The percentage of stories about Latinos that aired on the evening network newscasts declined from 1.3 percent in 1999 to 0.53 percent in 2000, according to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' 2001 "Network Brownout" report.
The report found that out of 16,000 news stories that aired on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN last year, only 84 were about Latinos. CNN was included in the study for the first time this year. In 1999, out of 12,000 news stories that aired, only 162 were about Latinos.
Out of the 84 stories about Latinos, 27 were about the U.S. Navy's bombing exercises on Vieques, followed by 16 stories about migration and 13 stories about Election 2000/politics.
Stories about the custody battle over Elian Gonzalez were tallied separately. As the report noted, the Gonzalez story proved to be an anomaly, with 348 stories broadcast about him in 2000, which accounted for 2.1 percent of all stories that aired.
"It is disappointing that the concentration on one story, no matter how deserving, resulted in an erosion of coverage of other stories of interest to Latinos," said NAHJ President Cecilia Alvear. "If networks are going to practice good journalism, they must provide a complete picture of the nation's Latino communities. We urge them to do so."
Out of 84 stories, a total of 69 Latinos were interviewed in 2000, an increase over 1999 when only 27 Latinos were interviewed.
The number of story topics about Latinos also declined, dropping from 18 in 1999 to nine in 2000. The length-of-story also dropped from two minutes and 45 seconds in 1999 to one minute and 50 seconds in 2000.
The "Network Brownout" report also analyzed a random sub-sample of stories to examine how Latinos are depicted on the evening news. The report found that salsa and mariachi music were used in several occasions regardless of the seriousness of the story.
It also found that Latinos are often presented in crowds of brown human hordes walking down narrow corridors or streets. The news stories tend to focus on the use of Spanish as a defining feature of Latinos and Latino immigrants, ignoring the fact that most Latinos either speak English or are bilingual.