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Content Analysis

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

How did two major players in the ethnic media in America—the African American and Hispanic—cover the biggest story of the year, the presidential race? And how did that compare to the press generally?

To find the answers to these questions, PEJ took a snapshot of Spanish-language, African American and English-language print and television media in the days leading up to and immediately after the historic election, the first to elect a person of color to the White House.

Over all, the African American and Hispanic ethnic media studied by PEJ offered a heavier emphasis on the ins and outs of voting, the election as a watershed in U.S. history and in African-American television a clear sense of celebration. Among the findings:

These are some of the findings of a study of election coverage from October 30, 2008 to November 5, 2008.  PEJ studied the top three Spanish-language and African American newspapers, El Diario/La Prensa, El Nuevo Herald, La Opinión, the New York Amsterdam News, the Philadelphia Tribune and the Afro-American. PEJ then compared the content of those papers to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

In order to get an accurate picture of the media coverage of the presidential election, PEJ studied all articles, columns and editorials in the front section of each newspaper, including opinion and editorial articles.

On the broadcast side, PEJ looked at the top Hispanic and African American television stations offering election coverage, Univision and the Black Entertainment Channel (BET).


The issue of Hispanics as a critical voting block was largely absent from English-language media during the campaign season.  Yet, Hispanics in the end played a significant role. There was record spending on Hispanic media and real-time Spanish translations of debates for the first time online. And as it turned out, the Hispanic vote proved crucial to Barack Obama’s victory. Hispanic voters numbered between 9.6 million and 11 million, according to exit poll data.1 And an additional survey reports that they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of more than 2 to 1, or 67% to 31%.2

Did Spanish-language media cover this election differently than their English-language counterparts? In the final days of the campaign, at least, the answer seems to be yes.


As PEJ found in its analysis of coverage of the 2007 immigration bill, Hispanic print coverage of the election had more in common with its English-language counterpart than did Hispanic broadcast outlets.

The difference that stood out most was in the relative prominence given to storylines such as the historic nature of the election, voting issues and daily events on the campaign trail.

Spanish-language newspapers focused much more on the historic aspects of Obama’s status as a mixed-race candidate than did mainstream newspapers. Fully 21% of its coverage focused on this theme, compared with 10% of coverage in English-language newspapers studied.

Top Election Storylines, Spanish-language vs. English-language Print
October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

Many of the pieces also talked about how Hispanics felt deeply connected to the election of a minority to the highest office in the country and hoped it would lead to a breakthrough in race relations in America.

In a column entitled “More there than victory” Gerson Borrero in El Diario/La Prensa told the story of a white woman who had added Hussein to her name to show solidarity with Barack Obama after the candidate faced criticism for his Arabic middle name. The woman, whom he identified as Paula Hussein Campbell of New York City, said she saw the election as “a new beginning,” Borrero wrote. And her actions “formed part of the victory after years of racism and stereotypes that we never thought we’d see in our lives,” Borrero wrote. “That for sure gives us a victory far beyond electoral triumph.” 3

After the historic nature of election’s racial dynamic, the next most popular topic in Hispanic print media was coverage of voting issues, and in the Hispanic press this coverage was not only bigger than in the English-language papers, but it was also different in character.

Fully 20% of the Spanish-language print newshole was dedicated to voting issues vs. 14% in English-language newspapers.

And the stories were different in nature. Rather than reporting on the demographics, turnout predictions and analysis, as was the case in English-language print, more than half of the Hispanic voting coverage (11% of all voting stories) focused on familiarizing Hispanics with the voting process and potential irregularities. This coverage took a more “how to” approach to Election Day, including articles on the logistics of Election Day, such as what ID to bring and what to do if you are unable to vote. Other stories explained the Electoral College and examined reports of voting irregularities.

Voting Coverage Breakdown, Newspapers

October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

On October 31, for example, La Opinión ran an article on page six entitled “Advice for Election Day,” that began with, “If you are voting for the first time in the United States this Tuesday, bring an identification document with you.” 4On November 4, El Nuevo Herald ran an article on the possibility of voting machine malfunctions due to high turnout on Election Day and El Diario/La Prensa reported that election authorities in New York and New Jersey would ensure everyone’s right to vote.

Beyond the mechanics of voting, the Hispanic media also paid close attention to the impact of the Hispanic vote. Coverage of the Hispanic vote accounted for 7% of election stories—the fourth-most common topic during the period studied (vs. 0.5% in the English language newspapers studied).

