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Circulation and audience figures for the print side of the ethnic media are difficult to track in the traditional way. Absent large groups to gather the data across the various languages, researchers are left to piece together what they can city-by-city. And often the numbers gathered are publisher estimates that, to attract advertisers, could be made to look larger than they really are.

Spanish-Language Media

The Spanish-language media have the most organized audience data of the ethnic groups, and the picture is something of a reversal from past years. For the first time since 2000, the data suggest that Spanish-language newspapers lost circulation. The audience for television, however, appears to be growing.

The Latino Print Network, a coalition of Hispanic print news outlets (roughly 90% of which are published in Spanish) gathers data from across the country. Even with those figures, the state of the Spanish-language newspaper audience is hard to pin down, and it should be noted that LPN is not an impartial source. But it seems 2004 was a down year in audience for Spanish-language newspapers.

Until 2004, every year for which the Latino Print Network has data (going back intermittently to 1970) had brought new records in circulation and in the number of publications. But in 2004 circulation dropped to 16.7 million from 17.4 million, according to LPN.1 Most of the losses came in daily and weekly newspapers. Monthly and semi-monthly papers showed an increase, according to the figures.

Despite declines in circulation, the LPN data also show that the number of newspapers increased at all levels, dailies from 40 to 42, weeklies from 304 to 317, less-than-weeklies from 322 to 345.2

The biggest question about the LPN data, however, is reliability. Out of the 42 dailies papers for which it gathers numbers, only 18 are audited. Only 75 of the 317 weeklies are audited, and only 8 of the 345 less-than-weekly papers.3

The figures for three of the largest audited dailies suggest clear differences in audience trends in three cities with very different ethnic populations.

Audited Circulations of Three Major Spanish-Language Dailies
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation, annual audit reports and publisher’s statements

In Los Angeles , La Opinion was enjoying growth. The paper averaged 125,624 in circulation in 2004 (the latest available audited figures) up from 117,817 in 2001, an increase of 7%.4 In Miami , the numbers were essentially flat for El Nuevo Herald — 88,977 in 2004 and 88,904 in 2001.5 And in New York , El Diario was experiencing declines. The paper had a circulation of 50,105 in the third quarter of 2004, compared with 55,397 in the third quarter of 2001 — a drop of about 10%.6 (The general trend for English-language daily newspaper circulation in 2005 was down, though figures varied from city to city.7)

There are a number of possible reasons for the disparity between cities. One is the editorial product each paper provides. And the specific media environments differ; some papers face more serious competition than others, as El Diario has with Hoy. There is also the fact that these are different populations. They may all speak Spanish, but their national origins are varied — the Miami area has a large Cuban population, New York has many Dominicans and Los Angeles is heavily Mexican. Whatever the reason, geography seems to matter with Spanish-language newspapers.

Spanish-language television news may have even more potential than print, considering the amount of television viewed in Hispanic homes. Hispanic households, according to Nielsen Media Research, watch much more television than U.S. households in general, and that is true across all age groups. Again, that isn’t to say all those homes are Spanish-language-dominant, but they are more likely to watch Spanish-language TV than homes at large. (There is some debate within the television industry about how Hispanic homes are measured by Nielsen. For more on the controversy see the Network TV chapter.)

What’s more, the number of Hispanic households with televisions is growing. In the 2004-2005 TV season 10.91 million of them had televisions, up from 9.73 million in 2002-2003, an increase of 12%. Over the same period, the number of TV households where Spanish was the primary language grew by about 19%, from 4.26 million to 5.06 million.8

Who is in the best position to capitalize on this growth?

