As network television news divisions struggle to attract a dwindling share of television audiences, and major print and online media outlets fold or merge to stay alive, California has become the epicenter of a nationwide explosion of ethnic news organizations. Fueled by the rapid growth of ethnic minority populations over the last decade-in California, according to Census 2000, ethnic minorities comprise 53 percent of the state's 35 million residents-this vast alternative media landscape now commands larger audiences than mainstream media in key metropolitan regions of the state.
Some 84 percent of Hispanic, Asian and African-American residents of California (close to 17 million) report that they access ethnic media outlets regularly, and 54 percent cite a specific television or radio program, website or publication as their primary source for news every day, according to a survey of 2,000 ethnic households in 12 languages commissioned by New California Media (NCM) in April 2002.
ACLU's national director Anthony Romero (r), discusses the impact of post-9/11 policies on ethnic Californians at a 11/02 forum hosted by New California Media.
These numbers alone suggest that ethnic media-long ignored or trivialized-are emerging as the most powerful new force in American journalism since the flourishing of alternative media in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now these media are joined together as New California Media, a consortium of more than 400 ethnic news organizations founded in 1996 by Pacific News Service.
"The driving force behind NCM was clear from the day we assembled some 24 ethnic media journalists around a Chinese lunch in San Francisco," says NCM's founder Sandy Close. "The editor of a Spanish-language weekly in San Jose asked his counterpart from a Vietnamese language publication, 'What's it like to be Vietnamese in a Spanish-language city? If you write something about it, I'll publish it.' His curiosity was widely shared, as was the idea that ethnic media, working together, could raise one another's visibility and even imagine themselves knitting together the otherwise fragmented city."
Today NCM is the most diverse media organization in the country and expanding nationwide (adopting the title "New American Media"). Its core programs include an editorial exchange-weekly briefs about the people and stories making news in ethnic media for mainstream dailies; a five-minute roundup of headline news from the ethnic press for public radio stations; a website and a wire service disseminating stories, enabling La Opinion, for example, to run an editorial translated from the Sing Tao or, for that matter, the black weekly Berkeley Post to run stories by a Filipino graffiti artist or a Pakistani immigrant threatened with deportation for failing to send INS a change of address form.
In addition to regular newsmaker briefings for ethnic media journalists, NCM organizes editorial and marketing workshops showcasing ethnic media at its annual NCM EXPO & Awards, dubbed the "ethnic Pulitzers" by the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. These flagship events draw several thousand people, from advertisers, ad agency executives and mainstream media leaders to elected officials, community activists, foundation and nonprofit directors.
Last year, NCM, in collaboration with the Chinese American Voter Education Committee (CAVEC), contracted with Sergio Bendixen, the veteran pollster and political analyst for both Spanish-language TV networks Univision and Telemundo, to conduct the first-ever 12-language poll of ethnic Californians to measure the impact and outreach of ethnic media in the state. The success of that poll-including extensive coverage by The Wall St. Journal, among other mainstream outlets-prompted NCM to integrate multi-lingual polling into its programs.
"We realized that this was a crucial way to give the audiences of ethnic media their own distinctive voice in the public forum," says Close. "In a state where some 40 percent of residents speak languages other than English at home, if you're not tracking public opinion in multiple languages, you'll miss the boat."
NCM demonstrated that with its second poll on the impact of September 11 on ethnic Californians, commissioned in partnership with the USC Annenberg School of Communication's Institute for Justice and Journalism with CAVEC as a key collaborator. While most English language polls have found that mainstream Americans are resuming their normal lives and putting September 11 behind them, the NCM-Annenberg poll found that ethnic Californians, by overwhelming margins, said they experience ongoing depression, insecurity, vulnerability, job loss and fear for the future- along with an increased sense of patriotism.
Close says there are two new polls in the works, one on ethnic Californians' opinions on criminal justice, and one on language access as an issue in health care. "This is imperative to give ethnic communities who might otherwise be linguistically isolated a voice in the public debate," says Close. And ethnic media will be at the forefront of publicizing the results.