Dr. Otto Santa Ana: Coverage of Hispanics/Latinos on Network TV News Lacking

Posted: Apr 16 2014

Today, 1 in 6 Americans are Hispanic (16.7%). It’s estimated 1 in 3 Americans will be Hispanic (30%) in 2050. 65% of U.S. Hispanics are between 22-35. You’ve heard the terms: fastest growing… growing by leaps and bounds etc.  Hispanics are influencing their local communities in areas such as food, sports, even politics as we saw in the last election cycle.  However, when it comes to network news coverage, influence/coverage of Hispanics remain far behind the curve…and not even just a little bit.  We are talking “1%”.  Hispanic.com spoke with Dr. Otto Santa Ana, Associate Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCLA to learn more about his new 2013 book on the subject: “Juan in a Hundred” This title is a play on words,  “one in a hundred” refers to “1%” of news coverage dedicated to Latino topics.


The number 1% is the amount of coverage that Hispanic issues receive on network evening news. Santa Ana, Associate Professor at UCLA, discovered this number during a yearlong examination of network news stories on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN.   Santa Ana studied evening network news, as he says, “Pew Research indicates that TV news continues to be the most important venue for the public to get their dose of the news”.  Additionally Santa Ana says: “When people neither know anything about Latinos or have a lot of information about immigration, or changes in the nation’s demographic landscape – they mistakenly accept as accurate network news about Latinos. Indeed, these channels market themselves as ‘trusted names’ for news. But the national news reporting is both limited and quite skewed.”


The Research

Santa Ana outlines how he and his assistants reviewed all 12140 news stories for four networks during the 2004 period.  In spite of using a very broad definition of what constitutes a “Hispanic” news story, only 1% of news coverage for that year discussed Hispanics, and/or provided coverage on Hispanic issues.

Research Highlights-1% coverage of Hispanic issues/peoples/topics/news: Out of 12140 news stories, only 118 provided coverage of Hispanic issues

.-5.7% coverage of African-American issues (primarily about Condoleezza Rice)

-32% of the 118 news stories were on immigration. 

-0% representation of Latinos in evening network news obituaries

-Hispanic topics: The 118 news stories were divided into the following areas: 32% immigration, 27% Presidential campaign, 7% on education, and 10% sports (60% of which were stories on baseball player Alex Rodriguez).

-Numerous errors: Santa Ana found inaccuracies in several network news stories covering Hispanics: for example CBS had a story that all Latino males in their 50’s have strokes far more often than other populations. Santa Ana tracked down the source and discovered only a very small sector of Latino men, who both have a selected heart condition and diabetes, are liable to have strokes more frequently than other populations.  In another, NBC reported on a Wall Street Journal article about the impact of Latinos on the U.S. economy.  While the newspaper gave an accurate portrayal, NBC misrepresented Latinos to their television audience, implying that Latinos seized more than their fair share of all new employment.   


Why such heavy immigration coverage out of the 1% of Hispanic news stories?

Santa Ana tells us: -“The general public has been provided with the immigration issue for 20 years as being the ‘Latino issue’”.  However, Pew Research shows Latinos are just like everybody else and interested in everything from education to the arts and science. “


Why no coverage of Latino deaths?

In 2004 the networks did not represent any Hispanics in their obituaries. Santa Ana and his team did their own research and found several prominent Hispanics had passed away that year such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Frank del Olmos.


Who had the best coverage of Hispanic issues?

Ironically Santa Ana says the best coverage of Hispanic issues for that year was provided by the BBC and Telemundo. Santa Ana’s book describes BBC and Telemundo stories as more “humanizing” and less “stereotyped” than those at the other networks.


What about network news coverage of other minorities? 

According to Santa Ana, Native Americans were more poorly represented than Hispanics (.1% coverage).  Also with regards to African-Americans, Santa says “if it hadn’t been for Condoleezza Rice, women would have appeared in breathtakingly few reports”.  Santa Ana’s research says there was just over 13% coverage of women, when in fact women represent nearly 51% of the U.S. population.  Further African-Americans received 5.7% of news coverage (again helped by Condoleezza Rice) when at that time they were 12% of the population.


What does Dr. Santa Ana recommend?

Santa Ana says: “Even though Hispanics were 14% of the population [at that time – now 16%], I don’t really think that 16% of the news stories should beabout Latinos – that’s not the way of rectifying the issue.  My research demonstrates how poorly represented we are by the networks.”  Santa Ana recommends for the viewing public spreading the word about the limits of network news reporting.  According to Santa Ana’s book, this awareness includes understanding “that news report skewing allows American viewers, particularly children, to retain stereotypes”, and to be aware that current “reporting about Latinos is almost negligible and generally confined to inside-the-Beltway topics, in spite of an abundance of newsworthy stories". For news professionals, he argues that "objectivity" and "fairness" should not remain the twin criteria of American journalism excellence, as they have for nearly 100 years.  Objectivity should be demoted to the level of fact-checking and concise writing.  Instead, he explains that narrative should become journalism's touchstone, which will lead to a better notion of journalistic.  For more information on Professor Otto Santa Ana visit his profile on UCLA’s website.To purchase “Juan in a Hundred” visit UT Press or Amazon.com


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