Mar 10, 2004 in Q&A;

Network News Brownout Continues: Q & A with Joseph Torres, Deputy Director of Communications and Media Policy, NAHJ

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists released their eighth annual Network Brownout Report recently and found that out of approximately 16,000 stories that aired in 2002 on three major networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, only 120 were about Latinos. That figure amounts to less than one percent of the total coverage. In addition, two-thirds of all the Latino-related stories were about crime, terrorism and immigration. The report is authored by Serafin Mendez-Mendez, associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Central Connecticut State University, and co-authored by Diane Alverio, a communication consultant and co-owner of Baldwin/Alverio Media Marketing.

by Lena-Nsomeka Gomes

Joseph Torres is the deputy director of communications and media policy for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in Washington, D.C. Before joining the NAHJ in 1998, Torres was the editor of Hispanic Link Weekly Report, a national weekly newsletter out of Washington covering U.S. Hispanic issues. He also wrote a regular column for Hispanic Link News Service, a nationally syndicated column service.
Q. Why are Latinos so underrepresented in mainstream news reporting?
A. During the past eight years, the Brownout Report has revealed that coverage of Latino communities in the major networks has historically been low. Each year, for the past eight years, less than one percent of all stories are about Latinos. We believe that who decides what is news and the lack of people of color in newsroomsoparticularly Hispanicsocontribute to the limited volume of coverage. Furthermore, greater diversity in the newsroom produces greater diversity in news coverage. Although numbers are an important measure of progress and we are troubled by them, what also concerns us is content; it is what they are saying about Latinos, particularly this year. News about crimes, especially about kidnapping, terrorism, and illegal immigration dominated all the coverage about Latinos during 2002.
Q. What were some of the most powerful and compelling images of Latinos in the news?
A. Latinos were repeatedly portrayed as criminals who were a threat to the well being of children, the national security, the labor force, and the economy.
Q. How do you think public perception of Latinos and public policies for Latinos have been impacted by the limitations of the news coverage?
A. News is a powerful medium that shapes public policy and perception. The images we see of Latinos or any other group can impact how we view and interact with them. Latinos face a myriad of issues in education, citizenship, health care and home ownership, and public perception can negatively distort those issues and influence public policies.
Q. What stories didnít get covered and should have?
A. Latinos participation in the Iraq war as soldiers, their perceptions and thoughts on America role in the war, how they are being effected by immigration policies, access to education, taxes, the death penalty, and so on.
Q. How can this paradigm get shifted to include fair and accurate coverage of a diverse range of topics and perspectives affecting Latino communities?
A. Greater intellectual diversity in newsrooms; people with broader perspectives and more journalists of color. Another important issue is profit. The networks are more interested in profits than they are at accurately representing community issues.
Q. Is Spanish-language media performing any better than the mainstream newsrooms? If so, how?
A. Yes. They provide more in depth analysis and coverage of the day in and day out issues relevant to Latino communities. Spanish-language media also covers issues from a global perspective. There, you can find news about Latin and Central America. However, like most local stations, they lack resources. They are not able to hire enough journalists and report as thoroughly as they can. They have a tendency to over-dramatize or sensationalize events similar to the mainstream news networks. For example, crime stories also dominate their coverage, because they are cheaper and faster to produce. We are trying to provide more training to Spanish-language journalists, by facilitating workshops and discussions about the state of Hispanic media; it is content and workforce. We are now in the process of planning to conduct a study on Spanish-language media
Q. The Brownout reports have been conducting studies for the past eight years and very little has changed in terms of the coverage of Latinos. Why do you think it is important to continue doing it?
A. We must continue to ask the difficult questions and pressure the major networks for more in-depth coverage. They donít like our study or find it useful. In fact, they fight against it. So we have to keep the pressure on. All of usoall journalists regardless of race and ethnicityomust work towards this fundamental change.