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Ethnic Media Reaching Record Numbers in U.S.

Jeffrey Allen

ATLANTA  - Nearly 60 million Americans now regularly get information from ethnically oriented TV, radio, newspapers, and Web sites, many of which are published or broadcast in languages other than English -- and that number is on the rise.

As mainstream newspapers and cable news channels in the United States are losing more money, readers, and viewers each year, ethnic media appears to be "maybe the most vibrant part" of the media landscape, said pollster Sergio Bendixen, releasing the latest statistics today. "The ethnic media is growing, and it is growing at a very impressive rate," Bendixen told a meeting of media producers here.

Spanish-language television giants Telemundo and Univision have captured large shares of the U.S. viewing audience, but smaller Spanish stations are having an impact as well. Channels have popped up to serve Hispanic populations in new locales like Raleigh, North Carolina and Seattle, Washington, Bendixen said.

Other non-English stations, like VATV in Washington, DC and the California-based Saigon Broadcasting Television Network, which air programs in Vietnamese, are reaching more and more Americans too. A new station in San Francisco caters to that city's large Chinese-speaking population.

And the majority of African Americans report watching BET or other television channels with African American-oriented programming on a regular basis.

To determine where the 69 million Hispanics and African and Asian Americans in the United States get their information, Bendixen's company conducted a poll in eight languages -- Cantonese, English, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog (a language of the Philippines), and Vietnamese.

They determined that more than four out of every five Americans of those ethnic backgrounds are now being informed on a regular basis by ethnic media. Many consider non-English programming their primary source of information, though most also get information from mainstream, English-language media like CNN, Fox News, and the major networks CBS, NBC, and ABC.

The number of U.S. adults consuming ethnic media is up 16 percent -- from 51 million to 57 million -- since 2005, when Bendixen conducted the first poll of this sort.

Newspapers like the Chinese-American daily Sing Tao, the Muslim-focused Azizah Magazine in Atlanta, and the Minnesota-based Korean Quarterly play a powerful role in informing local communities across the United States, says New America Media, the non-profit group that supports ethnic media producers nationwide and commissioned the poll by Bendixen.

The group says advertisers, lawmakers, and others would be wise to pay more attention to the sector.

Every day of the week, Chinese and Korean Americans can be seen sipping tea and reading newspapers in their own languages at sidewalk cafes in New York, San Francisco, and many cities in between. A few blocks away, newspaper boxes vend La Opinion or El Tiempo Latino. And stacks of Bangladeshi newspapers sit on the counter of Bangladeshi groceries.


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Among all the ethnic print media, African American newspapers and magazines showed the sharpest rise in readership, up 42 percent since 2005. Poll respondents said coverage of national politics was a significant reason they read African American publications like the Oakland Globe. Bendixen couldn't say for sure that the candidacy and election of Barack Obama has caused this spike in readership, but he suspects the two "are linked."

Spanish-language radio is also growing across the country -- and in many non-traditional Hispanic states including North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Washington, and New Hampshire.

The pollsters surveyed over 1,300 ethnic Americans in April and May, but due to budget constraints they did not examine the reach of Arab American, Native American, or other ethnic media outlets.

The poll was released during the two-day Ethnic Media Expo and Awards, dubbed the "Ethnic Pulitzers" by PBS's Jim Lehrer News Hour, and held each year by New America Media.

This year's 17 winners included Kai Ma for her piece on Korean Americans' overwhelming support for California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in the state. "We felt it was important to explore not just where we stood on Prop. 8, but what it said about our identities as Koreans, as minorities, as immigrants, as Christians, as gays and lesbians," Ma said of her article, which appeared in KoreAm Journal.

Claudia Nunez's nine-month investigation into human trafficking, for the Los Angeles-based La Opinion, won her the award for best In Depth/Investigative Reporting.

And Azizah Magazine was honored in the environmental category for its "Color Me Green, Loving Planet Earth" edition, which explored the connections between Islam and environmentalism in today's world. According to the Holy Quar'an, when Allah created the world, he created man as a "steward" of the earth, not a "master" of it, the magazine's editors noted.

"We wanted to emphasize going green is dear to us because we have a spiritual responsibility to care for the Earth," said Tayyibah Taylor, Azizah's editor-in-chief and publisher. "We tried to show how Muslims were doing it here."

The poll results and award winners inspired New America Media executive editor Sandy Close, who praised the award winners for work that "reflects an impulse to witness, to amplify the voices and document the experiences of those who might otherwise be invisible."

"No longer the giant hidden in plain sight," she added, "we're here today to work with, not apart from, old and new media to build a new, more inclusive paradigm for journalism to meet the needs of our diverse society."

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