June 29, 2001

Hispanic Journalists Underrepresented On Network Newscasts

By Keith Jennings

Senior Media Specialist
Arizona State University

Despite the fact Hispanics are the most rapidly growing ethnic group in the United States, Hispanic journalists are rarely seen on the newscasts of the major television networks, according to a study done by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication at Arizona State University.

The 18-year study of the visibility of network television correspondents who report for the evening news shows that Hispanics lag behind every other group examined in the study (African Americans, Asians, White Males, Women) and have far higher turnover, said Joe Foote, director of the Cronkite school and the author of the study.

"Even though the Hispanic population in the United States rose by 60 percent during the nineties, the number of Hispanic correspondents reporting for the networks' flagship broadcasts remained static," he said. "In 1983, three Hispanic correspondents reported for the evening news; in 2000, there were two. There were only fourteen Hispanics who reported for the evening news during an eighteen year period."

Foote has been studying correspondent visibility since 1983. His study uses the Vanderbilt Archives as a database and focuses on correspondents who report at least five times per year for the evening news. It does not include anchors.

"Given the rising visibility of Hispanics in the American population, it is remarkable that their have been no gains whatsoever in the number of Hispanic correspondents," he said. "While women and African-Americans made significant gains during the nineties, Hispanics were left behind."

"Not only has the raw number Hispanic correspondents been extremely low, but their turnover has been exceptionally high," Foote added.

From 1983-2000, the fourteen Hispanic correspondents who appeared on the evening news worked for an average of only three and one-half years. That compared to an average of more than eight years for White males, five and one-half years for women, nearly seven for African Americans and five and one-half years for Asians. Thus, the career life span of a Hispanic on the evening news was less than half that for white male correspondents Foote found.

The data show while turnover among correspondents was especially high among Hispanics, women and minorities overall lagged behind white males.

"Twelve percent of the white male correspondents reported during all eighteen years of the study, but only two percent of women did so," Foote pointed out. "No African American, Hispanic, or Asian correspondent reported all eighteen years. Of the 35 correspondents who worked every year, 33 or 94% were white males; two (6%) were women."

When the period is narrowed to the decade of the nineties when minorities made their largest gains, African Americans and women looked much better, according to the study.

"During that ten year period, 22 percent of white male correspondents reported all ten years compared to 16 percent of African-Americans and 8 percent of women," he said. "Even the narrower time frame, however, did not help Hispanic or Asian correspondents. None reported during all ten years of the nineties."

Foote said the high turnover rate and the lack of minority correspondents in the job pipeline that leads to network reporting positions are key problems.

"It takes several years at the network level for a correspondent to develop the contacts and the visibility that are needed to receive choice assignments," he noted. "To become a highly visible and prominent reporter, you have to get the high visibility assignments, but to get those assignments you have to be visible within the news organization. The constant turnover prevents that internal visibility from occurring and the result is that most of the faces we see on the network news look strikingly alike."

The Cronkite School was established at Arizona State University in 1984 and currently enrolls more than 1,100 undergraduate and 65 graduate students. The school offers undergraduate degrees in journalism and broadcasting and a master's degree in mass communication. The School is rated in the top five journalism schools in the United States.

Research was presented at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists meeting in Phoenix (the week of June 18), by Arizona State University.

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