Understanding Ethnic Media: Producers, Consumers, and Societies


Matthew Matsaganis, Vikki Katz & Sandra Ball-Rokeach

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    To friendships that manage to survive book projects


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    History tells us that ethnic media have been part of our media landscape for centuries. The Gazette de Leyde, which was one of the very first ethnic newspapers published, dates back to the late 1600s. The Gazette de Leyde was published in Holland and its audience was French Protestants who had fled the Catholic Crown of France. This example prompts us to explain what we mean when we speak of ethnic media. In this book, we define ethnic media broadly to include media by and for (a) immigrants, (b) ethnic, racial, and linguistic minorities, as well as (c) indigenous populations across different parts of the world.

    Fast forwarding from the 17th century to today, ethnic media have become an enduring feature of everyday life. The evidence suggests a fascinating proliferation of ethnic media particularly over the past two decades; proliferation both in terms of numbers of media outlets and a variety of media forms. This growth has been one of the main motivations for us to write this book. In this volume, we strive to present a far-reaching review and analysis of how ethnic media affect ongoing negotiations of self-identity, perceived lines of division between “us” and “others,” and how the production and consumption of ethnic media affects the character of the larger media and societal landscape. In doing so, we address historical, policy, cultural, organizational, professional, social relations, community, migration, and globalization dimensions of the study of ethnic media.

    The growth we have seen in recent years in the ethnic media sector is inextricably linked to processes we have come to identify as forces of globalization: technological innovation, international migration, the integration of world economies and policymaking intended to abolish many of the barriers that hinder activities of individuals and organizations across nation-state borders. Things are changing, but for a long time and despite the sustained focus of research on globalization, ethnic media remained largely invisible to mainstream media producers, advertisers and marketing professionals, policymakers, and last, but not least, many academic researchers. This is not entirely surprising. It can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including the following:

    • For years, advertisers and marketers overlooked or undervalued the purchasing power of minority populations who connect to ethnic media.
    • Mainstream media, which are produced by and targeted largely to the majority population, have underestimated the significance of ethnic media as rivals in their markets.
    • The visibility and recognition of ethnic media as equal actors in the media system is contingent upon the status of the audiences they serve. In countries that have resisted acknowledging their increasingly large immigrant populations, ethnic media have been more likely to remain invisible.
    • Policymakers at local and national levels have often avoided engaging ethnic media producers to the same degree as mainstream media producers. This may be motivated by uncertainties about the ethnic media, the audiences that they serve, and a desire to continue with “politics as usual.”
    • Ethnic media producers are often small outfits, and may not have the resources to increase their visibility by commissioning special audience studies or auditing and rating agencies that would document their impact.

    The tides are shifting though. The effects of increasing population diversity—a manifestation of globalization—are becoming more obvious. The composition of the audience in many media markets around the world, and particularly in large urban centers today, is significantly different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. This has given reason enough to mainstream media, advertisers, and marketing experts to pause and think seriously about how to connect to this new audience. In reassessing their approach, they are looking to ethnic media for cues. They are also looking at ethnic media because ethnic media outlets have grown significantly in size and have succeeded, in some cases, in capturing a larger percentage of the audience than mainstream media do. This is the case in a small number of media markets like Los Angeles, in California, where Latinos are now a majority. Mainstream media, however, can no longer afford, quite literally, to avoid the pressure of competition coming from ethnic media. Producers of mainstream media are quickly realizing that their ability to connect to a diverse market is vital for their survival, especially as the buying power of many ethnic populations is on the rise. The buying power of Latinos in the U.S., for example, is expected to top $1 trillion in 2010. The purchasing power of other ethnic communities is also increasing. For example, the buying power of African-Americans is expected to reach $921 billion by 2011, while in 2008, Asian-Americans had the highest incomes of any other ethnic group in the U.S (Nielsen, 2008).