The extensive Spanish-language coverage differed in another way: a greater reliance on stories produced by wire news services such as the Associated Press.  Well over half the stories were staff-produced (64%, including staff-produced opinion and editorial pieces) but more than a third came from wire services (35%). That is well above the percentage of wire stories on the topic in English-language papers (.5% wire). The remaining 1% was stories reprinted from other news outlets.5

Finally, Spanish-language newspapers covered the international interest and impact of the election more than their English-language counterparts. Nine percent of Spanish-language articles were internationally focused, twice that of English print articles (4%). This was just behind the 10% of international coverage Spanish-language broadcast produced.

On October 30, for example, Nuevo Herald reported the impact an Obama win could have on the embargo with Cuba. In another, the paper reported that many Cubans in the U.S. hope an Obama win would relax travel restrictions to the island. La Opinión also covered the celebration in Kenya over Obama’s election via a wire story.


If Spanish-language newspapers emphasized trying to help their readers vote, the Spanish broadcaster Univision considered that its main mission. The largest Spanish–language broadcaster in the U.S. dedicated 28% of its election newshole studied during that week to voting, more than three times than the English-language broadcasters (8%), and nearly eight percentage points more than Spanish language papers (20%). And most of this—more two-thirds of all this coverage–was devoted to the how-to elements of voting, the mechanics of helping audiences actually vote, or how to avoid being discouraged or stopped from voting.

Top Five Storylines, Univision

Top Five Election Storylines, Univision

October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

Consider the package run by Noticiero Univision on November 3 about how first-time voters and new citizens could ensure their right to vote. The story also reported on some irregularities in New Mexico and named various organizations ready to help Latinos having trouble exercising their vote.  “It is estimated that in these elections, up to 2 million new Latino voters will exercise their right to vote,” anchor Maria Elena Salinas said. “A large part of them are new citizens of the United States, and for many, the electoral process represents a true challenge. During the last few weeks, we have offered you information about the electoral process that will help you vote… Today, we will inform you how to protect that vote.”.

Voting Coverage Breakdown, Univision vs. English-Language Broadcasters

October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

After voting, the next three most common topic areas got equal treatment from Univision, at 7% each: the impact of the Hispanic vote, coverage of swing and red (Republican-leaning) states, and examinations of electoral map math. Two of the three were bigger topics here than in English-language TV. In the period PEJ studied, English-language broadcast did not cover the impact of the Hispanic vote at all and dedicated 5% of their election newshole to electoral map math. Swing and red states, however, got substantial coverage –12% of the election newshole.

And in a demonstration of a way in which Hispanic media are using technology to adapt to the shifting needs and demands of a changing audience, Univision dedicated a sizable portion (7%) of its election newshole to electoral map math.  Maria Elena Salinas unveiled a new digital map to measure electoral votes by saying, “Sometimes, images count more than words, and in our electoral coverage, for the first time, we have a digital map that can help us visualize the presidential contest.”

There were also some differences in how Univision and the three commercial American broadcasters produced their election news.  Univision invested more staff resources in edited packages and relied less on live interviews or brief anchor reads that are easier to produce.

International reactions and perspectives on the American presidential election was an uncommon topic across most media, but Univision dedicated a significant piece of its newshole to bringing viewers an international perspective. More than any other media source, regardless of ethnicity or sector, 10% of Univision’s election coverage had a significant international element. For comparison, only 2% of the English-language broadcaster’s newshole was dedicated to international coverage of the election during the time PEJ studied.

Geographic Focus of Election Coverage 2008

Univision vs. English-language broadcasters, October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

One story in particular that stood out was about a group of indigenous Shamans in Peru, who held a ritual on a beach in order to guess who the new American president would be. Another was a recap of Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque addressing the United Nations, calling John McCain a “political dinosaur,” speaking on how an Obama victory might affect the embargo against Cuba, but ultimately affirming Cuba’s “impartiality” in the U.S. election.

Spanish-language broadcasters displayed none of the emotional  during the period studied that we found during coverage of the immigration debate in Congress in 2007. HYPERLINK The coverage here, at least on Univision, was similar in tone and language to the major English-language broadcasters.

African American

African American media stood out as the most emotional in its campaign coverage and African American newspapers in particular acted as an election watchdog and advocate, urging African American voters to know and protect their rights and report irregularities.


In print, the biggest story line of all was the historic nature of the election given Obama’s status as the first person of color elected president. That storyline made up nearly a quarter of all the coverage during the period studied, 24.2%, compared with 10%in English language and 21% in Spanish.

