Much has been made of the increasing significance of the Latino vote in the U.S. political arena. As the number of U.S. Hispanics continues to grow, so, too, does their political sway. So how has the mainstream and Hispanic media responded to this reality, and how has it influenced their coverage?
According to Dr. Federico Subervi, author of The Mass Media and Latino Politics, a book that examines Hispanic-related media content and campaign strategies over the past twenty years, “Spanish-language media does a better job than mainstream media, but the coverage is still not as substantive as it should be, particularly with regard to mobilizing Hispanics to become more involved.” One problem, he says, is that that the mainstream media focuses more on the spectacle of a politician campaigning in Hispanic areas—and on the fiestas and cultural notes that they hit—than on the pressing issues that face Hispanics and are at stake in their political choices. Some will remember the not-prescient photo of Senator Clinton drinking Presidente Beer in Puerto Rico while campaigning there—an example of the colorful, but vacuous, treatment of Hispanic political outreach that is typical of the mainstream media.
While the mainstream media’s frequently superficial treatment of Hispanic-relevant issues is due partly to its general market focus, and partly to an under-formed understanding of these issues, the Hispanic media’s shortcomings are due largely to a lack of resources, particularly among local newspapers and independently owned Web sites, says Dr. Subervi: “One fantastic site that was undermined by a lack of funding is CandidatoUSA. They had highly-detailed and insightful coverage of the campaigns, but simply ran out of money. It would have taken about $50,000 to sustain the site’s rigorous coverage on through November, but they just couldn’t do it.” As a result, he says, the site has been forced to drastically pare-down its coverage.
Strained budgets among smaller Hispanic papers have also resulted in partisan “propaganda” being published under the guise of objective reporting, says Dr. Subervi. “It’s called ‘planting news.’ I’ve seen instances of the same RNC-authored opinion column—verbatim—running in different Hispanic newspapers under different bylines.” Subervi notes that for a paper with limited editorial and economic resources, a ready-to-print political piece that is offered for free can be a tempting proposition.
Despite the overall lack of in-depth Hispanic political coverage presently available, Dr. Subervi notes that the media landscape is changing for the better, albeit slowly. He cites Impremedia’s political coverage as being among the best available. “La Opinion, in particular, has done a great job. At one point they had as many as six journalists traveling with the campaigns and reporting on them, which is really unprecedented in the history of Hispanic political reporting.” In the digital arena, Subervi cites votolatino.org as a good resource for Hispanic political coverage.
Speaking to which mediums are the most effective platforms through which to reach U.S. Hispanics, Dr. Subervi says, “Television remains the most influential medium for Hispanic political coverage, because it is the most accessible medium to many people. After all, not every town has a Hispanic newspaper.”
While the mainstream news media is often accused of having a “liberal bias,” Subervi says that there is no such perception in Hispanic media. “It’s very hard to generalize about widespread bias in Hispanic media, because it varies by market. Miami’s Diario Las Americas, for example, is a conservative bastion, and not surprisingly given the largely conservative Cuban-American audience that it caters to. By contrast, Los Angeles’ La Opinion and New York’s Diario La Prensa are viewed as more sympathetic to Democratic values,” which very much reflects the political temperature of those markets, says Dr. Subervi.
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