This fall, I had the opportunity to carry out some research looking at the representations of Latinx people in independent versus mainstream news. After conducting multiple interviews, disseminating a survey, and carrying out a thorough content analysis of website homepages from both platforms, my co-researcher and I realized something key:
While it was not the intent of mainstream news to portray Latinx people solely as criminals or immigrants, it was the still the way that they were most commonly represented.
The independent news media, on the other hand, took a more nuanced approach in how Latinx people were portrayed in their stories – you had cultural celebrations and challenges to the dominant narrative surrounding those groups.
Additionally, various research reports – including this one from the Pew Research Center in 2011 – showed that Hispanic media was in fact gaining much more attention than the English-speaking media. Moreover, a 2013 report from Media Matters for America showed that ethnic diversity was severely lacking on mainstream cable news channels. Then to top it all off, a study from Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, along with two other groups, demonstrated a clear lack of representation of Latinx people in the media production, film, and most strongly, the news:
“Stories about Latinos constitute less than 1% of news media coverage, and the majority of these stories feature Latinos as lawbreakers.”
So it’s clear that the numbers are there regarding the mainstream news and Latino representation. What wasn’t too clear was their representation in independent news. This prompted my co-researcher and I to go straight to the source: the independent news websites themselves.
This, my friends, was a whole new world. We already knew from the Pew Research Study that more people were consuming their news in Spanish. While there are no exact numbers on how many Latinos are getting their news from the independent sites (both in English and Spanish), we did note a major difference in the content that might draw people away from the painfully non-diverse and predictable mainstream cable news media.
The content was nuanced! No longer were Latinx people confined to the role of immigrant or criminal. Websites like Voices of NY highlighted the cultural experiences of not only Latinos, but Muslims, Chinese people, and even a group of Danish folks. Of course, the website referenced issues of immigration, but did so in a way that complicates the matter.
For example, a piece on Latina Muslim women explains how they feel amidst Trump’s travel ban:
“Three-times persecuted: for being Mexican, a woman, and Muslim. Three times the target of President Donald Trump’s policies. That is how Fàtima Flores, an immigrant born in the Mexican state of Puebla, feels,” the journalist writes.
Voices of NY provides the reader with the human side to Trump’s immigration policies. The outlet gives new perspective to a ban that rests on distance and hate. Rather than going to CNN for the latest banter on Trump’s executive orders, a person of color might be more inclined to check Voices of NY to see how the ban is affecting their communities specifically.
Colorlines is another outlet that is presenting race in a way that is different and more complex than the mainstream news media. They organize their tabs by issues, and report on the major headlines in a way that adds crucial context the mainstream media does not provide. Under its “Islamophobia” tab, the outlet includes multiple stories discussing that community’s reactions to acts of hate in the U.S. One story looks at the #MuslimJoy as a response to #MuslimBan, while another contains a video featuring Muslim women talking about their next action steps in this situation. This type of reporting establishes Colorlines as an outlet more likely to draw in those Muslim readers, and any other individuals who feel alienated by a lack of coverage their ethnic group is receiving (or not receiving) from the mainstream news media.
Now, as I finish up, I do want to make something very clear. I understand that individual journalists in the mainstream news media are not misrepresenting groups intentionally. In our own research report, an anchor with the public television station KCET, Val Zavala, stated that the structure of the mainstream news simply does not allow for a portrayal of nuance in the Latinx community:
“If your mission was to say ‘okay, we are going to cover the Latino community in all its multi-facetted nuanced ways,’ there are dozens of angles you could take…but again, that’s not shot very quickly.”
The mainstream news has a very specific structure, and it all goes back to revenue. They need compelling footage that can be shot quickly and efficiently – and if that footage happens to display Latinos as criminals day after day, then that is just the way it is. However, as more people of color recognize this trend, one could assume that they are paying less attention to those narratives and more attention to the sites like Voices of NY and Colorlines, that represent communities with nuance and accuracy.
Only time will tell if the mainstream news media will pick up on this trend…or if they are even able to pick it up at all.