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New Research Finds Eye-Opening Gaps in Latino Media News Coverage

  • By Center for Community Media

NEW YORK, NY; Aug. 18, 2020: A research report released today by the Center for Community Media (CCM) shows surprising gaps and biases in news coverage by the Spanish-language media in the United States.

The report, in English and Spanish, is based on an analysis of almost 700,000 Spanish-language news stories in the 41 primary outlets, published during the first three years of the Trump presidency. CCM, which is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, will translate the report from Spanish to English in the coming weeks.

Using a tool to search for specific terms and phrases, Ronny Rojas, an investigative journalist and Newmark J-School faculty member, analyzed the news coverage by the Latino media at a time when Spanish-speaking communities have been the target of government and political leaders in U.S. There are 60 million Latinos in this country, and 40 million people speak Spanish.

While multiple surveys show that Spanish-speaking Latinx audiences are most interested in U.S. news about the economy, healthcare costs, immigration, and, increasingly, race and race relations, these topics comprised a remarkably small and declining share of Spanish-language news coverage during the three years studied. Rojas found that news on jobs and healthcare accounted for just one percent of all stories published or broadcast in Spanish each month, a decrease of 50% between 2017 and 2019.

Major national surveys reveal that Spanish-speaking Latinx voters are most interested in topics around immigration. But the research shows that immigration makes up a small and declining share of the stories published. Coverage of immigration peaked at a monthly average of 9.6% of reporting published in 2017 and spiked again in June 2018, when many outlets covered the release of a recording of crying migrant children separated from their families. But it accounted for just 6% of the monthly news output in 2019.

Overall coverage of the major political parties remains less than 10%. The Democratic party received slightly more attention with 7.61% in the first three months of 2020 than the Republican party, which was mentioned in 6.56% of reports.

Rojas’s findings also suggest that racial and gender biases persist in Spanish-language media. For example, women are frequently labeled as “the woman of” or “wife of” a man, and incidents of domestic and gender-based violence are characterized as “crimes of passion” in 75 articles published in Spanish.

He also finds that immigrants are predominantly discussed in terms of their citizenship status, whether they’re documented or undocumented. The term “illegal immigrant,” jettisoned from the English-language AP style guide as dehumanizing in 2013, appears in 358 articles published in 26 of the 41 Spanish-language publications. Invariably, when the term “immigrant” is used, it’s associated with something negative, such as crime or deportation. The words “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” are usually featured in positive stories about students, artists, and workers; Latinx is rarely used.

If the Spanish-language media are not concentrating enough on the topics most relevant to Latinx audiences, it’s difficult to say what they are covering regularly instead, according to Rojas’s analysis. The subjects seem to change constantly based on the news of the moment. For example, the report found that coverage related to the notorious drug cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán doubled during the three-year period analyzed, even as the percentage of news about drug trafficking and drug cartels stayed roughly the same.

The new research is the second part of the State of the Latino Media report issued last year by CCM’s Latino Media Initiative. The findings and strategies to address them will be discussed on August 20 in a public forum with Spanish-language media executives and journalists. The conversation will take place in Spanish and will be simulcast in English. If you’re interested in participating,  register here.