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Foreign-Language Media Proliferates in US

The 2000 Census shows a dramatic increase in the size of ethnic communities in the United States. And, with that comes a proliferation of new media to respond to the special needs and interests of immigrants. Some news managers wonder if multiple voices will divide rather than unite the country.

The new voices of America. Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Greek, Russian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and more.

The proliferation of foreign-language media reflects the largest wave of immigrants in a century. The 2000 Census information, for instance, shows that America's Hispanic population has grown by nearly 60 percent, the Asian-American community by more than 45 percent.

In Los Angeles, the Spanish-language television station now draws more viewers than its English-language competitors.

Newseum Managing Director Margaret Engel is not surprised. The Newseum is a U.S. museum devoted to the media. "It is no accident that California, which is the first state to be a minority-majority state, which means that minorities are the majority of the population, is the state that is grappling with the ethnic media across the entire spectrum of population," she said.

Editor Gerardo Lopez says a lot if it has to do with the way the ethnic press covers the news. Mr. Lopez is editor of the Los Angeles-based Spanish-language La Opinion. With a circulation of 132,000 and pass-on readership of more than half a million, the daily ranks among the country's 100 largest newspapers. "We try to be as objective as everybody else, as fair as everybody else, as responsible as everybody else," said Gerardo Lopez. "But we see the needs of our readers that they need some more practical and useful information. For instance, how to benefit from immigration law that has been passed or they need practical or useful information on how to register to vote, things of that nature. We make the space to provide that type of information."

That keen sense of grassroots outreach is reflected in ethnic media across the country.

A new Russian language radio in Florida, for instance, draws more listeners with its accent on news and information about Russian politics and culture. An Arab-American newspaper features more stories about racial profiling or the Middle East conflict. Both are of priority concern for its readers.

While many mainstream newspapers report an audience decrease, foreign-language publishers and broadcasters are reporting just the opposite.

Recent surveys show more advertisers and politicians are taking notice and turning to non-English language newspapers, television, and radio stations to get out their message or sell their products.

Still, ethnic media editors and reporters complain that the mainstream press often overlooks their impact and instead treats them as second-class citizens.

La Opinion editor Gerardo Lopez. "Ethnic media in the minds of some folks in the English media has a negative connotation," he said. "It means to them that we are second-class journalists. We are doing second-class journalism and advocating and patronizing and packaging our newspaper in a way that is somehow biased and not objective."

Newseum executive Margaret Engel says the Old Media, as she calls it, has been slow to accept that they no longer speak to or for an entire community. "It is no longer correct for newspapers to say we cover our whole area," she said. "They can not. There is no reporter staff around that has 32 language capabilities on the staff. It is too expensive and it is not going to happen. And it should not."

Ms. Engel says mainstream newspapers, magazines, television and radio need to rethink their approach if they want to keep pace with the ethnic media that is serving an immigrant population growing in size and influence.