One company — Univision — continued to dominate Spanish-language television. Its flagship Univision network reached 98% of all U.S. Hispanic households in 2005, according to the network. Its second network, TeleFutura, aimed at younger viewers, was launched in 2002 and reached 86% of U.S. Hispanic households, the network said.9

Univision remained the fifth most watched network in the U.S. over all in 2005, holding steady in that position from 2004. And its demographics, which benefit from the younger Hispanic population, are impressive.10 In the third quarter of 2005, Univision’s 18-to-49 audience averaged 1.98 million prime-time viewers, an increase of 19% over the third quarter of 2004. In prime time, the network ranked second over all in average viewership among 18-34-year-olds in the third quarter of 2005, behind only Fox. And Univision was the No. 1 prime-time network among viewers 18 to 49 in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, Fresno and Bakersfield.11

It is worth noting, though, that Univision’s robust figures come in part from the fact that the network’s competition is the more fragmented English-language broadcast media market, where ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are competing against not just one another but cable as well.

Still, those numbers reveal an impressive market for Spanish-language television and Univision’s dominance of it. There are signs, however, that NBC-owned Telemundo, still a distant second in the race (and recently even third behind TeleFutura), is gaining some ground. In the third quarter of 2005, Telemundo reclaimed its spot as the No. 2 Spanish-language network behind Univision in prime time. And while TeleFutura still leads in all other parts of the day, Telemundo finally appeared to be gaining some momentum.

Ethnic Media Audience Survey

In addition to circulation and ratings data, 2005 marked the release of a massive survey on the readership habits of ethnic media users. The polling firm Bendixen and Associates and New California Media surveyed 1,895 media users of various languages and ethnic backgrounds from around the country.

Its central findings were that as of 2005, 51 million Americans, 24% of U.S. adults, are either primary or secondary consumers of ethnic media,12 and that primary consumers, those who prefer ethnic media over mainstream outlets, make up 13% of the adult population, or 29 million people, on their own.13

The survey was produced for an ethnic media organization, but the findings still suggest that the ethnic media play a significant role in the American media landscape, influencing the views of a large number of citizens of various ethnic backgrounds. The findings also suggest that more study of those media is needed.

Within ethnic groups and subgroups there are notable differences in the extent of their use of media and in what kind of media are preferred. Hispanics are by far the heaviest users over all. A full 87% of Hispanics use one form of ethnic media or another14 (a Pew Hispanic Center survey puts that figure at 69%)15. African-Americans and Arab Americans are next, with 74% using some form of ethnic media. Then come Asian-Americans at 70% and Native Americans at 64%.16

Looking at the kind of media preferred reveals other differences among the ethnic groups. Hispanics rely most heavily on ethnic television — 78% watch Spanish-language TV primarily or secondarily. African-Americans, on the other hand, rely more heavily on ethnic radio; 58% of them tune in to it. And Native Americans look mostly to native-language newspapers; 47% turn to their ethnic printed pages.17

Ethnic Television Use by Population Group
Percent who say they are primary or secondary ethnic TV consumers

Design Your Own Chart
Source: New California Media Poll, The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight
* Primary consumers favor ethnic media, secondary consumers favor mainstream outlets but use ethnic ones

Those numbers may have as much to do with the forms available in each language as with preferences among the ethnic groups. For instance, the high penetration of ethnic newspapers among Native Americans has more than a little to do with the tradition and strength of that group’s press, which is situated in areas densely populated by its audiences, while there is little Native American TV programming. And the high ethnic television use by Arab Americans is, in part, attributable to satellite television, which brings programming from overseas.

In each medium, though, Hispanics are the leaders in “primary consumers” of ethnic media. They are tied with African-Americans in ethnic radio use and lead outright in the other media. Why?