    Like mainstream media, policymakers are also realizing that they may be less in touch with the social environment they are called upon to shape. Several studies over the past few years have signaled this quite clearly. In one study, for instance, that focused on Asian and Latino communities in Southern California, researchers found that “both county and city government agencies… are not providing culturally sensitive disaster preparedness education in languages that reflect the demographics of the populations being served” (Mathew & Kelly, 2008, p. 6). The same study found that Chinese, Vietnamese, and Latino residents felt that the ethnic media available to them would be a much better source of information in case of an emergency than mainstream, English-language media. In addition, policymakers at all levels of government, in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and a few European countries are recognizing that they need to connect to ethnic media if they want to get their message across to increasingly multi-ethnic constituencies. Slowly, but surely, local and national government officials are also becoming more responsive to ethnic media journalists. Often this newfound “openness” to ethnic media is the result of the persistent pressure applied by ethnic media producers and ethnic community leaders, but it remains a positive sign of change in the attitude and behavior of policymakers towards ethnic media. In 2008, for instance, Barack Obama, as the new Presidentelect of the U.S., chose to put legacy media, like The New York Times, on hold and to give his first interviews to ethnic media, starting with two African-American magazines, Ebony and Black Enterprise, but also popular Spanish-language radio talk show hosts “El Pistolero” and “El Piolin” of Radio La Que Buena 105.1 FM and Radio La Nueva 101.9 FM, respectively. His first television interview was on the Arab-language channel al-Arabiya (MacLeod, 2009; Rainey, 2009).

    Globalization is also changing the classrooms in communication, media and journalism schools, sociology, anthropology, political science, and race and ethnicity departments across the world. Numerous publications have appeared over the past decade intended to help faculty respond, for example, to the needs of an ethnically and culturally diverse student body. Academic institutions are necessarily rethinking and changing their curricula to address issues pertaining to ethnic diversity.

    Today, communication and journalism schools, in particular, are called upon to prepare a generation of journalists and communication industry professionals that faces a new set of tests. Many of these challenges are related to the emergence of new media, while a number of others are tied to the changing population dynamics in the workplace and broader society. They will need, for instance, to know how to engage the ethnic media (e.g., because they are running a political campaign, a public relations or an advertising campaign) to reach a particular population that may not have or may not choose to access mainstream television, radio, or newspapers. With these challenges, however, new opportunities present themselves, too. The new generation of journalists, for example, is more likely than even before to seek and take a position on the editorial staff of ethnic media organizations.

    This reality has created new challenges and has put new pressures on instructors to formulate appropriate course syllabi and to select the most suitable textbooks. However, their options have been limited. The extant literature is fragmented. Many good books address only a few aspects of the new media environment; for example, portrayals of ethnic minorities in the media, African-American-targeted marketing and advertising, Latino news production, electronic ethnic media, or the media of diasporic populations. Due to the rapidly changing landscape, previous works may also be outdated.

    Our hope is that this volume will be used as a primary text particularly for upper division undergraduate and graduate courses in journalism and communication, but also classes in other fields that focus on the relationship of media and society, in general, and issues of ethnic identity, race, and gender, in particular. Because these issues are (a) addressed from the vantage point of the individual (the audience) and that of the producers, and (b) they are considered in context (e.g., historical trajectories, media policy framework, and immigration laws), this book is likely to be especially valuable to communication, media, and journalism faculty, and students.

    The three of us came to this project motivated by some of the same, but also several very different questions. Long before we met each other, one of us worked as a journalist. The last position Matthew took on as editor was at a Greek-American publishing house based in New York City. His individual migration to Astoria, in Queens, was precipitated by a corporate one: a former employer, one of the largest publishing companies of Greece, had bought a majority stake in that same Greek-American publishing operation. In the new position, he faced challenges he had not confronted in any other job as a journalist; that is, challenges that had to do with his role as a journalist, the role of the organization he worked for in the community it served, the pressing questions pertaining to how to ensure the organization's long-term security. While in New York, some answers were found, but the number of questions still outweighed the number of answers. That is what led him to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and eventually to the Metamorphosis Project. There, he met Vikki and Sandra.

    Vikki came to USC to study immigrant family dynamics, and particularly the ways that children initiate and contribute to connections with media resources that help their families integrate into their new communities. Having come to the Annenberg School to work with Sandra and the Metamorphosis Project, this interest in children and families developed into a larger interest in the consumption side of ethnic media, and how ethnic media content prompts negotiations in immigrant and ethnic minority families about how to connect with needed resources in their local communities. Having grown up in South Africa as apartheid was dismantling, she also had a deep interest in the roles that ethnic media have played in promoting social change in different parts of the world.

