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Working with the  Media

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First Monday

Public Affairs


Ethnic media spur immigrants into public life

December 10, 2003

Photo of ethnic newspapers and magazines J., Sing Tao Daily, El Reportero, Black Issues in Higher Education, El Latino and AsianWeekEthnic news media propel immigrants and ethnic groups into the mainstream political process and public life, according to results released in a University news media survey.

The report, "News Ghettos, Threats to Democracy, and Other Myths about Ethnic Media: Lessons from the Bay Area News Media Survey," finds that media targeted to Latino, Chinese and African-American populations contribute to a sense of community within the respective groups and a strengthened sense of community with all Americans. Instead of isolating their audiences, ethnic media contribute to the political assimilation and political incorporation of their readers, viewers and listeners.

"Ethnic media help immigrants realize that when they are threatened with discrimination or violence they have to do what other Americans do to defend themselves," said Rufus Browning, director of the study and a political science professor. "Ethnic media lead people to speak out, to protest, to organize, to enter into American political life so that their rights as Americans are not trampled on."

Prepared by SFSU's Public Research Institute (PRI) with funding from the Ford Foundation, the survey measured the use of ethnic and general market media in 2002 by 1,662 adults of Chinese, Hispanic, African and European origins who live in the Bay Area. Telephone interviews were conducted in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

Overall, 80 percent of people of Chinese, Latino and African heritage use at least one ethnic media source regularly for news.

People of color who believe their portrayal in general media is discriminatory tend to mistrust it and are more likely to use ethnic media. For news about their native country, immigrants trust ethnic media much more than general media.

The sole reliance on ethnic media for news is a temporary condition for new immigrants who begin to adopt general news media as they gain knowledge of English. Yet even after immigrants use general media for news, almost all continue to use ethnic media.

"Immigrants who have some knowledge of English like to use both media for two reasons: coverage and perspective," Browning said. "Ethnic media cover news about their native countries and their communities in the U.S. that is not covered in the general media, and they find that American media have a strange slant on their native countries. They want the perspective of someone who's lived there -- just as we might find the perspective of, say, a French journalist on American politics interesting but not the only perspective we want to read."

Highlights of the report include:
• Total Bay Area ethnic media use by African Americans, Chinese and Latino adults is projected to double over a period of 30 years -- from just over one million people in 1990 to 1.4 million in 2000 and more than two million in 2020.
• Across all media combined, the Latino market is the most numerous and the fastest growing because of Hispanic population growth.
• The report uses the case of Wen Ho Lee, who was falsely accused by the U.S. government of giving nuclear weapons secrets to China in 1991, as one example of how ethnic media’s persistent coverage led to widespread protest and mobilization among Chinese Americans and ultimately led to his release from prison.

For a copy of the full report, visit the PRI Web site.

-- Susan Arthur


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Last modified December 10, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs