Nieman Foundation at Harvard
BREAKING: The ways people hear about big news these days; “into a million pieces,” says source
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June 3, 2019, 12:22 p.m.
Business Models

What news outlets don’t really have a trust problem with audiences?

Ethnic media — media outlets that serve specific cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, geographic, or language communities — are pillars in their communities, often rooted for decades and telling the stories of immigration and American life on their own terms. A new report from the Center for Cooperative Media examines the state of ethnic media in and around New Jersey (that definition of ethnic media is theirs), highlighting the work the state’s 119 outlets have already done in building strong ties with their audiences, and the work the outlets need to do to survive in the future.

Authors Sarah Stonbely and Anthony Advincula write:

In a sense, the story of ethnic media is the story of immigration. Historically, the sector was established by and for immigrants, and the sustainability of the sector has largely depended on the immigrants that it serves. Ethnic outlets remain closer to immigrant communities than mainstream outlets both in physical proximity and because those communities serve as the sources of news and the audience. In the same way that local newspapers used to be deeply integrated with the towns they covered, local ethnic media have their fingers on the pulse of communities that were born of diaspora and/or are still welcoming newcomers to this country.

And ethnic media’s been doing the work the rest of the journalism industry is trying to jump on: “Ethnic media are in constant dialogue with their communities, canvassing them for stories by attending events at community centers and churches, speaking with community leaders and elected officials, and taking comments on the content they publish.”

Ethnic media isn’t the antithesis of mainstream media, but the two are often at odds in their treatment of ethnic communities. Stonbely and Advincula’s interviewees pointed out that mainstream media typically does negative coverage of the community, tied to crime, whereas ethnic media celebrates the community’s bonds and heritage more.

Here are some top findings from the report, which calls out the strengths and weaknesses of ethnic media. Again, this is from outlets that are based in New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania but report for widespread communities: 71 percent of the 119 outlets did not do local New Jersey news.

— There are 25 ethnic or faith communities with dedicated media in the area: A quarter of the outlets serve the Hispanic community, 11.7 percent for the African-American community, 8.4 percent for Christian/Catholic, 8.4 percent for Indian, and 7.6 for Filipino communities. (Other ethnicities represented include Hungarian, Brazilian, Polish, Chinese, Pakistani, Arabic, and Irish.)

— Half of the outlets carry information in English, followed by just over 20 percent in Spanish.

— Most outlets viewed print and web as equally important as a primary medium, with 18.5 percent in radio and 12.6 percent in television. Twenty of the 30 interviewed outlets viewed their digital presence as “robust and necessary,” and ten were “either not online or barely online.”

— These outlets have been passed down for generations, both in ownership and readership:

— Two-thirds rely on advertising as their primary source of funding, with just eight percent each relying on subscription and membership. In the last year, only 30 percent of the surveyed outlets were profitable.

— “Fifteen of the 30 said they had experienced growth in the past year and expected a good year ahead; seven said they had experienced decline. The remaining eight reported a mix of growth and decline — usually a growth in audience but a decline in advertising dollars — but were on the whole still optimistic. When asked about their biggest challenges, most reported resource constraints and the desire to be able to do more with technology.”

Some of Stonbely and Advincula’s recommendations for ethnic media going forward:

— More collaborations with mainstream outlets;
— More considerations of nonprofit status;
— More recognition of the outlets’ quality journalism;
— More consistent outreach for conferences and other industry events;
— More training and resources for the digital transition.

The full report is available here.

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