    When Matthew and Vikki arrived at USC, Sandra had been at the helm of the Metamorphosis Project for several years already, studying the ways that globalization, new communication technologies, and increasing population diversity were transforming the urban communities of Los Angeles. Ethnic media have figured prominently in Metamorphosis Project inquiry; time and again, ethnic media are found to play a complex repertoire of roles in the lives of the communities they serve. The work done by the Metamorphosis Project over the years and the research the three of us have done with each other and other colleagues on the Project spurred an initiative to teach a class on ethnic media at USC, and subsequently sparked the idea of writing this book.

    We have made a self-conscious effort to give comprehensive coverage of ethnic media production and consumption in as many countries and societies around the world as possible. By searching databases and consulting knowledgeable colleagues, we were able to include materials about ethnic media including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the Philippines, as well as the United States.

    In trying to produce a volume that will be useful not only to researchers and policymakers, but as a classroom resource as well, we have included questions and ideas for further discussions or student projects in each chapter of the book. Each chapter is formatted for clarity with introductory bullet points identifying the main concepts and issues to be discussed, the use of sidebar examples, and summaries. The bibliography is likely to be a resource for researchers, teachers, and students alike.

    In a book about ethnic media across the world, language capacity is essential. The fact that the literature on ethnic media is relatively limited and fragmented makes one's ability to access sources and actual ethnic media in a variety of different languages vital. This was our first major challenge. Through our collective effort, and thanks to the help of colleagues, family members, and friends, we were able to access media and sources in Chinese, English, French, Greek, Korean, and Spanish. It is very likely that there are sources and media we have missed entirely due to our language limitations. Such limitations make collaborations across countries and fields of inquiry all the more important for the future.

    In addition, awareness around ethnic media is quite variable across countries. In many cases, because immigration is either a new concern or a controversial issue (often both), there is very little research on the audiences of ethnic media, the communities they serve, number of ethnic media organizations, and so forth. Here is an example of how data limitations affected our work: For our chapter on policy and ethnic media development (see Chapter 8), we sought data that could help us investigate the extent to which the actual number of ethnic media available is determined by how open or closed a country's immigration policy is and by the orientation of that country's immigrant and minority social integration policies (i.e., oriented towards assimilation or multiculturalism).

    This endeavor quickly proved complicated for three reasons. First, as we expected, there are very few data sources available on the number of ethnic media in different countries. Second, even when figures are available, often the individuals or the organizations that generated the data define ethnic media differently. In some cases, for example, media targeted to indigenous ethnic minorities are included, while in others they are not. Programs produced for different ethnic communities by one broadcaster are sometimes counted as individual ethnic media offerings and other times they are counted as one media organization. Moreover, imported media (e.g., satellite programs or newspapers produced in a particular country of origin) are occasionally included in the list of available ethnic media; often, however, they are not. Third, in trying to determine the impact of policy on ethnic media, it is important to consider the year during which data were collected and to keep in mind that policy changes may not have immediate effects. Therefore longitudinal data are necessary, but even harder to find.

    Taking these limitations into consideration, we compiled a database that captures the number of ethnic media in Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Finland, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Unfortunately, we were not able to find or generate a comprehensive list of ethnic media offerings in Australia, and therefore we excluded it from further analysis. We analyzed the data available and examined whether countries with more open immigration and more multiculturalism-oriented integration policies had a larger number of ethnic media per one million inhabitants compared to countries with more closed immigration and more assimilation-oriented integration policies. As we expected, Belgium (9.13), Canada (10.54), the Netherlands (12.14), and Sweden (21.01) have the most ethnic media per one million inhabitants, while Germany (0.51), Greece (2.42), Italy (1.57), and Spain (0.54) have the least. Of course, any conclusions drawn from these results should be stated with caution; much more data are required and from a much greater number of countries.

    Finally, as we put a tentative end to the journey that Understanding Ethnic Media represents, we realize that we are in a very challenging, quickly changing social, economic, and technological environment. Traditional (or legacy) mainstream media are in decline or in a process of radical reorganization as more and more people incorporate Internet-based media forms into their everyday lives. Old models of increasing revenue streams are being severely challenged, and while new models continue to be discussed and tested, we have yet to see a major breakthrough. In addition, in 2008–2009, the world economy entered a profound period of crisis. In late 2009, there were some signals of hope, but recovery by all accounts will be slow. The ethnic media sector has been growing in the past 10 years, but it remains unclear how the crisis and the changes in the media environment attributed to the emergence of new communication technologies will affect them in the mid and long term.

