How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Should there be more reporters of color covering immigration?

Photo by dovcharney/Flickr (Creative Commons)

American Apparel clothing company CEO Dov Charney is interviewed during an immigration rally in Los Angeles, Sept. 24, 2008.

A new study that analyzed front-page newspaper stories covering the 2012 election since the beginning of this year has found the majority of those stories to be written by non-Latino white reporters. 

Which is not a news flash exactly. As much as many media outlets have tried to diversify their newsrooms, their shortfalls have been well-documented. But one interesting aspect of this study was that it breaks out different coverage areas, including immigration — an issue of high sensitivity for those who are foreign-born or of immigrant descent.

Even on that beat, almost 95 percent of the immigration-related stories were written by white reporters, according to the study. Less than one percent of the stories, respectively, were written by Latino or Asian reporters.

The data was compiled by the The 4th Estate, which is related to the media analysis company Global News Intelligence. It looked at front-page stories in 38 of the "most influential print media" in the U.S. For stories related to the 2012 presidential election, the analysis found 93 percent of them written by white reporters. Asian American reporters wrote 4 percent of the stories, black reporters wrote 2.1 percent, and Latinos wrote 0.9 percent. 

From the general data:

The most striking under-representation of minorities in our data is that of Hispanic journalists, considering the Hispanic population stands at approximately 16.3% of the U.S. population (according to the 2010 Census). At six point one percent (6.1%), The Miami Herald has the highest percentage of front page stories written by Hispanics. The Boston Globe had the highest percentage of front page articles written by Asian Americans at 11.5%. 

While the study didn't delve into this, the newsroom diversity story can get even more complex: It's true that many reporters covering immigration aren't of direct immigrant descent. But when newsrooms do hire immigration reporters — e.g., reporters like me — there's a strong chance that they are Latino. And this, many argue, can lead to a lack of representation of Asian Americans, Arab Americans, and many other groups who have a stake in immigration policy. 

Now, any reporter worth his or her salt should be able to cover any story, and there has been excellent work done by journalists who don't have personal experience with immigrant life, some of whom have mastered a second language. But an argument also exists for having people with some sort of real-life immigrant experience covering these stories. Not only are native language skills valuable, but there's a trust element that occurs when there is common ground shared between the community and those who report on it, and having a similar cultural background can help. 

How to address this? Expect some expert insight next week, but for now, there have been some notable efforts. For example, the Los Angeles Times obtained grant funding earlier this year for two additional immigration reporters to focus on the region's large Vietnamese and Korean communities; two Asian American reporters were hired in August.

Here at KPCC, my immigration beat teammate Ruxandra Guidi and I are both Latinas — Venezuelan and Cuban respectively. (Rux is also of Bolivian and Romanian descent.) Which adds another diversity wrinkle in a city like Los Angeles, where Venezuelans and Cubans represent a fairly small share of local Latinos.

Some people have taken issue with the nuances of this kind of representation; for example, when local Venezuelan-born journalist Pilar Marrerro, of the Spanish language daily La Opinión, guest-hosted on one of KPCC's talk shows some time ago, there were a few listeners who complained about her accent, noting that she didn't quite sound like one of the city's Mexican immigrant majority. 

Do expect more on newsroom diversity next week. And feel free to post comments.

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