Sep
01
2012

Missing Latino Voices

Excluded from the newsroom, absent from the conversation

arizona_3reasons_onpageSince 1990, the Latino population in the United States has more than doubled to 16 percent, but English-language U.S. news media outlets are simply not keeping up. While people of color and women have always been underrepresented in U.S. media, Latinos consistently stand out—in the coverage as well as inside the newsroom—for their exceptionally paltry numbers relative to their population size.

In coverage
In Extra!’s recent study of the opinion pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal (4/12), Latinos were granted less than half a percent of the op-ed bylines over the two-month study period—writing two columns in the Times, one in the Wall Street Journal, and none in the Post. None of these papers has a Latino among their staff columnists.

In more than a year of political book interviews on C-SPAN After Words and reviews in the New York Times Book Review (Extra!, 8/10), not a single U.S. Latino appeared among the 432 authors, reviewers and interviewers.

Among U.S. sources on the PBS NewsHour in 2006 (Extra!, 9–10/06), Latinos, who were 14 percent of the U.S. public at the time, represented a strikingly small 2 percent; George W. Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales accounted for 30 percent of those Latino sources. An earlier study (Extra!, 5–6/02) found commercial networks doing even worse, with Latinos representing a stunningly low 0.6 percent of sources on the nightly news programs of ABC, CBS and NBC.

At NPR, only one of the outlet’s 46 regular commentators in 2003 was Latino—making them the most underrepresented group we looked at among NPR commentators next to Native Americans, who were not represented at all (Extra!, 5–6/04).

Even when the coverage directly involves and impacts Latinos, their voices are scarce. In a year’s worth of cable coverage of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio—who was recently sued by the Justice Department for unlawful discrimination against Latinos—those actually targeted by his policies were included in the conversation only two out of 21 times (Extra!, 6/09).

Latinos are rarely turned to as “experts,” the researchers, academics and analysts who add insight to a story. In FAIR’s 2007 study of poverty coverage (Extra!, 9–10/07), for example, Latinos were 5 percent of all sources, but all were people in poverty; none of the 114 non-poor sources identified in the study period were Latino.

Often the only time Latinos are included in stories is when newsmakers themselves are Latino. In stories on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, for example, 28 percent of New York Times sources whose ethnicity could be identified were Latino, while no sources identifiable as Latino were quoted when Robert Bork was nominated (Extra!, 8/09). (More than half of those Latino sources in Sotomayor stories were the nominee herself and her family and friends.)

In a study of six months of content in major print, broadcast and online media outlets in 2009, the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Hispanic Center (12/7/09) found that only 3 percent of the news content contained substantial reference to Hispanics (using a broad definition that included non-U.S. Latinos like Vene-zuelan President Hugo Chávez), and 39 percent of that coverage was of Sotomayor.

That report concluded that “most of what the public learns about Hispanics comes not through focused coverage of the life and times of this population group but through event-driven news stories in which Hispanics are one of many elements.”

Inside the newsroom
The lack of Latinos in coverage is undoubtedly related to the scarcity of Latinos working in English-language journalism. Latinos are disproportionately underrepresented in the newsrooms of major newspapers, according to the latest ASNE newsroom survey (4/4/12), accounting for only 4 percent of newspaper employees.

The skew is worse at some of the country’s biggest urban dailies. In New York City, 22 percent of the metropolitan population is Latino, but at the city’s largest paper, the New York Times, Latinos account for 4 percent of all newsroom employees. In the Chicago area, which is 21 percent Latino, 5 percent of Chicago Tribune employees are Latino, and in the Los Angeles area, 45 percent Latino, the L.A. Times staff is only 8 percent Latino. In other words, Latinos are underrepresented in these newsroom by a factor of roughly five—a much worse rate than blacks or Asian-Americans, whose numbers would otherwise hardly seem enviable.

The only papers in the ASNE survey that manage to hire substantial numbers of Latinos—even if their numbers are still very subpar—are in cities with majority Latino populations. The Miami Herald, for example, in a city that’s 70 percent Latino, has a 27 percent Latino newsroom staff. The El Paso Times, at 57 percent in an 82 percent Latino county, does the best of the large English-language papers surveyed.

And as newspapers lay off more employees every year, minorities and women are often the first to be cut. Ruben Navarrette, the most widely syndicated Latino columnist in the country (and the only one to crack the top 30 in Media Matters’ 2007 study of nationally syndicated columnists), told Richard Prince (Journal-isms, 6/18/10) that when he joined the San Diego Union-Tribune’s editorial board in 2005, its 10 members also included an African-American man and a white woman—but as of his 2010 layoff, “everybody left on the editorial board is a white male.”

A similar trend holds on local TV and radio news outlets. At non-Hispanic TV stations, the 2011 news workforce was only 6 percent Latino, and news directors were only 2 percent Latino. (Eighty-four percent of the workforce at Hispanic stations are of Latin American descent.) Latino men outnumber Latina women by 35 percent (RTNDA, 7–8/11).

A 2002 Extra! survey (9–10/02) on the leading public radio stations in seven urban U.S. markets found only one Latino out of 83 daytime hosts and news anchors. (Six were African-American, two Asian-American and two Arab-American.) Times don’t seem to be changing: In RTNDA’s more recent 2011 survey, Latinos were less than 3 percent of the nation’s local radio news workforce.

Besides presenting all of us with an incomplete picture of U.S. life, the lack of Latino voices, as both journalists and sources, means a large and growing segment of the public is being left out of the public debate on issues of critical importance—issues that impact Latinos in particular, like coverage of anti-immigrant politicians like Arpaio, and issues that impact them in different or more severe ways than others, like public education. (See "Misrepresenting the Latino Education Crisis," Extra!, 9/12)

The deficiencies are not lost on Latinos: Among those who got their news in both languages, Spanish-language media was rated (Pew Hispanic Center, 4/19/04) much better than English-language at “covering news that is specifically relevant to [Hispanics/Latinos] in the United States”: 79 percent called it “excellent” or “good,” vs. 20 percent “only fair” or “poor,” while English-language news was seen by 51 percent as “only fair/poor.”

As companies like Fox and NBC begin to target Latino audiences with special channels and websites (see "Latinos in New Media," Extra!, 9/12), will those audiences feel better served, or just ghettoized and exploited? And will that provide just one more excuse for those outlets to continue to marginalize Latino sources and reporters in their other news? Whatever decisions big media make, Latino journalists like those featured in this issue will continue their struggle to make a place for themselves and their growing communities in the country’s media landscape.