The dearth of coverage of issues involving problems of Latino youth and Latinos in general isn't new but it is getting even more critical and glaring given the growth of the nation's Latino population. For 11 years ending in 2006, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists monitored the content of network broadcasts. In its "brown out report," the NAHJ's analysis of CBS, ABC and NBC network news showed that less than one percent of the coverage focused on Latinos, mainly on stories involving illegal immigration or crime.
An Univision/Associated Press poll released in August, 2010, indicated that 35 percent of English-speaking Latinos in the U.S. believe that the U.S. media mostly portrays Latinos negatively. An annual survey by the American Society of News Editors in 2010 showed that 1,800 minority journalists were laid off in the past five years of newspaper downsizing, including 485 Latinos, 60 of whom were supervisors. The 2009 Radio Television Digital News Association annual survey showed the number of people working in local television and radio fell 10 percent for Latinos, with a sharp decline in news directors.
All of that background gives Latinos ample reason to be concerned that issues like those of young Latino males won't be adequately covered, said Bailon. "The question we have to ask in our media business is why are we still being dismissed as a marginal niche audience when we're approaching 60 million people?
What's happening is that for too many Americans, the image of Latino males, "is skewed and distorted from bombardment of file video of immigrants swimming across the Rio Grande or jornaleros, the day laborers converged in a parking lot looking for spot jobs."
"Even worse the exaggerated sector of violent Latinos and immigrants tied to drug related crime and mythical beheadings (in Arizona) now have real life and political consequences. Latinos as villains or victims broadly define perceptions for too many Americans. Mainstream news media images apart from the images of Latinos and Latinas in pop culture, entertainment and sports often depict a troubled or threatening people, when they even bother to exist at all. More often than stereotypes however, Latinos simply are absent from the American dialogue."
Bailon said that the media must a basic question, "What the hell is a Hispanic issue."
"I think about that because when we talk about healthcare reform Latinos are the most uninsured group in this country. We never hear about that."
"These are not Latino issues, but they pertain to Latinos. Unfortunately a lot of editors don't make that leap from broader issues pertaining to specific groups.
This isn't unique to Latinos. As we grow, and we're more influential in some parts of the country it is more vital. Public policy is forged. Government dollars are allocated, and problems are addressed in a democracy only when common citizens recognize issues and then act."
Bailon said there are "interventions" that can help Latinos get more and more accurate coverage.
"It's going to have to be harnessed because we have to work around the traditional media. Not against, but find ways to get our stories out differently, including things at this conference, public advocacy."
Here are Bailon's suggestions for improving Latino coverage:
1. Social Media. "Some voices are now under the radar. They exemplify how Latinos can grow their own. Examples include websites, niche publications, webzines, blogs."
2. Self-publishing. "Too many Latinos are passive and polite despite many more ways to self publish or communicate directly with the news media. You don't need a big checkbook to write letters to the editor, go on a blog, write a guest column or request an editorial blog. Why don't we do it?"
3. Workforce. "The news media industry must retrain and re-patriot some of our journalists of color who are discarded through these massive budget cuts. Their experience and their cultural insights would have immediate effects if they reentered the professional newsroom."
4. Content audits. "You can't prove what you cannot quantify. Academia and the news industry must embark on more research on this topic while also aiding those preparing the pipeline of new multi-media and multifaceted, multicultural journalists."
5. Learn from the Spanish-language media. "We don't need to go out and create 500 page books and fancy presentations. Watch them and read them. Get some ideas what they're doing differently. A big difference is in Spanish language media they embrace cultural and historical context. Things are more familiar."
6. Develop Latinos as news sources. "There are Latinos in your community that should be, could be on TV. There are people in this room who could be, should be writing column, who could be on TV. You're going to have to get in people faces to get it done because they're not going to come find you. It's not rocket science, but its aggressiveness."
7. Multicultural training of journalists."Unfortunately as budgets get cut there is very little multi-cultural training going on. Things that various ethnic groups know are not getting translated (into mainstream media) and there is a dearth of information."