Posted by Elena del Valle on March 29, 2005
NAHJ’s ninth annual Network Brownout
Report examined news stories about Latinos and
Latino-related issues that aired in 2003 on ABC
World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, CBS
Evening News with Dan Rather, CNN NewsNight
with Aaron Brown and NBC Nightly News with
Tom Brokaw as well as the networks’ weekend
As in prior studies, Latino-related stories were
identified by searching the index of Vanderbilt
University’s Television News Archives. Other
network newscasts, including those on Fox and
MSNBC, were not included in the study because
they are not archived at Vanderbilt University.
This year’s report contains a quantitative
review of the number and length of stories about
Latinos. However, distinct from previous years,
NAHJ made a more exhaustive effort to identify,
select and assess the “Central Involvement of
Latinos” in news stories.
NAHJ also conducted a qualitative analysis
of a sub-sample of stories about Latinos. For the
first-time ever, NAHJ performed a content analysis
of news stories that aired during a five-day
period (Oct. 20-24, 2003) to further examine the
portrayal of Latinos. The goal was to better
understand how Latinos appeared in stories
during a typical news week and to examine how
non-Latino related stories were covered.
The quantitative analysis of the Network
Brownout Report revealed:
Of the more than 16,000 stories that
appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC in
2003, only 131, or 0.82 percent, were about
Latinos. While that was an increase from
2002, when there were 120 Latino-related
stories, or 0.75 percent, it still remains a dismal
record given the growth and importance
of the nation’s Latino community. Latinos
make up close to 14 percent of the U.S.
Overall, CNN aired 47 Latino stories that
received almost an hour and a half of
air time, the most of any network.
Out of 639 hours of network news stories
that aired in 2003 (38,325 minutes), a scant
0.63 percent (4 hours and 2 minutes) was
dedicated to Latino stories.
The majority of Latino stories covered a
limited number of story topics. Overall,
44 percent of Latino stories were about
immigration (30 stories) and crime (27
stories). That figure climbs to 55 percent
when human-interest stories (15 stories) is
included and to 73 percent when the topics
of election politics (12 stories) and celebrities
(11 stories) are added.
A significant percentage of stories about
Latinos lacked in-depth coverage. Of the
131 stories about Latinos that aired last
year, 24 percent (31 stories) were less than
30 seconds long. Many of these stories
were network news round-up segments.
Stories about Latinos lacked diversity of
viewpoint and opinion. Of the 131 stories
about Latinos, 43 percent (56 stories) did
not cite a single source. In addition, 58
percent did not feature an interview with
Latinos did not often appear in non-Latino
related stories. Out of 16,000 stories that
aired in 2003, Latinos appeared as sources
in an estimated 285 non-Latino related
stories (1.8 percent). Interviews with. Gen.
Ricardo Sánchez, California Lt. Gov. Cruz
Bustamante and New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson accounted for 40 percent of this
Despite the overall lack of news coverage,
Latinos were more positively portrayed in
2003 with many news stories highlighting
the contributions that Latinos are making to
society. For example, the number of human
interest stories increased from 3 in 2002 to
15 in 2003. Many of these stories profiled
the service and sacrifice made by Latino
The overall number of crime stories about
Latinos declined from 47 stories (39 percent)
in 2002 to 27 stories (21 percent) in
2003. Most of these stories portrayed
Latinos as the victims of crime.
Qualitative analysis of Latino stories found:
Several stories about Latinos, regardless
of topic, portrayed Latinos as immigrants
seeking a better life in the United States in
an effort to obtain the “American dream.”
Immigration and crime stories portrayed
Latinos as victims. In previous years, Latinos
were more often featured as perpetrators
of crime or burdens to society.
Latino soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq
were portrayed as heroes.
Several stories about politics focused on
the growing influence of the Latino vote.
Content analysis of all network stories during
the week of Oct. 20-24, 2003 found:
Out of 241 stories that aired, not a single
story was exclusively about Latinos.
Moreover, Latinos appeared only in four
stories. One story featured interviews with
Latino soldiers while two other stories
contained an interview with Gen. Ricardo
Sanchez. The last story featured Colorado
Attorney General Ken Salazar.
When comparing Latino-related stories to
stories that appeared during this five-day
period, a greater percentage of Latino
stories did not cite sources (42 percent)
compared to non-Latino related stories
In addition, 19 percent of non-Latino
related stories cited sources with a mixture
of opinions compared to 8 percent
for Latino stories.
While we are encouraged by the improved
portrayal of Latinos in 2003, this year’s report
found several trends that continue to disturb
us. The lack of coverage and air time devoted
to Latino stories remained dismal and Latinos
continued to be covered within a narrow
range of topics such as immigration and
crime. This is troublesome because it is rare
for the network news audience to view a story
about Latinos, and when they do, the coverage
often does not reflect the totality of life
for Latinos in the United States.
About the author
Dr. Federico Subervi, a native of Puerto Rico, is a media
consultant and scholar living in Austin, Texas. For more than
20 years, he has been teaching, conducting research,
and publishing on issues related to the mass media and
ethnic groups, especially Latinos in the United States.
He is the director of the Latinos and Media Project (www.
latinosandmedia.org), and chair of the board of Latinitas Inc.,
a Web-based magazine (www.latinitasmagazine.org) and an
organization dedicated to helping empower Latina youth via
media and technology. Subervi has held academic appointments
at the University of California-Santa Barbara, the
University of Texas at Austin (where he also served as
graduate advisor for the Department of Radio-TV-Film),
and Pace University in New York City. Joseph Torres,
Daniela Montalvo and Marisella Veiga worked on conducting
the research and the analysis of the Brownout
report. Torres is NAHJ’s deputy director of communications
and media policy. Montalvo is a graduate student at
George Washington University in media and public affairs.
Veiga is an English professor and a freelance columnist.