    Completing this book would not have been possible without the help of many people and, first of all, our colleagues on the Metamorphosis Project at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. We are particularly indebted to Yong-Chan Kim, Wan Ying Lin, Jack Linchuan Qiu, and Hayeon Song, now at Yonsei University in Seoul, the City University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, respectively, for their original work in the Korean and Chinese ethnic communities of Los Angeles and for helping us to better understand the ethnic media to which these communities connect. Holley Wilkin, now at Georgia State University, Carmen Gonzalez, who is currently working on her dissertation at USC, and Antonieta Mercado, who is working on her dissertation at the University of California in San Diego, have also informed our work with respect to the roles ethnic media play in the lives of new immigrant communities (and particularly Latino communities).

    It is hard to imagine being able to develop this project without the generous financial and moral support of former Annenberg School Dean Geoffrey Cowan and his successor, Dean Ernest Wilson III. Both have supported the Metamorphosis Project's mission over the years and provided necessary funding for research assistantships, postdoctoral fellowships, and, last but not least, office space, which allowed us to continue to work together without major interruptions. First 5 Los Angeles, the California Endowment, and the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands have also provided much needed funding support for our work over the years.

    Starting out to write a book with a fair amount of ambition can be daunting, but we have been fortunate to be able to talk through data and findings, exchange ideas, try out concepts, and debate approaches to the study of ethnic media and communities, with colleagues like Roger Silverstone and Myria Georgiou from the London School of Economics and Political Science in London. Sadly, we cannot share this final product and continue our discussions with Roger Silverstone, who passed away in 2006. Roger and Myria led a large-scale effort with a network of researchers to map the ethnic media across 15 member-states of the European Union at the turn of the millennium. That research has been a tremendous source of information and insight for us. Further, we thank Myria for reviewing and commenting on earlier versions of a number of chapters in this book, as well as pointing us to sources we may not have found on our own. Félix Gutiérrez from the University of Southern California has also supported us greatly in this effort. Through his pioneering work on ethnic media (and particularly Latino media in the U.S.), but also by making himself available over the past couple of years to read drafts of chapters and provide feedback and perspective, he has helped us improve our work. Likewise, we thank Jessica Retis, now at California State University at Northridge, for agreeing to serve as a reviewer and for taking our calls and questions over the phone at odd hours of the day while she was still living in Madrid.

    We also want to thank Catherine Murray, Daniel Ahadi, and Sherry Yu (Simon Fraser University, Canada), for introducing us to the ethnic communities of Vancouver and their media. In addition, we would like to thank Catherine and Daniel especially for reading earlier versions of book chapters and their enlightening comments.

    We are also indebted to Donald R. Browne (University of Minnesota); Gene Burd (University of Texas at Austin); Simon Cottle, (Cardiff University, UK); Susana Kaiser (University of San Francisco); Charlotta Kratz (Santa Clara University); Cinzia Padovani (Southern Illinois University, Carbondale); Barbara Straus Reed (Rutgers University); and Indira Somani (Washington and Lee University) for serving as reviewers at various stages of this book project. No doubt, their comments, criticisms, and suggestions have helped us deliver a higher quality manuscript than what we would have without them. Of course, we are solely responsible for all mistakes and omissions.

    For being able to include the rich voices of journalists and publishers of ethnic media, we owe tremendous gratitude to New America Media and especially Julian Do, the organization's director in Southern California. It was with his help that we were able to host roundtable discussions, in 2007 and 2008, with ethnic media journalists serving a diverse set of ethnic communities from across California. Of course, we also thank all those journalists and ethnic media producers who over the past 2 years took time out of their busy schedules to attend these roundtable discussions, and to talk to us over the phone and via e-mail.

