinese media such as television, the Yellow Pages, radio, and magazines.

 

3. How do you see ethnic media developing in the next few decades as compared with the mainstream media? What are you doing to ensure that your publication deals with the challenges facing mainstream outlets?

Yuru Chen
Editor in chief, World Journal

Yuru Chen

The most important factor in developing any media is the same: How do you listen to the demands of your audience? Understanding how to serve the immigrant community is the best way for ethnic media to survive. We do this in a couple of ways.

First we find the commonality in our readers. Chinese people come from all over the world to the United States -- they could come from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Southeast Asia -- so that means they have different backgrounds and different needs. The most important thing they share in common is language. And all Chinese immigrants, no matter where they come from or when they came to the United States, need information on health, education, taxes, just to name a few. We also bring news from Asia to our readers.

As reporters it is also our responsibility to stand up for our community. Our readers need to understand issues like immigration and government. We educate our community about voting rights and encourage them to participate in politics. We also do a lot of reporting on civil rights in our community.

It's also important for us to have an exchange, an interaction, with mainstream media. The ethnic media excels at reporting on their own communities and on international news. If we do this well, mainstream media will seek help from us. After all, nobody understands the Chinese better than the Chinese themselves.

Melanie Polk
Publisher, L.A. Watts Times

I imagine "ethnic" media will continue to serve an important role in providing a familial connection to and for the community. As mainstream media provides a broad spectrum of news and ideas, the community will continue to reach for publications that specifically address their interests. As a board member with the California Newspaper Publisher's Association, I have the opportunity to interact with a variety of weekly and daily newspaper publishers throughout the state. Publishers of small and large circulation newspapers share many of the same challenges. We are all reaching out to our readership through our printed pages and Web sites to excite advertisers and engage both our young and old readers with fresh approaches tailored to balancing their distinctive needs.

Our primary concern is to publish a quality newspaper that provides relevant news and information that is thought-provoking, honest, engaging and service-oriented. The L.A. Watts Times was originally founded after the Watts rebellion in 1965. The original mission was to publish a newspaper that was also a resource guide for the community. As the African American community has expanded well beyond the city of Watts, the newspaper has likewise expanded to reach our community throughout the county. We have, however, maintained our "resource guide" image, and this continues to drive readership and provide a welcoming platform for advertisers. To deal with the challenges all publications are facing, we will have to stretch our resources to make our Web site interactive and use this technology to attract advertisers on a much larger scale.

Kathy Williamson
Editor in chief, Our Weekly

The demand for ethnic media in the past 10 years has been explosive -- in the double digits. While mainstream media has been suffering from a decline in circulation, ethnic media's biggest challenge is to meet demand. Production costs are a shared print media concern. We will continue to negotiate and shop for the best [printing] rates. Unlike mainstream media, ethnic media is less likely to ship jobs overseas. Ethnic media will continue to grow with the emergence of more dailies, maybe beginning with at least four days a week and/or weekends and growing to daily readership. Production costs, among general operating costs, have to be carefully monitored so that growth doesn't race farther than revenue. Every ethnic paper must develop a Web site.

Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush
Editor in chief, El Diario/La Prensa

Ethnic media will face many of the same challenges that the mainstream media is facing. Technology and changing lifestyles are altering how and when people want to receive information. The key, in my opinion, is to keep sight of who our readers are and how they live. There is a strong bond of loyalty and mutual recognition that links ethnic media with its audience -- an implicit contract of honesty and advocacy. As long as this bond is tended to, ethnic media will thrive, whatever delivery medium it takes.

 

4. How has your media outlet adapted to meet Internet and multimedia trends? Do you believe this is a growth area for your outlet in the future?

Yuru Chen
Editor in chief, World Journal

More and more Chinese readers are going online to get their news. Chinese media has to go online. We face the same challenges as mainstream media: How do we put content online; how do we profit from our online content; and how do we make sure this doesn't hurt our print circulation? We have so far resolved this problem by putting news stories online but leaving analysis, literary stories, features, and our Home and Life section in print. In the past, before the World Journal had a delivery service, we mailed our papers to readers through the Post Office. Sometimes the papers would be delayed for two, even three days, but people continued to subscribe because they yearned for information about their community and about their homeland. So we know that the demand for the content is there.

The advantage for the World Journal and other Chinese media is similar in that our readers are mostly middle aged, so going online isn't an urgent issue for us. But we also need to cultivate new readers. So we have a very close collaboration with local Chinese schools: We have a daily Children's page, with Chinese instructions for kids. Right now learning the Chinese language is very popular among all students, so we also collaborate with universities like U.C. Berkeley to have our articles used in the classroom.

Melanie Polk
Publisher, L.A. Watts Times

The L.A. Watts Times maintains a weekly Web site, but we have a long way to go towards maximizing advantages the technological trends have to offer. Recent studies have revealed surprising statistics regarding the advanced online research and spending habits of African Americans. These statistics offer great encouragement for enhancing our online activity. We do plan to direct increased resources towards our Web site development, albeit in measured doses.

Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush
Editor in chief, El Diario/La Prensa

El Diario/La Prensa has vigorously expanded our Internet and multimedia efforts. We have a robust and rich Internet site with podcasts, videocasts, and blogs. We are committed to making our Internet site the go-to place for Spanish-language news and features on New York.

Joseph Leung
Editor in chief, Sing Tao Daily

Joseph Leung

The Internet is definitely a growth area for our outlet in the future. The San Francisco Sing Tao Daily launched its Web site more than 10 years ago. It was the first local Chinese newspaper Web site in the Bay Area. A year later, the Sing Tao Radio was launched. We fully understand the benefit of multimedia and are looking for every opportunity to expand our business. We have also produced several television programs in the past decade.


Kathy Williamson
Editor in chief, Our Weekly

Our Weekly has had a Web presence since it began. We maintain an on-site IT staff and realize that our potential for future growth is tied to the Internet. It gives us a global presence and reaches a larger and younger audience.

 

5.Tribune Co. just sold its New York-based Spanish-language daily paper Hoy to ImpreMedia, an ethnic newspaper publisher. How important do you believe it is for ethnic media outlets to be owned by members of the communities they are covering? Why? What differences do you see when publications are owned by non-ethnic outlets?

Kathy Williamson
Editor in chief, Our Weekly

When publications are owned by members of the community, employees are usually hired from the area, which means that jobs are created and remain in the community, and money is generated and recycled in the same community. Our editorial content is 90-95 percent original writing, and no more than 10 percent wire-generated (used for national news only). This is the complete opposite of our competitors, who are about 90 percent wire copy and 10 percent original writing. This means that our writers are in the streets, getting the news from the community. When members of a community own their ethnic media outlet, there is more of a connection and sensitivity to ethnic issues. In addition to providing valuable, pertinent information, ethnic media also serves as the voice of those who are disenfranchised via opinion sections and advocacy.

Joseph Leung
Editor in chief, Sing Tao Daily

I think it is extremely important for ethnic media outlets be owned by the same ethnic group they are covering. It is all about the culture, sensitivity and identity. No matter how good BBC China is, it is just not a Chinese media outlet. When an ethnic outlet is owned by non-ethnic outlet, it is run more like a business. Community service and responsibility to that community are of least importance. In addition, an owner who exists outside of the community can only guess at what audiences or readers want. The worst possible scenario is when a non-ethnic owner forces his or her values and opinions to influence the news programming of the ethnic outlet. This may not be welcomed or accepted by the community the parent company intends to serve.

Melanie Polk
Publisher, L.A. Watts Times

Melanie Polk

It's obvious one would expect owners of media outlets to be culturally aware and sensitive to their heritage, particularly when communicating with that audience. I think ethnic ownership, while virtuous, is not the only consideration. Journalistic integrity, cultural esteem, commitment to the audience and the advertiser are virtues not confined to heritage. One would not be hard-pressed to find African Americans who consider some African American-owned or operated media outlets as providing a disservice to the community. That said, the pain and pride ingrained on the African American soul has resulted in our rich contributions to the world, and that experience frames the passion of African American publishers in general. Such experience is not readily transferable to other groups, therefore, one cannot expect the same result from those who do not share a similar cultural perspective.

African Americans who own media outlets are more inclined to reflect the light of their community. When someone of a different background owns a media outlet directed to a specific group, they will be more inclined to shine the light on that community without the sensitivity a cultural connection would offer.

Yuru Chen
Editor in chief, World Journal

Press freedom also means competitive freedom. Hypothetically, to any Chinese reader, the more competitive the media market, the better it will be to serve them. So let's say Rupert Murdoch buys a Chinese newspaper -- that can be good for us if he can pay the staff better, hire the best staff, and serve readers better. All major Chinese-language newspapers in the U.S. have parent companies in Asia. Chinese media is becoming more and more powerful, with a lot of financial power. The World Journal publishes in the United States and Canada. Its parent company, United Daily News in Taiwan, is a global newspaper network. The Ming Pao Daily News, which also publishes in the U.S., is owned by a large press group with operations in Malaysia and Hong Kong. It is also possible that ethnic media in the U.S. could buy each other and merge, the way [Spanish-language publisher] ImpreMedia has done. A large Chinese press group could buy other Chinese media, but it is also entirely possible that this large press group could buy mainstream English papers.

Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush
Editor in chief, El Diario/La Prensa

It is essential to have independent news sources with distinctive personalities, as well as a commitment to, and engagement with, underserved communities. ImpreMedia was formed by joining two of the most respected and successful Spanish-language daily newspapers in the country -- El Diario/La Prensa of New York and La Opinion of Los Angeles. It has grown to include La Raza of Chicago, La Prensa of Orlando, and El Mensajero of San Francisco -- each deeply identified with their local communities -- and Vista magazine. With the addition of Hoy New York, the ImpreMedia publications will reach over 3 million readers across the country.

 

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Daffodil Altan is an associate editor for New America Media.

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posted feb. 27, 2007

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