Earlier this month I attended New America Media’s 2nd Annual National Ethnic Media Expo & Awards Conference in Atlanta. On the second day, I listened as Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen & Associates, and one of the preeminent experts in Hispanic public opinion research, shared findings from a survey showing an explosive growth in the number of consumers of ethnic media. According to Bendixen, over the last four years, ethnic media have picked up 8 million new readers, viewers and listeners.
What’s significant about this? Mostly it means that ethnic media (defined primarily as African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American) now reach nearly 57 million people in the United States -- more than one-quarter of the adult population. What’s particularly surprising is that this major increase in audience numbers is occurring just as mainstream media, especially metropolitan dailies, are struggling to keep their readers, viewers and listeners.
Perhaps because they’re enjoying such a phenomenal growth for their “traditional” products, there seems to be less of a rush among ethnic news media organizations to the internet, Web 2.0, social media, and other experimental production and distribution channels and business models.
As a result, people in foundations who see ethnic audiences as key to their work should not overlook the reach of these newspapers, and television and radio stations. As an example, Bendixen also pointed in his talk that Asian-Americans prefer Asian language media because of what they consider to be a lack of in-depth reporting in more mainstream news outlets about their home countries. Similarly, ethnic media appear to have an inherent trust in and appreciation for their readers, listeners and viewers, something I would guess is declining for growing numbers of mainstream media outlets.
Another reason foundations should pay more attention to ethnic media is that they, like the sector they serve, are largely progressive, and are helping foster public discourse in a way that’s almost become foreign to the mainstream news media. Thus, if we fail to recognize the importance of America’s growing ethnic media sector, we similarly will miss an opportunity to engage a crucial -- and also fast growing -- sector of the American public.