    In the final chapter of this book, we have asked a number of scholars, researchers, and professionals that work on, with, or in ethnic media in the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel, and Australia, to help us look ahead to the future of ethnic media. For their contributions we would like to thank people we have not yet mentioned, including: Susan Brink (Mira Media and Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands); Sandy Close (New America Media); John Downing (Southern Illinois University, Carbondale), Augie Fleras (University of Waterloo, Canada); Nelly Elias (Ben Gurion University, Israel), Jon Funabiki (San Francisco State University), Frank Herron (University of Massachusetts, Boston); James Ho (Mainstream Broadcasting Corporation and the Chinese Canadian Times in Vancouver, Canada); Kira Kosnick (University of Frankfurt, Germany); John Hartley (Queensland University of Technology, Australia); Edward Schumacher-Matos (Rumbo Newspapers/Meximerica Media, now at Harvard University); and Paulo Rogério Nunes (Instituto Mídia Étnica, Brazil).

    Others helped by providing information about different countries and places that would otherwise have remained out of reach; for this, we thank Hannah Adoni (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Dan Caspi (Ben Gurion University, Israel), Antoni Castells-Talens (University of Veracruz, Mexico), Akiba Cohen (Tel Aviv University), Larry Gross (University of Southern California), Ellen Hume (University of Massachusetts in Boston), Lucy Montgomery (Queensland University of Technology, Australia), and Roger Waldinger (University of California, Los Angeles). We also thank Michelle Hawks for her photographs, which appear in Chapter 3.

    Of course, behind every ambitious book project like this one there must be an excellent editorial team. We thank Todd Armstrong, our editor, Aja Baker, Nathan Davidson, Astrid Virding, Jovey Stewart, and the rest of the SAGE team that helped us turn an idea into an actual book.

    Finally, it is hard to imagine that this book would be completed without the surplus of patience and unwavering support of our families and friends. To Meg and Dimitris Matsaganis, Christopher Matsaganis, Marc Douaisi, Ian and Cheryl Katz, Jeff Katz, Ailsa Ball, and Jenny—we could not have done it without you.

    MatthewMatsaganis, VikkiKatz, and SandraBall-Rokeach
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    Author Index

    About the Authors

    Matthew D. Matsaganis (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University at Albany, State University of New York. His research addresses issues of ethnic media production and sustainability, neighborhood effects and the role of communication in building civic engagement and community capacity, as well as health disparities and the social determinants of health. His research has been published in the American Behavioral Scientist, Human Communication Research, the Electronic Journal of Communication, and the Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications; he has presented his work at a number of academic and professional conferences. Matthew is also a recovering print journalist. He has worked for a variety of publications in Athens, Greece, and New York City. In November 2001, he received a certificate of recognition from the U.S. Congress for his work as a journalist and for promoting Greek-American friendship and cooperation.

    Vikki S. Katz (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is an Assistant Professor of Communication in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Her research explores issues of ethnic media consumption, particularly the interplay between media content and access to community resources in ethnic minority and immigrant neighborhoods. She has conducted research on the relationship between family decision making around media content and disparities in connecting to health care, schools, and social services; children's translating activities around media content; the viability of ethnic media with second and third-generation audiences; and the role of family communication in civic engagement. Her research has been published in the Journal of Communication and the Journal of Children and Media. She has also presented her work at academic and professional conferences on topics including ethnic media viability, intergenerational media connection patterns, and immigrant family media use.

    Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach (Ph.D., University of Washington) is a Professor of Communication and Sociology in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, at the University of Southern California. She is also the Principal Investigator of the Metamorphosis Project. Sandra is author or editor of six books: Violence and the Media (with R. K. Baker); Theories of Mass Communication (with M. L. DeFleur); The Great American Values Test: Influencing Belief and Behavior through Television (with M. Rokeach & J. W. Grube); Media, Audience and Society (with M. G. Cantor); Paradoxes of Youth and Sport (with M. Gatz and M. Messner); and Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears that Shape New Technologies (with M. Sturken and D. Thomas). Her published articles appear in such journals as Communication Research, Journalism Quarterly, Mass Communication and Society, American Sociological Review, Public Opinion Quarterly, Journal of Communication, New Media and Society, Social Problems, and The American Psychologist. She has been co-editor (with C. R. Berger) of Communication Research from 1992 to 1997, a Fulbright scholar at the Hebrew University and a Rockefeller Fellow at the Bellagio Study Center. She currently is a fellow of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and the International Communication Association. She also serves on the advisory boards of the McCune Foundations, Southern California Public Radio, and the Research and Learning Group, BBC World Service Trust. Her service on editorial boards includes the Journal Communication, Communication Studies, the International Journal of Communication, the American Journal of Media Psychology, and the Chinese Journal of Communication.

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