Ethnic newspapers and journalistic advocacy in the 21st century : a content analysis using immigration frames




Avila, Alexander James

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This investigation asks the basic question of whether Spanish-language newspapers in the U.S. practice advocacy journalism in a 21st century environment where the traditional differences in media ownership have all but been erased. Because ownership of Spanish-language media has fundamentally changed over the past two decades for large, daily publications, this investigation also investigated differences in news frames by language, by ownership and by geographic location. This study focuses on differences in specific, generic, and linguistic framing elements associated with comparing English-language and Spanish-language newspapers. Immigration was chosen as the issue serving as the lens through which this investigation could be undertaken and framing was deemed the proper theoretical framework for a content analysis of daily newspapers in different languages. In total eight newspapers were studied in four U.S. cities – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami – each home to at least one English- and one Spanish-language daily newspaper. They also happened to be the country’s four largest urban areas, according to the U.S. Census. This investigation reveals that some generalizations – Spanish-language media frames immigration stories from the perspective of immigrants – are generally true. The data found support for the idea that Spanish-language newspapers use more positive/pro-immigrant frames. Hypothesis testing showed activist framing elements could still be found throughout Spanish-language media. And immigration as a significant news issue in general is discussed more prominently in Spanish-language newspapers compared to English-language publications. But such generalizations are not true in all locations. One of the most significant findings is the fact that the Miami market operates in vastly different ways compared to the three others where Spanish-language news dailies operate. In Miami, the same media company owns both the local English-language and Spanish-language daily. In many ways, these dailies are likened to sister-publications sharing major resources and even having the same writers contribute to both publications. Consequently, many of the same frames are found in both publications. This may be due to the fact that Miami is the only Latino-majority city (67 percent) in this investigation, although Los Angeles was nearing majority status (48 percent in 2010 up from 40 percent in 2000) according to the U.S. Census. This ownership dynamic is contrasted with Chicago, where, like Miami, the same media company owns both English and Spanish daily newspapers. But the bulk of the Chicago resources were focused on the mainstream or English-language daily Chicago Tribune, a major U.S. publication. It’s Spanish-language equivalent was much smaller and did not have any original immigration news articles in the dataset of this investigation as its entire sample, easily the smallest of the eight publications studied, was comprised of less than a dozen newswire copy articles. The most competitive region for Spanish- and English-language newspapers was Los Angeles, where vastly different owners operate the local daily newspapers but similar types of coverage appear in both publications. This unique competition dynamic between English and Spanish uses Grimm & Andsager’s (2011) geo-ethnic context to explain similarities in framing. Geo-ethnic context, as applied in this investigation, refers to the sensitivity of newspaper coverage to the presence of a large ethic community. This sensitivity is used to explain framing effects on issues like immigration. To better understand the dynamic in the Los Angeles region, one-on-one interviews were conducted with editors from both daily newspapers. The most important conclusion from this qualitative segment was a significant difference in editorial focus. While the English-language Los Angeles Times sees immigration as a major issue, it is but part of a larger focus on politics and civic engagement pursued by its editors. For the much smaller Spanish-language La Opinion, however, immigration is not so much just one of many issues as it is clearly the principal issue and is stated as such in qualitative interviews for this publication. The difference in editorial focus is stark. However, geo-ethnic context does not fully explain the differences in framing in a city like New York, which has a unique immigrant presence and history. It is believed that this historic focus on immigrant-related issues still affects some coverage of certain dailies operating in New York. But what New York and the other markets truly reveal is that generalizations about audiences, language and news coverage are not wholly reliable when categorizing Spanish-language news in the U.S. as a whole. Framing differences by language vary widely by region with specific differences routinely found throughout this investigation. In fact, a city-by-city by language approach is needed to better understand framing differences in newspaper coverage. Clearly, for example, Latino audiences in Miami are not the same as those in Los Angeles or New York. Nationwide, for the most part, using all-English or all-Spanish results is an inferior method of understanding framing patterns. Local results by city and language, rather than overall results by language, are much more accurate predictors.


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