Self-help, property taxes, cardio kickboxing – and ethnic media.
If California has been about setting trends for the rest of the nation, then media and advertisers alike should pay heed to a survey released by New California Media (NCM) on the integral role of ethnic media in the 21st century.
Among those taking note at a September presentation at the NCM Expo 2002 in Beverly Hills included Los Angeles Times Publisher John Puerner, Columbia Journalism Review Editor Michael Hoyt and advertising representatives from players such as Bank of America and the California Automobile Association. Released in April, the survey of 2,000 California residents, a sampling of the state’s 17 million minorities, is the first comprehensive measure on ethnic media’s reach, penetration and influence.
Findings concluded that ethnic media – including television, radio and newspapers – reached 84 percent of Hispanics, blacks and Asians overall. Within their target audiences, Spanish-language media had the largest penetration at 89 percent. African-American media outlets reached 79 percent of their target group and Asian-American media 75 percent. Of the three mediums, ethnic television – primarily for news programming – attracted the largest minority audience, followed by radio and newspapers. Of all the minority groups, Asian-Americans led in ethnic newspaper consumption at 34 percent. They also led in Internet consumption – 53 percent versus 36 percent of blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics.
Overall, more than half of these consumers preferred primary-language media over English-language media. In a finding likely to pique advertiser attention, this subgroup responded more to native-language service ads than English-language ads, regardless of medium.
Conducted by Miami-based public opinion firm Bendixen & Associates, the study was also unprecedented in its multi-lingual polling: English, Spanish, Mandarin-Chinese, Cantonese-Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Japanese, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian and Hindi.
NCM, an association of more than 400 ethnic media outlets, calls its survey the first “quantitative study on the reach, impact and potential of ethnic media.”
“It was the first real research done on this kind of a scale,” said Jerry Gibbons, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. The AAAA partnered with NCM’s Chinese American Voters Education Committee to measure a media that has never been audited on such a broad scale. “It was done in California, but our thought is that if it’s true in California, it’s either true in other markets or will be soon. … California is a bellwether state.”
But even in California, where minorities collectively make up the majority, a wide gulf still exists between these groups and the mainstream in how they influence public opinion, political power or advertising dollars.
The awareness of that disparity led to unprecedented cooperation among fierce competitors such as Chinese newspapers Sing Tao Daily, World Journal and China Press. Each of the papers donated a week’s worth of full-page ads for a preliminary survey.
“They saw a collective interest in expanding their industry and the marketplace for advertising,” said David Lee, director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee. He points out that there are only so many Chinese businesses upon which Chinese media can depend. “You need to expand the market to grow the pie beyond the Chinese community, to grow through mainstream advertisers,” he said.
With businesses such as Bank of America already talking about advertising strategies, the survey has accomplished its goal of raising the profile of ethnic media. “It has raised the awareness of the ethnic media, and confidence in its validity as an advertising medium,” Gibbons said. “It gives them support, and it gives agencies support to be able to recommend them.”
SUCCESS, BUT NOT RESPECT
Funded by the James Irvine Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the study also shows that ethnic media not only exists, but flourishes.
“The ethnic media is thriving, and all we see is the mainstream media consolidating,” Lee said. “I think it speaks to the strength and resiliency of the market in times of economic hardship.”
Beyond advertising, the poll reveals a market that mainstream media have found elusive. The Miami Herald delivered its newspapers to Latin American countries in the 1940s. Nearly a half-century later, another Knight-Ridder newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, launched Nuevo Mundo and Viet Mercury to appeal to two burgeoning immigrant groups. The Los Angeles Times has owned half of El Opinion for more than 10 years. Broadcast has moved towards cross-ownership, like NBC’s acquisition of Telemundo Network.
Despite these efforts, mainstream media continue to have trouble understanding and reaching minority audiences. NCM and Pacific News Service executive director Sandy Close points out that media has replaced what Americans have considered community. But “American media is as parochial as a village community newspaper. We’re very limited. We’re monolingual,” she said. “If you don’t speak English, you’re not going to feel CBS is connecting to you. … [The ethnic media] is the most effective bridge … for reaching the new majority. The mainstream journalist is not mainstream anymore.”
The poll’s unusual multi-lingual methodology hints at the complex portrait of America often overlooked by other researchers. “If you think you’re tracking public opinion in California through English-language polling,” Close insists, “you are missing the boat.”
For instance, another NCM study asked immigrant and ethnic Californians about the aftereffects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. While a New York Times study found that only five percent of Americans lost their jobs, the NCM study found unemployment losses leapt to 17 to 21 percent among California Asians, Middle Easterners, blacks and Hispanics. A Knight-Ridder poll reported 19 percent of the public were making less money after the tragedy, but NCM found drops in incomes ranged from 29 to 37 percent for Hispanics, Asians and Middle Easterners.
Forty percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home, and there is no accurate way to measure their opinions on foreign policy or patriotism if you don’t ask in their native language, said Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen & Associates. “If you want to ignore their point of view, that’s your choice,” said Bendixen. He warns, though that any polls claiming to gauge “public opinion” become suspect.
Still, while Lee regards the poll as an “eye-opener” on the role of ethnic media in California, “by and large, the mainstream media – especially among the press – still regard the ethnic media and the journalists working in the media as second-class citizens.”
The mainstream press, given its corporate culture and straitened resources, is limited in its ability to respond to its many diverse audiences. “It’s such a big jump in corporate culture, for a newspaper even like the Merc,” Lee said. “I can’t think of a more striking clash … than the newsroom of the Chinese newspaper Sing Tao versus a newsroom like the (San Francisco) Chronicle. There are issues of ethics, different editorial policies – all these cultural differences.”
Recognition of these differences is the key to survival, said Lee. “You’re outlining the recipe for extinction if [mainstream media] continue to ignore this population and the unique needs of this population. You won’t have much of a mainstream anymore. The ethnic media will be the mainstream at that point.” For instance, 10 years ago Spanish-language media was thought to cater to poorly educated immigrants unworthy of note. Today, they’re viewed as representing the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate.
“Even Republicans have recognized that Latinos are an important vote,” he said, pointing out the enormous advertising campaign California gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon did in the Spanish-language media, unlike his Republican predecessor, former governor Pete Wilson.
The answer, Bendixen says, may lie in partnerships, such as the ones between local broadcast stations and newspapers. “There is no way the Los Angeles Times or the San Francisco Chronicle will be able to devote their pages and do it in such a comprehensive way as El Opinion does in covering Mexico,” he said. “No one will be able to fit it into one newspaper anymore.”
One group that the NCM study did not question was those under 18. Since the increases in Latino and Asian populations are primarily due to birth, that raises the question: How will the next generation change the future of media?
Vera Chan is a freelance writer in California.