The answer is probably twofold. First, in sheer numbers, Hispanics make up such a large part of the population that they have reached a kind of critical mass that has allowed their media to grow far faster than those of other ethnic groups. Those media, which are now national, can go beyond what many other ethnic media offer and can more easily be a substitution for other mainstream outlets. Second, roughly three quarters of Hispanics share a common language rather than a common national background, giving the media a broader audience base — immigrants from Puerto Rico and El Salvador as well as Mexico, for example. New California Media’s National Ethnic Media Directory has more than 130 pages listing all the Spanish-language print, radio and television outlets. No other ethnic group has even 90 pages, and some of the others have several different languages represented in their outlets.18

Access to various media obviously influences the extent of their use. Only 10% of Hispanics visit ethnic Web sites, while 45% of Arab Americans do, according to the New California Media survey.19

Internet Use by Ethnic Groups
Percent who say they are primary or secondary ethnic internet consumers
Design Your Own Chart
Source: New California Media Poll, The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight
* Primary consumers favor ethnic media, secondary consumers favor mainstream outlets but use ethnic ones

What is it ethnic groups are looking for from their media? The NCM poll finds that nearly every ethnic group studied turns first to ethnic outlets when looking for information on their “native country” or “ethnic community,” news generally not covered by the English-language media. But mainstream media are the choice for information on “politics and government” in the U.S.

Which media do various ethnic groups rely on more heavily for information on their native lands and communities?
Design Your Own Chart
Source: New California Media Poll, The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight
Which media do various ethnic groups rely on more heavily for news on politics and government?
Design Your Own Chart
Source: New California Media Poll, The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight

Nor are the ethnic media a means of translating what people who have language barriers could otherwise get from the English-language press. The mainstream and ethnic media are by and large complementary.

Here too, however, there are differences between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. They are the only group to turn consistently to their native-language media for traditional ethnic-media issues and government coverage. And the fact that Hispanics so readily turn to Spanish-language outlets may be partly because those outlets are more developed than other ethnic media. Spanish-language are the only ethnic media so far that have developed beyond a local presence. They have national outlets with large organizations that can invest more in newsgathering. They can go beyond what other ethnic media do and devote time and money to covering city, state and national politics.

That finding, along with the large number of secondary ethnic media users, raises the question whether the ethnic media are primarily a transitional convenience for immigrants. Would other ethnic groups do what Spanish-speakers do and turn to their native-language outlets if broader coverage was available?

It may be a question that remains unanswered, at least for some time. Lacking a common language, other ethnic groups are ultimately Vietnamese media, say, or Korean media, more than Asian media. But if immigrant populations continue to grow and targeting audiences by satellite programming or the Internet becomes easier, it is conceivable other ethnic groups could develop broader media as well.


1. “Hispanic Publications in 2004,” Kirk Whisler & Latino Print Network, Carlsbad. Calif.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Audit Bureau of Circulations, La Opinion Publisher’s Statement Monday – Friday figures.

5. Audit Bureau of Circulations, El Nuevo Herald Publisher’s Statement, Monday – Saturday figures.

6. Audit Bureau of Circulations, El Diario Publisher’s Statement, Monday – Friday.

7. In that same period the Los Angeles Times lost readers, but an exact comparison is impossible because the circulation measurements were based on different days. The Miami Herald saw a slight increase and the three main dailies in New York (the Times, Daily News and Post) saw increases.

8. Nielsen Media Research chart, Hispanic-American TV Population Growth Trends.

9. Univision 2005 Third-Quarter Results press release.

10. Some experts note that the biggest growth in young Hispanics under 18 is among the native-born, who are not major consumers of Spanish-language TV. But at the same time the proportion of “foreign-born” children increased from 2.7% to 3.7% between 1990 and 2000. And considering the number of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, many of those children are probably Spanish-speakers.

11. Univision 2005 Third-Quarter Results press release.

12. The survey was paid for by an ethnic media organization, and the samples for some ethnic groups were smaller than others.

13. New California Media Poll, The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight.

14. Ibid.

15. Changing Channels and Crisscrossing Cultures: A Survey of Latinos on the News Media, April 2004.

16. New California Media Poll, The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight.

17. Ibid.

18. New California Media Directory, National Ethnic Media, 2 nd Edition.

19. New California Media Poll, The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight.