MANY AMERICANS take pride in the perception of the United States being a “melting pot.” However, for some minorities, this image of harmonious acceptance and existence differs from their everyday experiences. Historically, the media has failed to represent and accurately portray minorities, and according to some, this trend continues to persist even today.
While diversity and equality are ideals touted by many, some Hispanics and Asian Americans contend that these concepts have yet to be fully embraced or practiced in the local Philadelphia news media.
Despite significant minority populations in Philadelphia – approximately 10 percent of the city’s population is Hispanic and five percent is Asian according to the latest census statistics- some local residents feel that the Philadelphia news media tends to marginalize minorities in its coverage.
“There is no coverage for Asian Americans here,” said Rebecca Marcos, an Asian-American resident of the area. “The only time you hear about us here in the local news is during Chinese New Year.”
Hispanic residents of the city feel the same way.
“I know there’s a lot of newsworthy and positive stuff going on in the Latino/Hispanic communities in the city” said Yasseline Diaz, a Hispanic resident of Philadelphia. “But we do not hear about it in the news.”
“Hispanics are underrepresented here. In my short time living within the Philadelphia region, I have not come across many stories featuring Hispanics,” said Joselito Huertas, another Hispanic resident within the region.
According to Huertas, what little coverage Hispanics do receive in the local news media is usually negative.
“There was the unfortunate death of Police Officer Isabel Nazario. While it was a honorable portrayal of Officer Nazario, the story was one of crime and the untimely death of one of Philadelphia’s finest,” said Huertas, who recalled recent news stories involving Hispanics which received extensive coverage in the local news media. “There was also the story of Phillies pitcher JC Romero. While coming off a World Series championship for the city of Philadelphia, Romero was accused of using steroids for performance enhancement.”
While these local residents are concerned that minorities in the city of Philadelphia are not covered fairly or accurately, research suggests that this is a common problem across the news media industry.
In the book, “Media & Minorities,” author Stephanie Greco Larson, noted that “racial minorites are excluded, selectively included, and stereotyped in news coverage.” Several studies have concluded similar results.
Despite their growing population and presence, Hispanics, in particular, have been noticeably absent from mainstream news coverage, and for the most part, portrayed stereotypically as problem people.
A 1990 study of the nation’s largest-circulation dailies in 40 U.S. cities over a six-month period found that “overall, approximately 60 percent of the papers and days reviewed had no coverage of Latinos at all.”
A recent study of network news coverage also showed that Hispanics are underrepresented in the news media.
According to the 2006 Network Brownout Report, the most recent quantitative and qualitative analysis of network news coverage conducted by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Hispanics were featured in less than one percent of an estimated 12,600 stories aired in 2005.
The report also showed that the quality of these depictions was also poor.
According to the report, crime made up a large portion of the time devoted to portraying Latinos. Researchers found that crime stories made up about 18 percent of Latino news stories, and most of the time, “Latinos were the perpetrators, not the victims.”
“This coverage reinforces a negative stereotype and when stories about other topics involving Latinos are not covered, this type of coverage paints an unbalanced picture of the contributions Latinos make to our society,” said Daniela Montalvo, author of the 2006 Network Brownout Report.
Similarly, a content analysis published in 2000 of a random sample of local television news programming in Los Angeles and Orange counties revealed that Hispanics were more likely to be portrayed as criminals or lawbreakers than whites.
Other research, including a content analysis of more than 259 stories between 1992 and 1995 from the Raleigh News Observer also supports the claim that Hispanics are depicted negatively in the news media.
According to researchers of this report, Lucila Vargas and Bruce DePyssler, Latinos were consistently portrayed as “criminal aliens” or “helpless victims” in news media coverage.
The results of these analysis are not surprising- even among non-minorities in the region.
“News coverage definitely has a slant when it comes to minorities,” said Lisa Beck, a non-minority resident of the area. “It’s gotten to the point where I don’t have to see a picture of a perpetrator because you know that crime stories in the news are usually about minorities.”
Diaz agrees that negative portrayals of Hispanics are more common than positive ones.
“The positive stuff involving Hispanics in the community doesn’t make it into the news enough,” said Diaz. “The negative stuff is what usually gets highlighted, like drugs or the recent cock-fighting ring bust.”
While research on the portrayals of Asian Americans in the news media is sparse, there is evidence that Asian Americans are also underrepresented and often portrayed in stereotypical roles in news coverage.
According to a 2003 study by the Asian American Journalists Association, “Asian Americans have been one of the most underrepresented groups in news.”
While there has not been any formal study on the topic, an analysis of The New York Times by Carolyn Martindale from 1934 to 1994 found that Asian Americans were virtually ignored in news coverage- not even one column inch per issue focused on Asian Americans during many of those years.
While qualitative analysis of Asian Americans in the news media is also limited, there is evidence that this minority group is relegated to a few stereotypes in news coverage.
In an 1988 essay, Keith Osajima observed that the popular news media image of Asian Americans was that of the “model minority” stereotype, which suggests all Asians are hardworking, intelligent, and docile.
The term first appeared in 1966 in an article by William Peterson in The New York Times Magazine, “Success Story: Japanese-American Style,” and then in an article focusing on Chinese Americans in U.S. News and World Report, “Success story of One Minority in the U.S.”
According to Marcos, the model minority stereotype is still perpetuated often.
“The news uses Asians as medical correspondents often,” she said. “So there is this stereotype that all Asians are doctors or in the medical field.”
It has also been observed that Asians are often portrayed in the news as a threat or peril to the United States.
According to Kent A. Ono and Vincent N. Pham, authors of “Asian Americans and the Media,” recent examples of “yellow peril discourse have been linked to questions about the labor force (e.g. exporting U.S. jobs) commodity globalization (e.g. danger of Chinese-made toys with lead paint).”
Marcos agrees that the news media, especially the local media outlets, overrepresent Asian Americans in negative depictions.
“When you do hear about Asians, it’s only about the negative stuff that happens internationally, such as natural disasters and political upheaval,” she said. “Tsunamis, mudslides, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons– that’s what sells.”
But that’s not a good enough justification for Marcos.
“There’s plenty of good and positive things going on within the Asian community that the media doesn’t cover,” she said. “When we celebrate Philippine Independence Day, we have booths, speakers, and food, but it doesn’t make the news. Only we know about it.”
In order to remedy this, Marcos believes that the news media needs to diversify their newsrooms with minority reporters and anchors.
“The news needs people who can bring more than just representation externally,” she said. “It needs anchors and reporters who can bring in their own culture internally, and can relate to the minority community.”
Marcos also thinks that non-minority reporters and anchors should learn about minority communities in an effort to improve portrayals.
“They need to travel to the community and see what the culture is like so they can understand it and the uniqueness of the people,” she said.
Diaz’s recommendation for improving coverage involves getting the local media outlets out into the community.
“The local news media needs to attend more events where Hispanics and other minorities are doing things,” said Diaz. “They need to be there to see it, understand it, and appreciate it.”
Huertas has a similar recommendation for the local news media to improve its coverage of minorities.
“The media needs to take an initiative to cover positive stories within minority communities,” he said. “However, minorities need to reach out to the media to cover the good things they do in the community. It is time that we let the mainstream media in and not shut them out.”