Newspaper Coverage, Historic Nature of Obama Candidacy and Election

October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

One particular angle here was a focus on elderly voters who never thought they would see the day they could vote for a black man for president. In its issue prior to election day, the New York Amsterdam News told the story of the Rev. Benjamin Wright, a 105-year-old Harlem man who enlisted the help of a state senator to cast his ballot and then broke into a song of celebration… “Last week, [State Senator] Perkins presented Wright with his ballot at his Harlem home, and the good reverend, in his Obama baseball cap, was visibly pleased. He expressed himself not just through conversation but also by belting out a song: the classic gospel song ‘Pilgrim of Sorrow.’ ” 6

Such emotion was easy to find throughout the African American coverage: “The world has been watching and will continue to watch, as a black man once more has been called on to salvage a country spiraling perilously out of control and in desperate need of a messenger of hope and promise,” a piece in the Amsterdam News said.

Voting issues were the second biggest storyline (16% of coverage) in African American newspapers, particularly possible voter fraud, irregularities and turnout issues. These issues filled 14% of the mainstream newspapers studied and 20%of Hispanic.7

Often these stories had the tone of a watchdog and advocate to African American voters, telling them to beware of certain voting issues and covering measures being taken by the presidential campaigns and organizations such as the NAACP to avoid voter fraud.

In the pre-election day publication, for example, the Amsterdam News ran an article, “Challenging Election Day Challenges,” which gave voters advice to come out early to avoid long lines, what voters should do if they are unable to find their name on the roll or if a voting machine breaks down. Similarly, the Philadelphia Tribune published “Keeping Voting Process Smooth and Painless.”

Voting Coverage Breakdown, Newspapers

October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

Save for the top two stories – the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy and voting issues – the angles the African American press pursued varied considerably from English- and Spanish-language papers.

Top Five Election Storylines, African American Print

October 30-November 5, 2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ original content analysis

A topic that received considerably more attention in the black press than either the Hispanic or mainstream media was a reported foiled plot by white supremacists in Tennessee to assassinate Obama. This storyline accounted for 3.2% of African American print’s newshole in the days leading up to and after the election. Neither mainstream print nor Spanish-language print covered this story.

The reports were straight accounts of the arrests and crime, but the Afro American was particularly detailed in its description of the plan. The article read: “Cowart and Schlesselman are charged with possessing an illegal sawed-off shotgun, planning to steal weapons from a federally-licensed gun dealer and threatening a presidential candidate.” 8

It continued, “Court records state that the two were plotting a killing spree that was to include more than 80 murders of other African Americans before culminating with a potential suicide attack on Obama. They reportedly told investigators they planned to drive toward Obama at high speed while dressed in white tuxedoes and top hats and blasting with firearms from the windows of their vehicle.”9


Despite not having nightly news shows, BET and TV One, the two top-rated African American cable channels, did provide heavy news coverage of returns and events on election night. For this study, PEJ looked at the coverage on the top-rated network, BET,  and compared it to the election night coverage of Univision, the top Spanish-language broadcaster, and the major English-language network news broadcasts.

What viewers found on BET was a substantially different news experience than elsewhere, one focused on providing a forum for voices of young voters and young African Americans wrapped up in an emotional and historic moment. The atmosphere was less formal and results-focused than Univision and the major networks’ coverage, and stood out among all media studied for its lack of technological wizardry. BET’s electoral map was on paper and hung in the studio.

BET’s election-night coverage began at 7 p.m. with the hosts of 106 & Park, a popular BET program, Terrence J. and Rocsi, decked out in VOTE T-shirts introducing rapper and hip-hop artist Q-Tip, who commented on the historic nature of the election. The hosts mixed the video countdown that typically marks their show with staff reports from Ohio and Atlanta and interviews with young African Americans who voted for the first time.

After 106 & Park, the coverage was turned over to Jeff Johnson, who served as the host for the night. From the beginning of the broadcast, it was clear that BET would assume the role of advocate and watchdog for African American voters at the polls. Johnson reported to the two hosts of 106 & Park: “You would not believe some of the tactics people are using to still try to get people out there to turn away. If you know somebody that’s at the polls and they’re in line you need to be their lifeline. Call them right now tell them to stay in line. Tell them don’t come home,  they can’t get in the door, they can’t eat if they leave the lines.”

In a report from Spellman College in Atlanta, the historic nature and importance of the election to African American community was also evident. A student told an interviewer: “There are people who gave their lives for us to be able to vote. The least I can do is stand there and wait.”

Along with comprehensive coverage of results and returns, BET also broadcast staff reports from Phoenix, Ohio, Atlanta and Chicago. Johnson was joined for a good portion of the night by expert commentators and he mixed interviews with campaign officials and prominent African American political figures with reports from the field. The coverage included a series of town-hall like discussions on what Obama means for African American men and African American culture and how this election would affect America’s standing in the world.

