THE NEWS AGENDA OF LATINO MEDIA IN THE U.S.
How Spanish-language media has covered the main issues of importance to Latinos during the first three years of the Trump administration.
In June of 2019, the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York (CUNY) published The State of the Latino News Media, a report that provided an initial snapshot of the Latino media ecosystem in the United States. The study identified a market of at least 624 Latino media outlets, 80% of which offer content exclusively in Spanish, which together serve a potential audience of nearly 60 million people. It revealed that the prevailing business model is still traditional in its dependence on commercial advertising. It described the demographic composition of Hispanic newsrooms, primarily made up of Latin American journalists who emigrated to the United States, as well as the need to find bilingual reporters who are familiar with the issues that are most important to Hispanics in the U.S.
This report was a first step toward describing the state of the Latino news media in the U.S. At that time, a second phase of the project was planned to study the content produced by these media outlets. We had various questions to answer, including: What is the news agenda of these media outlets? How much attention do they devote to the issues that matter most to Latinos living in the United States? How do they depict immigrants and Latinos in general in their daily coverage?
In February of 2020, we undertook the task of creating this type of analysis. We decided to focus on Spanish-language media outlets, after considering that this type of project is practically non-existent compared to the abundant research on the informative content of English-speaking media. Furthermore, 80% of the Latino media outlets offer information exclusively in Spanish. Around 43 million people speak Spanish in the United States, so it is very much in the public interest to better understand the information to which these potential audiences are exposed.
The first thing we did was define a valid timeframe and obtain a broad and reliable sample of newspaper articles, which would allow us to reach solid conclusions. For the first phase, we decided to analyze media coverage during the first three years of the Trump administration, not only because of the enormous pressure that the president and some of his followers have put on the press in general over these years, but also because of the aggressive policy agenda and extraordinary measures that Trump has implemented from his first day in office to attack immigrants, and particularly those arriving from Latin America.
Latinos, whether they be immigrants or not, have been exposed to public scrutiny and constant attacks from the most conservative sectors of the American ideological spectrum like never before. Their need for reliable information to make decisions on the most critical aspects of their lives is particularly important at this time.
To obtain the study material, we went to Media Cloud, a joint project of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Media Cloud is a monitoring and analysis tool that has been collecting online content from thousands of media outlets in the United States and other countries since 2011. The Media Cloud team granted the Center for Community Media access to a set of 41 media outlets in Spanish that it has constantly monitored since at least the beginning of 2017, when the Trump administration began. In total, we analyzed 667,247 articles published by these 41 outlets in Spanish from 15 states and Puerto Rico. We decided to include the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día, not only because the island is part of the United States, but because the newspaper produces stories from various states in the country and its content is consumed by a wide Puerto Rican audience in various American cities.
During the period analyzed, some of the media outlets considered in this study closed, including Hoy Chicago (belonging to the Tribune Publishing company), which closed in December 2019 after 16 years of keeping Latinos in that Midwestern city informed.
August 2019 also saw the closure of Hoy Los Ángeles, whose owner, the Los Angeles Times newspaper, launched its own Spanish-language digital edition. In April 2019, the Arizona newspaper Prensa Hispana also disappeared, after more than 28 years of operation.
Although the list we analyzed does not have all of the Spanish-language media included in the State of the Latino News Media report, we trust our sample because it contains material published by the main national and local media that cover various metropolitan areas, from those with large Latino communities such as Los Angeles, New York, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami and Chicago, to small newsrooms that cover areas such as South Bend, Elkhart, Mishawaka in northern Indiana, where the Hispanic population does not exceed 10%, or cities in Alabama and Tennessee, where Hispanics barely make up 5% of the population.
We chose these 41 Spanish-language outlets because they were the only ones that Media Cloud has permanently monitored, since at least the first day of the Trump administration. By doing so, we were able to ensure that the data was consistent and truly representative.
We next honed in on the questions we wanted to answer. The main one is: To what extent does Spanish-language media prioritize the big issues that most interest Latinos in the United States? Various surveys of Latino voters by organizations such as Latino Decisions and the PEW Research Center show that employment/wages, the cost of healthcare, and immigration are the three big issues for this population.
We also wondered how these media outlets portray Latino immigrants. Are there differences in coverage when they are referred to as immigrants, Latinos, or Hispanics? Do journalists at Spanish-language media outlets use questionable terms like “illegal immigrants” to describe undocumented people? Is there a difference in how local and national media cover immigration issues? How much does the Spanish-language media depend on news agencies to complement the information they offer?
We also wondered if coverage of racism and racial issues in these outlets matches Latinos’ growing interest in these issues.
Furthermore, at an important moment in history that represented a turning point in the public debate on violence and sexual harassment against women, we wanted to know if we could find traces of sexism in Spanish-language newspaper articles. These are some of the questions we asked at the beginning of this project.
And here we are. After six months of work, we have answers.