Just after 11p.m., BET declared Obama the winner and the studio exploded with applause and cheering.  Johnson intoned:  “There is no way you can hear this news and in some way shape or form not be moved. As a journalist, I’ve been attempting to maintain composure and report this, but this is history, and this has changed the entire world. And if you have not been affected by this emotionally, not just as a person of color but as an American, then clearly you’re disconnected from humanity.”

Spanish-Language and African American Coverage of the 2008 Presidential Election: Methodology


For the daily newspapers and broadcasts, PEJ studied the period October 30-November 5, 2008. For the African American papers that do not publish daily, PEJ studied any issues available between October 30 and November 5. If there was no issue printed on November 5, PEJ studied the first issue published by the paper after Election Day.  In print we studied the front sections of three Hispanic and African American papers — La Opinión, El Nuevo Herald El Diario-La Prensa, and the New York Amsterdam News, Philadelphia Tribune and Afro-American. PEJ compared these ethnic sources to three English-language papers — the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

In broadcast we studied the three English-language commercial television network evening newscasts and the PBS NewsHour, Spanish-language evening newscast on Univision and election night coverage on BET. It should be noted that BET does not have nightly news programming, so the only day PEJ looked at BET was on election night.

During this period all stories that were at least 50% about the presidential election or, after the election, about the new Obama administration were captured for analysis.

Story Capture

Five of the of the nine papers — the Amsterdam News, Philadelphia Tribune, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times — were collected by conducting a simple LexisNexis search, which allowed us to determine the placement of each story. Since El Diario-La Prensa, La Opinión, El Nuevo Herald and the Afro-American were unavailable on LexisNexis, hard copies of the papers were obtained through, a Web service that provides exact digital copies of each newspaper, and all relevant articles were obtained. The exception to this was the Afro-American, which was not available in hard copy. In this case, PEJ captured the website and relevant articles each day (October 30-November 5) for the newspaper. PEJ collected and studied all stories on the presidential election appearing in the front section of each paper. The papers were selected based on circulation and geographic relevance to show the differences between different markets, since Hispanic and African American newspapers do not circulate nationally.

The broadcast stories were obtained by recording the Univision and BET broadcasts on the relevant dates using PEJ’s recording equipment. English-language broadcast stories were collected from PEJ’s news index archives, which contains daily network broadcast news programs. PEJ’s normal practice is to code only the first 30 minutes of a news broadcast if the program airs for over one hour, but in the case of all broadcast sources in English and Spanish, save for the evening PBS NewsHour, all programs air for 30 minutes. In the case of PBS, PEJ coded only the first half hour.

Coding Design

Once the stories were collected, PEJ used the content analysis method employing software designed to organize the stories according to specific variables. We selected several different variables that would allow us to measure each article quantitatively and qualitatively. For this project, the English-language stories had already been coded and identified in the News Index as being on the presidential election, and PEJ went back in the database and isolated those stories and combined them with the Spanish-language and African American stories in the database. The stories were categorized by:

The story describer serves the purpose of allowing us to quickly identify a story based on content and gives a brief description of the material covered in the article. The three main sources variable specifies where the reporters obtained their information from when they relied on an outside source. Quotes from politicians or activists, statistics from organizations and interviews with citizens all are considered sources.
The qualitative aspect of the project focused on examining the articles for tone, language use and any other similarities or differences found in both print and broadcast. The stories were compared to one another in their respective languages and mediums and were then compared in English and Spanish to draw comparisons.

All stories were coded in their original language.


1. Press release, “Latino Vote a New Force in Shaping the Election 2008 political Map,” National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), November 7, 2008.

2. Mark Hugo Lopez. “The Hispanic Vote in 2008”. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, November 2008.

3. Gerson Borrero. “Más  allá de la Victoria.” El Diario/LaPrensa. November 5, 2008

4. Gabriel Lerner. “Consejos Para el Día del Voto.” La Opinión. October 31, 2008

5. The three Spanish-language newspapers were similar in their use of wire stories with El Nuevo Herald at the top (40%) followed by El Diario/La Prensa (33%) and La Opinión (32%)

6. Demetria Irwin. “105-Year Old Harlem Resident Votes for Obama.” New York Amsterdam News, October 30, 2008 Issue

7. Of the coverage of voting issues, stories on the mechanics of voting and irregularities made up 9.7% of the election newshole for African American print. Analysis of voter turnout and demographic shifts accounted for 4.8%. And stories on early voting made up 1.6%.

8. Dorothy Rowley. “Skinheads Ordered Held without Bond in Obama Assassination Plot.” Afro-American Online. November 1, 2008.

9. Dorothy Rowley. “Skinheads Ordered Held without Bond in Obama Assassination Plot.” Afro-American Online. November 1, 2008.